Sewing at home doesn’t mean you want to look homemade. Taking the time to properly press a garment during construction is a step many beginning sewers are tempted to skip, but is of vital importance to achieving a polished, sophisticated look whether you are aiming for classic, clean lines or a trendier fashion style. In addition to the difference it makes in finished appearance, good pressing can also help make the rest of the sewing process faster and more error-free due to neater line-ups and fewer snags, so once you get the technique down, it may not impact your construction time much at all.
Difference Between Pressing and Ironing
Many people think of ironing as being synonymous with pressing, but there is actually a distinct difference between the two. Ironing means to slide the iron over fabric while pressing is to set the iron down onto fabric with a controlled amount of pressure in a single place without any sliding. While ironing is the faster method of the two and certainly better than no heat treatment at all, it carries a risk of distorting the fabric, which can cause flaws in the construction that will alter the finished look. Therefore, pressing is the superior method to use for the best end result.
Why Pressing is Necessary
Fabric is a naturally soft and pliable material, which is, of course, ideal for clothing construction, but also leaves it susceptible to wrinkling during handling, puckering at seams, and, in general, putting up some amount of resistance to staying exactly where you want it. This is because it’s made up of fibers, like hair is, which have a directional memory in how they lay at rest rather than being perfectly fluid. Heat treatment tools like irons are one of the best methods to effectively “reprogram” this directional memory to achieve the results you want.
In sewing, it’s important to consistently press throughout the whole process. You need to ensure that there are no wrinkles in the fabric during cutting or the shaping or dimensions may not come out exactly right, and seams need to be pressed down as they are sewn, not all at once at the end, to keep lines accurate and looking their best. Specialty pressing tools are available such as a tailor’s ham, sleeve board or seam roll, to make certain situations easier if you are going to be sewing a lot.
Selecting the Right Heat Setting
Using the correct heat and steam settings while pressing is important because the wrong settings can potentially damage your fabric. In general, heavier and more durable fabrics like wool and cotton will take high heat settings with steam while lighter, more delicate fabrics like silk will require lower heat and no steam. Higher heat will also produce crisper, stiffer lines while lower heat is more appropriate for a softer, draping look. If you buy fabric by the bolt, there will usually be a label at the top of the bolt where you can make a note of special care instructions at the time of purchase. It’s also a good idea to test your settings on an unused fabric scrap before trying them on your garment.
Mastering good pressing techniques is one of the best investments you can make in advancing your sewing skills and is well worth the time and effort to research and practice further.