Monday, December 15, 2014

NLS #10, Pressing Matters

Pressing matters, that subject head has certainly been used before in the sew blogging community but it's true. Pressing really matters a lot. It is probably the most important thing you will do to contribute to a professionally sewn garment. And notice, the word is "pressing", not ironing.

Ironing is moving the iron horizontally back and forth over your garment or fabric to smooth out the wrinkles. Pressing action consists of pressing your iron down on the garment, hopefully with a press cloth in  between, then lifting directly up. There is NO horizontal movement.

June Tailor Press Board from sews.com


The more you sew, the more aware you will be of proper pressing. Your new habit will spur you to do it better each time and to help you get the best "evidence of effort", to quote Roberta Carr, there are tools out there to help you gain quality results. These tools pretty much have been around for generations and are time tested and worth the investment. If you see yourself getting into any tailoring efforts, they are necessary. They make the process easier. 

Above is the June Tailor Press Board,aka, tailoring board. It is available at smaller vendors like  Heirlooms Forever as well as places like Nancy's Notions and Amazon. Most of what I will mention is available from these vendors so won't link further on. 

OK, this press board is quite impressive with all it's points,  angles and curves. Why would you press a seam on a board like this? For one, the edges of the seam allowances hang off the edge you are using on the board and thus prevent show through ridges on the public side of the garment. Look at this thing and imagine pressing open hip curves, princess seams, tiny sleeves on heirloom children's garments, etc. An the point  is priceless. A point presser  like this can allow you to press open graded seams on collars to give you a beautiful point when turned. I also like to trim down my points while the collar, cuff, whatever is on the point of the board. It makes it much easier and less prone to accidental cutting. I know Santa's coming but if you don't want to spring the fifty-sixty dollars for this sweet toy, use what I use:

This tool is a point presser/clapper. I like how it has a really sharp point. The larger bottom is used to literally clap/slap/pound your garment details into submission. It is great for taming welt pockets and bound buttonholes and other details with various thicknesses. Over pounding can make your seams transmit to the public side of the garment. You can get around that by having a very well padded surface underneath like a doubled up towel. Other times you want that clapper to bang the fabric into total flatness and submission like on the edge of an edgestitched  blouseweight. With practice you will learn what to have underneath your fabric before you pound. To prevent shine, always use a press cloth between the clapper and the garment. I use this a LOT. It's indispensable for collar making, IMO. 

Then there is the lowly ham and the not so lowly ham:

Courtery stitchnerdcustomshop.com


courtesy bblackandsons.com













Hams are absolutely essential to sewing. All those curved seams, ie, princess seams, are pressed to perfection on a ham. It is probably  best known for setting the shape into a collar which you wrap around the ham like a neck. The collar is securely pinned and heavily steamed while on the ham, no touching. I mean heavy steam. Then you can leave it overnight to dry before installing in your jacket or coat.  I use the basic plaid ham but would I ever love one of those custom hams from Stitch Nerd. Wowsa!

( google hassling me on photo, I'll try later.)

Complimenting the ham is the seam roll, something I love but did without for a long time. My sub was a rolled up thick magazine which worked fairly well. Seam rolls are great for getting into pant legs and sleeves that are already stitched up. 

There are items around the home or that you can DIY that will help your pressing a lot. There are wooden dowels for pressing long seams without ridges. Porch railings work the best as they have the curved surface on top and a flat area below preventing rolling. I use my dowel quite a bit. 



Above is my treasured dawber, made from a tight roll of cashmere, and a cheap paintbrush. These are great for dipping in water and placing the water drops in the well of the seam on the wrong side to press open. This is done on fabrics that you don't want to overpress like cashmere or fine heavy wool coatings, suitings too. A word about cashmere: it is very sensitive to pressing, scorching and getting overpressed and damaged quite easily. I like to iron it as little as possible and use my daubers a lot to tame the details. An iron with a good point helps a lot here as well. You just place that iron tip in the well of the seam after it has been daubed with water. Once again, over a presscloth. 

And speaking of press cloths, favorites are silk organza as it allows you to see the garment underneath and takes high heat.  Poly organza will melt in this situation. I also have handy some old well worn men's handkerchiefs. You can buy them by the pack  at the box stores and they make great press cloths. 

My favorite pressing tool of all, partly because June Tailor doesn't make them anymore:


You can see my June Tailor Pressing Mitt is well worn. I literally place it inside an installed sleeve and steam from the outside. It does a great job of getting rid of any puckers in the sleeve head. I also like to use it to shape sleeves in tailoring like you see here:

For more on how I use this tool to mold sleeves you can check out this link.    Stitch Nerd does make these but I think with a little creativity you can probably make your own. 

I haven't gotten into technique much here  and that is because others have done it all so much better than me. Ann Steeves of Gorgeous Fabrics ( and they are  gorgeous) was so moved by the lack of pressing seen in the sewing community that she did a very funny and educational video on how and why to press. Check out her Pressinatrix Video.  It truly is the best out there.  (Scroll down.) And when she says to iron the seam as sewn to meld the seams, BELIEVE HER. There is a well known sewing instructor out there who says it is not necessary. Ann will show you the proof why she is wrong. Check out this blogpost of hers for proof. Another great pressing video is from Nancy Zieman and can be found here

As Roberta Carr said, "Sewing is Pressing". Quality results are not achieved without pressing. I think my new motto is "effort in, evidence shown", to paraphrase Roberta once again. Please share you tips and techniques to help others with their learning curve on pressing skills. I greatly appreciate all your experiences, no matter how unique. What works for you?

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Next Level Sewing will take a break over the holidays and will return on January 5th. Hope you have a glorious and wonderful holiday with your families. Maybe Santa will see this post and get a few hints for your sewing basket!..........Bunny

29 comments:

  1. YOWZA! That pressing mitt looks so cool!!! I need a clapper too.

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    1. The mitt is really a high density piece of foam and the shell is cotton drill. A denim could work fine. Notice the extra layer so you can put your hand inside. That's great for sticking your arm up into a sleeve and ironing.

      I forgot to say that the clapper is excellent for taming polyesters, like silky blouseweights. I press with lots of steam, put that clapper on it right away and press hard for a bit. Then I lift it and don't touch till cool. It will hold a crease in the poly like nothing else I've tried.

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  2. Oh, yes! And I would add that knit makes need pressing too! I see a lot of knit clothes on blogs with wavy, wonky untamed seams.

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  3. Great post. I love pressing tools. Makes the job so much easier. Pressing is a must!

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  4. I learned this lesson the hard way. And you can never, ever say it too much. Drive that point home Bunny!! I actually have a downloaded pattern (bought), and not a single seam is pressed in the entire instructions. And it shows in the finished product. It happens all the time.

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    1. Iv'e seen quite a few Indie patterns with no pressing instructions as well and being marketed with wrinkled and bubbling seams. I really think this is often because much clothing today arrives at the store unpressed and is thrown on the racks that way,. The customer and home sewists sees the unironed clothing and the low bar is set, the Dumbing Down of Sewing. I think all sewists, no matter the experience level, need to snoop shop high end stores now and then to see better quality garments and what can be done with a little effort by those sewing at home. It sets a higher bar to reach, one that costs nothing.

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  5. I have all of these tools as well and boy would I love one of those Stitch Nerd custom hams! In fact I've worn a hole through one side of my ham and had to patch it. It's a big investment but one that lasts for years. I've had most of mine for maybe 40 years? The curved wooden presser I added a few years ago and love it too. I don't make as many tailored pieces as I used to, but these tools work on much more than tailored clothing. I have two things that you didn't show. I've got a long seam stick, you know one of those rounded tops flat bottom sticks. Mine is from a leftover piece of balustrade from my parent's house built in 1955. I also have a cheese board. I believe that this is what it's called. It's a thick, flat piece of wood with one curved side. I have used it to press hard to press woolens. There is one other piece I want, and my dh made a prototype for it and I am waiting the real thing. It's a sleeve head. A curved top piece of wood set into a flat wooden base. It's great for pressing sleeve caps.

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    1. Claire Schaeffer had those for sale at the class I attended last year. They were really nice and most of the attendees bought one. Your hubby can definitely sell those once he has it all worked out. Claire's collapsed and were built for her by a woodworking friend.

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    2. Just had to add that when you have worn out your sewing tools to the point of repair, you do a lot of sewing! Thanks for your comments, Nancy.

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  6. I have most of the tools and even made my own ham with my own handwoven wool on one side and hand-dyed cotton on the other, stuffed with sawdust from DH's woodturning studio. Priceless! What I'd really like though is a ham holder which you didn't mention here. I have photos of what I want but he needs to work out dimensions to make me one.

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    1. What a treasure, destined for heirloom status. Thanks for reminding me of the ham holder. Those are very handy to have.

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  7. I hated irons until I started sewing and realised they are my best friend. I never put mine away now - I got a nice Rowenta one.

    I didn't know about the dauber. Filing away that info

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  8. I have three pressing aids from Stitch Nerd. The sugar skull fabric, and the hot pink plaid wool, is mine. The piece not showing is the sleeve ham. http://www.stitchnerdcustomshop.com/

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  9. Great pressing tools. I wouldn't want to do without any of mine.

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  10. My favorite tool is the point presser with clapper. I don't own a pressing mitt but you have convinced me of its virtue! Thanks!

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  11. Such a great post. I love all my pressing tools. Recently I discovered using a silk organza pressing cloth is so much better than using a cotton one. You can see what you are doing and the weight is perfect for lighter more delicate fabrics.

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  12. Great post Bunny!!! I hate ironing, but pressing is something that I will take my time with as I sew garments. :) I need to get myself a pressing mitt as well as a ham holder - those 2 things are missing in my sewing room. Some of these things aren't used every day, but they sure make a difference when they are used. Love the pressing videos - everyone should watch them!!!

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  13. Hi there Bunny,

    Just popping by to say thank you for another wonderful year of your blog. It always cheers my day when I "see" you in my inbox.

    I have the same point presser/clapper as you, and it has made such a difference in my pressing since I bought it last year.

    Have a fabulous Christmas break and see you in the New Year darling Sewing Sister!xx

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    1. You, too, sweet Marysia. Merry Christmas to you and your family too.

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  14. Thank you so much for this! Learning to sew on my own, many things are trial and error. I look forward to improving my pressing techniques/arsenal with this post. Great!

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  15. My old pressing mitt was looking a bit sad so I bought a new one from www.wawak.com item number PM-1 for $7 and stuffed my old one inside. I have the rest of the ones you have featured and could not live without them! Thanks you, Bunny for bringing out the best in us!

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  16. Another super post. You can't overstate this issue. I really enjoy pressing - it is one of things I love about tailoring - shaping the garment with heat and pressure. I don't have the full range of equipment but I do roll up cloth and stuff it into the curved area while the wool cools, and I drape sleeve seams over the back of an upholstered chair while they set. I had not seen those curvy hams before and would love one (Father Christmas, please).

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  17. Thanks for the great post! I have a very old double sided sleeve board that I use almost everyday. Even my son uses it to iron the cuffs on his long sleeved shirt. I need to look into a ham holder. I also have a round,narrow ham that I use quite a bit.

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  18. I have a ham and two different double sided sleeve boards. One is wood. I have a cotton cover on one side of the wooden one and the last time I used it I got a shine on the fabric. Same iron and heat that I had been using to press the garment so it must have been the wood. Suggestions?

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    1. I don't believe it is the wood, necessarily. You need a press cloth between iron itself and the garment. I would also recommend some sort of cover for the wooden sleeve board that is padded as well.So here are your layers: the wooden sleeve board, a padded cover for it, your garment you are working on, a press cloth and then the iron, in that order. HTHs.

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  19. Hello Bunny, I am a new reader and I've read my way through your Next Level Sewing series. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it! I have learned so much.

    I noticed that, by the title, this post is intended to be part of that series, however it looks like you may not have remembered to include it in your tabbed index page. I'm so glad I stumbled across it. :)

    René

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