the importance of pressing

1 Feb

there are two types of sewers: those who press, and those who don’t.

i must confess, in my early days of garment sewing, i fell squarely into the latter. why would i want to press anything? i hated ironing and i didn’t see a point in spending nearly half my precious sewing time smooshing a bunch of seams that were on the inside of a garment, aka, no one was going to see them anyway.

sadly, i can’t pinpoint the exact moment that i had my “A-HA, PRESSING!” revelation, but suffice to say i have turned a complete 180 as far as my iron is concerned. i am a pressing fiend, y’all. i have developed a love affair with my iron and my finished projects have never looked better. properly pressing really is the key to having a gorgeous handmade garment – as opposed to “homeade” (and probably sewn up with quilter’s cotton, yeeech).

(image borrowed from :3)

this is my iron – a rowenta steam iron. i thought i was doing pretty good with my $40 walmart special deal i found during one of my end-of-the-school-year dumpster diving extravaganzas, but the rowenta was like a sweet revelation of hot steam and pure power. you haven’t really lived until you have pressed a seam with an iron that could melt your entire hand off, i’ll tell you what.

this is one of those pressing tools that is wonderful and helpful and confuses the crap out of everyone who looks at it – they think it’s a doll’s ironing board (same people who think my rotary cutter is for pizza. what kind of friends am i inviting into my home, anyway??). it’s actually a sleeve board, and incredibly helpful for, well, pressing & easing in sleeves. i like to use it for a multitude of pressing goodness, because the small size is really convenient. i found mine at a thrift store for $2 – which explains the goofy/dirty cover (the cover i’ve been meaning to change for 2+ years.. ha!).

the tailor’s ham is my favorite pressing tool. it is absolutely necessary for pressing curved seams/darts without making a bunch of funky pressed wrinkles in the process. you can use it for shaping – put your sleeve head/shoulder pad/gathered whatever on top and steam the hell out of it and let the magic curves do their magic curve stuff.
not pictured: the ham’s fraternal twin, the seam roll. this is great for pressing seams open so you don’t get a ridge on the outside of your fabric. i don’t have one yet, but i plan on making one, along with my very own tailor’s ham (i’m borrowing my mama’s :3). did you know that home depot will just give you a gigantic bag of sawdust if you ask nicely? i batted my eyelashes a lot and returned triumphant with an entire grocery bagful. score for me!

my new favorite – and most obsolete – pressing tool: the clapper. ooh i love this thing. the bottom is weighted so you can steam press your seams and then clap (ha ha – get it?) this contraption on top and hold it down for 15 seconds or so. the wood holds the heat it while you press down so your seam ends up nice and flat. i wish i had this while i was making my coat! the points at the top are for pressing tiny fiddly areas, like shirt collars. i just bought this thing over the weekend and i’ve been geeking out over it since. LOVE.

another important pressing tool not pictured: your press cloth! you can use all kinds of things for this – the most common are muslin, white cotton, cheesecloth, & silk organza. it’s good to have one of each on hand for different fabrics. press cloths are great for protecting your fabric from scorching while you steam the everloving shit out of it. i prefer to use silk organza, personally – the sheerness helps me to see what i’m doing, and anyway, silk organza sounds all fancy and makes me feel good about myself. ha!

i also keep a spray bottle full of water on hand – this is good for lightly spritzing your fabric before you apply fusible interfacing (using your press cloth, of course!). it really makes a different between bubbly interfacing and smooth perfect interfacing.

and while i have your attention, here is what i’ve been working on over the weekend:


almost done! i just have to stitch down the midriff facing, insert the zipper, face the armholes, and hem the whole shebang. of course, it’s 30 degrees outside right now so it might be a couple months before this little guy gets some wearing action. that’s what i get for sewing summer clothes in january. sigh.


4 Responses to “the importance of pressing”

  1. Taylor March 1, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    I discovered your blog last week from Peter at Male Pattern Boldness. I completely agree with you on the merits of pressing, although I have to admit that I’m still using a $28 iron that spits out rusty bits of who knows what when I use it.

    I’ve been thinking about getting a tailors ham and clapper for a while now, but since you mentioned making your own, I might have to do that too. Are the hams just filled with sawdust? I’d love to know how yours turns out. Keep up the great work!

    • lladybird March 1, 2011 at 9:28 am #

      oh man, i’ve definitely been there with the $28-rusty-bit iron. and honestly, i’d probably still be using mine if i hadn’t received the rowenta as a birthday gift a couple years ago. i just realized how dorky i sound, getting an iron as a birthday present hahaha

      i haven’t made my tailor’s ham yet, but only because i haven’t found a fabric that i want to use. this pdf ( is what i’ll be using for my pattern. it also has instructions for a clapper, which i thought about trying to make, but i don’t have the tools for woodworking and honestly, i don’t think i could get it smooth enough.

      but yeah, the hams are just filled with sawdust! it needs to be packed in super tight- some of the hams i’ve seen are kind of, eh, lumpy looking, because they don’t have enough sawdust in them. i assume you can also use other materials, like cut up fabric scraps or the wood chip stuff you use for pet rodents, but sawdust is what is typically used (not to mention you can get it free!). you should definitely make one – i use mine way more than i imagined i would, and now i can’t live without it.

      love your blog, btw!

      • Taylor March 2, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

        Thanks for the link for the tailor’s ham instructions! I wish I had tools and space (skills?) for woodworking, but need to save all my spare room for sewing tools and fabric šŸ™‚ I am really tempted to make a ham though, and if I didn’t have so many things on my “to-make” list, I probably would have gone to Home Depot for sawdust today.

        Alright, time to get back to the ironing board.


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