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Sewing Class: The Difference Between Pressing and Ironing


Next to your sewing machine, your iron is your most important piece of equipment for sewing.

For the best results with your sewing projects you should start every project by pressing the pieces of fabric to be cut, and then pressing in between every line sewn. This allows you to have good crisp edges, corners, and seam lines. It sets your stitches (this means the thread is blended in with the fabric instead of sitting on top of the fabric), flattens and smoothes any puckers, and gives your projects an overall more professional look.

Did you know there really is a difference between pressing and ironing? I didn't.

Ironing is what we do before we put on clothes, that are wrinkled. When you iron you SLIDE your iron back and forth on the fabric with pressure.

Pressing is what we do when we are sewing. When you press, you place the iron down on your fabric, then lift it back up in quick intervals. you repeat this up and down motion, overlapping as you go.

The biggest difference between the two, is that ironing can stretch and change the lay (grain line) of your fabric. This is why when my girls were real young and just starting, and their lines were a little crooked, I would iron their seams in order to manipulate the fabric to appear straight. I used this a lot with their quilting projects.

It is also important to know that although the word is press, it does not mean to push down real hard. What "presses" your project, is having the CORRECT heat or steam when simply setting the iron down. Otherwise, speaking from experience, you risk leaving an impression of the seam on the right side of the fabric, and if your working with a fabric that has a nap (plush fabrics like: velvet, velour, corduroy...) you can flatten the nap.

Again, it is the correct temperature of the heat or steam that does most of the job. So the other problems that can occur (also speaking from, "been there, done that") includes: scorching, shrinking (from the steam), and leaving shiny marks on the fabric.

To avoid all of these, ALWAYS before sewing, use scrap pieces of the fabric you are working with, and test it for heat and steam tolerance. There is nothing worse than spending time sewing together a beautiful project and then laying down your iron to press a seam and the fabric is ruined, AND you don't have enough fabric to cut out the piece that you ruined; THEN (deep breath) you finally make it back to the fabric store to find out that they are out of the fabric. YOU GUESSED IT - I am speaking from experience!!

Some fabrics are just too delicate to handle direct heat. In this case use a pressing cloth. This is simply a cloth that is placed over the fabric you are working with to protect it from direct heat. You can buy a "pressing cloth", but I have found that bandanas and/or muslin work great for this.

The Dos and Don'ts of Pressing:

1. Start by pressing on the wrong side of the fabric

2. Press seam allowances either open or to one side before sewing across a seam.

3. make sure you let your fabric cool or dry before moving it, otherwise it can distort the shape of the fabric.

4. Do NOT press over pins. Not only will they melt, it can also cause puckers that are hard to remove. You also do NOT want to iron over basted lines, again because it can leave an impression that is hard to get out.

5. Never use starch when sewing. Over time, the starch on the fabric will cause a sticky residue that builds up on the needle of your sewing machine, which then leads to lint sticking to the mechanisms in the sewing machine. When quilting, we sometimes use magic sizing (you get this at the grocery store where the starch is located).

So what type of iron is best for sewing?

With sewing it is important to have a good steam iron. You need one that allows you to press with or without steam.

After speaking with several professional seamstresses, and my older daughter sewing more professional looking projects, I followed their advice and bought a separate iron just for sewing. By having a separate iron, I don't have to take the time to clean the excess starch from ironing our clothes, before working on our sewing projects.

What other equipment is important to have for pressing?

Starting off, all you need is an ironing board or an ironing surface that is covered with a light padding and cotton fabric. Because pressing truly makes the difference between a homemade looking project and a professional looking project, as you sew more often, you will want to enlarge your pressing tools based on what you prefer making.

The two additional tools we use often, are a sleeve board and a pressing ham. Sleeve boards look like a mini ironing board which allows you to get smaller tubes, such as sleeves, over the board to press, as well as get to "hard to reach" places. The pressing ham is great for pressing curved edges and seams, to get the natural shape of the curve, instead of a flat look.

You may be wondering, "if I have to press in between almost every step, how do I keep my young kids focused on what we are doing"? This is why the first thing we do, is review all of the steps to figure out all of the sewing lines we can do at the same time. Then we pin them all, sew them all, and finally we press the seams sewn. Then we repeat the process. This helps you to not only keep your child's focus, but to manage your time. And if you are the one sewing, it keeps you from getting leg cramps from getting up and down all the time!

To also help manage your time, make sure you have your ironing board and iron set up close to your sewing area.

Remember, irons are dangerous! They can burn you, and cause fires. So YOU must decide when your child is ready to start pressing.

Because of these dangers, I actually got an automatic shut off on my iron. Good thing to!!!

Submitted by:

Kristi Borchardt

Kristi Borchardt

What Kristi wants to do, is share her journey in sewing; to help others know (with hindsight being 20/20) that the best way to learn is by doing. To learn MORE, from the “9 Secrets to Successfully Teach Your Child to Sew”, through free articles full of tips, encouragement, suggestions, and projects with step by step directions and lots of photographs, go to http://www.sewingwithkids.com





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