How to Press Like a Pro

In this article, you will learn seven rules to pressing like a pro; how to press plain seams and other construction details; the difference between ironing vs. pressing; and a simple hack for kicking stubborn creases to the curb.

Like I said in the article An Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

If you sew, you MUST press. Sewing and pressing go together like Spock & Kirk, bread & butter, Batman & Robin. In other words, they complement each other perfectly.

In this article, you will learn…

  • the difference between ironing vs. pressing;
  • how to press a seam;
  • how to batch press; and
  • how to remove stubborn creases…

Power sewers press. And you plan on being a power sewer, right?!

Personally, I find pressing therapeutic. I love to press. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. And I find a precise and perfectly pressed seam a humongous turn on. But then, I’m weird like that.

So if you’re ready, let’s press on…

Your Iron Multi-Tasks

Your iron works hard for you. There are three ways that you can use your iron:

  • to iron (a sliding or gliding motion) to remove wrinkles and creases;
  • to press (an up-reposition-down motion) to flatten seams, set permanent creases, and apply fusible interfacing and stabilizers; and
  • to mold and shape fabric with a shot of steam or a trusty spray bottle.

Rules of Pressing

Rule #1: Press as you sew. A well-made garment is one that has been carefully pressed at each step of the construction process.

Your sewing machine + iron + ironing board are best friends forever (BFF).

Rule #2: Choose the right temperature appropriate for the fiber content of your fashion fabric. Choosing the wrong temperature can lead to what I call the uglies: discoloration, shine, and textural changes in your fabric. You don’t want any of that ugly nonsense!

Rule #3: Use steam or your trusty spray bottle when pressing. A perfectly pressed seam usually needs a spritz of water (or steam).

Rule #4: Do NOT over press and press lightly! You want to apply just enough pressure but not too much. Because too much pressing or pressure can lead to scorch, shine, and imprinting seams and dart legs on the right side (RS) of your garment. When in doubt, under-, rather than over-press.

Rule #5: It is a good idea to press on the wrong side (WS) whenever possible. And if you must press on the RS, ALWAYS use a press cloth.

Rule #6: After you pressed an area of your garment, let it cool completely before you move it. This discourages re-wrinkling of the area.

Rule #7: When pressing knits, press lightly to avoid distortion! Do. Not. Over. Press. Knits.

Now that you know the rules, let’s get down to the actual business of how you press…

The Difference Between Ironing & Pressing

First, we need to talk about the difference between ironing and pressing.

Ironing is what you’ve done (or avoided) all of your life up until now. When you iron, you use a gliding back-and-forth motion to remove wrinkles and creases from a garment.

But a power sewer does not iron during the construction phase of a garment! Because ironing during the construction phase can lead to fabric distortion!

Instead, a power sewer presses!

So what is pressing?!

Pressing is an overlapping, up-and-down motion plus the application of just the right amount pressure. With pressing, you don’t want to leave your iron in one spot for more than 10 seconds.

And if you’ve followed my advice HERE, you’re a sewist who owns the heaviest iron you could find. Because you know that you won’t have to use muscle to apply pressure; the weight of a heavy iron will do most of the work for you!

How to Setup Your Ironing Board by Your Sewing Machine

Ideally, the best setup will allow you to place your ironing board perpendicular to your sewing machine. And then, adjust it to an appropriate height so you can sew, turn, and press without constantly having to get up and down.

Because getting up and down is exhausting and can, ultimately, result in a failure to press all seams during construction.

How to Press a Seam Like a Pro

To avoid the dreaded homemade look, you must NEVER sew across a seam that has not been pressed!

Check out the unpressed seam below. Can you imagine sewing another seam across that puffy, hot mess?!

How to Press Like a Pro

How to Press Like a Pro

Here’s the good news…

Pressing like a pro is as easy as eating an entire bar of Lindt Dark Chocolate & Caramel with a Touch of Sea Salt in one go. Yum!

Okay, then. Let me put my chocolate bar aside and teach you how to press…

Step 1: Select the appropriate temperature for your fabric. This is important! Because if you’re sewing polyester, for example, and you choose a cotton setting. Watch out for scorched, melted fabric!

Step 2: Next, cover the area to be pressed with your pressing cloth to prevent scorching and shine.

Step 3: Apply moisture. The addition of moisture makes pressing even easier and more effective!

  • Dab water directly onto the fabric with a sponge or a damp cloth; or
  • Mist the area with a water using s spray bottle; or
  • Use a steam iron.

Misting and pressing is an excellent technique for those of us whose iron doesn’t produce enough steam or who can’t afford a pricey iron!

Sew easy tip #1: If you decide to use the steam feature on your iron, keep this fact in mind: The soleplate temperature must be really hot for steam to form! Otherwise, you will end up with a hot drippy mess on your ironing board cover and your fabric. UGH!

Step 4: Now press the seam as sewn on the wrong side in the same direction that you stitched the seam or stitching line. Do this on both sides of the seam line.

Step 5: Next, press the seam open along the seam line and using just the nose of your iron. Pressing the seam open results in a flat, crisp seam from the RS.

Step 6: Then, turn the garment to its RS. And again using just the nose of your iron, press the seam line — this helps to prevent fugly imprints on the RS of your garment.

How to Press Like a Pro

Step 7: Finally, allow your pressed seam to cool completely before moving the garment piece.

This is especially important when pressing darts and curved seams as it helps to preserve the pressed shape.

Now, how simple was that?!

How to Press Various Construction Details

A garment is comprised of straight lines and curves. And this means that each has its own pressing requirements:

  • Press straight seams on the handle of a wooden spoon or a seam roll. This way you avoid making an ugly impression on the RS of your garment.
  • Press darts and other curves seams, such as armholes and crotch, on a tailor’s ham; remember to use just the tip or nose your iron.

RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to press darts.

Mmm, Can You Really Set Stitches?

At some point in your life as a sewist, you will read that before you press a seam open, you must first “set the stitches.”

That is, press the seam as sewn before pressing it open or to the one side. This has something to do with “melding the stitches into the fabric.”

Honestly, I don’t know if this argument has any merit.

And I’ve decided I don’t care!

I just like pressing my seams as sewn on the WS; then open or to one side; and, finally, pressing the seam line from the RS.

Plus, I do think it smooths puckering.

Seriously, how many extra seconds does it take to press a seam as sewn?!

Let me answer that for you: a lot less than it takes to argue or ponder the point.

How to Batch Press

If your sewing setup does not allow for your ironing board to be positioned perpendicular to your sewing machine at the height of your sewing table surface, pressing can become a chore!

Getting up and down after you’ve sewn each seam will be frustrating and exhausting!

But I think I have a solution…

Organize your sewing so you can press multiple seams at one time. And here’s how you do it…

Step 1: Sew your bust or waist darts.

Step 2: Then, stitch your shoulder seams.

Step 3: Now you can go to the ironing board and press your darts and shoulder seams in one go. This works because none of these seams cross another seam.

Step 4: Finally, stitch your side seams and press.

Alright. It’s time to boss around stubborn creases…

How to Handle Stubborn Creases

Sometimes, no matter how much you iron, it can be stupid difficult to remove wrinkles and crease lines.

But there’s a solution…

Use a solution of 1:1 (50-50) ratio of plain water to distilled white vinegar to remove stubborn creases and wrinkles. In fact, I keep this solution on my ironing board ALWAYS!

And if the crease still refuses to get out of town, try saturating it with undiluted distilled white vinegar and iron.

And don’t forget to use your press cloth!

The End

Bottom line:

If you want a garment that looks like it was made by a professional, you MUST press as you sew!

And in this article, you have learned…

  • the difference between ironing vs. pressing;
  • 3 ways to steam press;
  • how to press a seam;
  • how to batch press; and
  • how to remove stubborn creases.

With this knowledge, you’re now ready to go forth and press like a Zen mistress!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!