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Careful pressing ensures success

Published Sep. 4, 2005

One of the earliest lessons I learned in sewing was the importance of pressing, and it's a lesson I still heed today.

Pressing equipment needn't be extravagant; it's the care with which you press that's essential to the success of a garment. In fact, it's one of the skills that elevates the level of your sewing from adequate to truly special.

Most of the time, the equipment I use is very basic: an iron (which doesn't even have to be a steam iron), a pressing cloth (I like to use a square of silk organza because I can see through it and it can tolerate high heat), a ham, a sleeve board and a mister bottle with a reliable sprayer.

Before I do any stitching, I test the fabric. I find out what it likes and doesn't like. How does it respond to moisture? The spray bottle allows me to control exactly how much moisture I use and where it goes.

I check to see if I'll need a pressing cloth; sometimes I just wet the cloth (and again, this varies _ it can be barely moistened or soaking wet).

Sometimes I might spray the garment itself, and there are times when I apply moisture to both the pressing cloth and the garment.

Other variables are the temperature of the iron (it's awfully easy to ruin fabric with a too-hot

Pressing is an essential step in the construction of any garment.

iron) and the pressing surface itself. I check to see if seam allowances will show through, and I examine the garment to see if there's anything inside that I have to be mindful of: buttons, boning, pocket bags or weights, for example.

The first thing I do after stitching is to press the seam. I press the unopened seam from both sides (this is sometimes referred to as "sandwich pressing") to meld the stitches. Then I open the seam allowance with my fingernail (some people use a tool for this purpose, but I find that I can feel when the seam is fully opened much better if I use my finger). Then I press, slowly and carefully, working my way along the length of the seam.

Curves must be pressed over a curve; manipulate the ham until you've found the best fit for your shaped seam. Do a tiny bit at a time, moving the seamline slowly over the ham.

Be especially careful with bodice front princess seams; they're a real focal point and can spoil the garment if they're not carefully pressed.

Darts deserve special attention, too. It's all too easy to press a little crease into the fabric parallel to the stitching line, and in some fabrics (silk taffeta, silk douppioni) a crease is practically impossible to remove.

Gently push the dart to one side (over a ham), and if necessary use a little strip of kraft paper to buffer the layers and keep the dart allowance from showing through to the right side of the garment. The same technique prevents seam allowances from showing through to the right side of the fabric.

Most importantly, take your time.

Pressing is an essential step in the construction of any garment. It's a marvelous tool to have at your disposal. Don't underestimate it.