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Sewing Lesson - How to Press Seams

Another important facet of sewing is using the iron to press your seams to give them a more professional and smooth finish. This is important because as you sew, the fabric draws up slightly with the stitching and the seam can end up looking slightly puckered and there will be a slight wave in the fabric. Pressing the seam presses the thread into the fabric and flattens the seam making it less visible from the right side.

Before I explain more about pressing seams, it is essential to understand the difference between "ironing" and "pressing." Ironing involves moving the iron back and forth over fabric as you press out creases. When you press, you hold the iron down over sections for a few seconds and then pick up the iron and move it to a new spot and press down gently. This allows the heat and pressure of the iron to flatten the fabric without distorting it.

Here are the steps that I follow to press seams (don't forget to clip loose threads first):

Place fabric flat on the ironing board and press along the seam line.
how to press seams

Open the two pieces of fabric so that the seam allowances are facing up.

Finger press the seam open by running your fingers in between the seam allowances and pressing down in the middle. This "pre-opens" the seam to make it easier to press with the iron (this is an old quilting trick).
finger press seam open

Hold the seam open with your fingers and follow with the iron pressing a section at a time.
how to press seams

This is what the seam should look like when you are finished pressing it open.
how to press seams

Flip the fabric over and press gently from the right side to finish.
how to press seams

It may seem tedious, but it really is best to press all of your seams immediately after you sew each one. Most importantly, it prepares the seam for the next step in the assembly process, but also, by pressing as you go, you can visually examine your seams and spot any errors before proceeding with the project.

One question I hear often is how to press seams when you are using a serger. There are two ways of handling this. Most times when I am serging, I use it to finish the edges of a seam after I sew it on a conventional machine. When I do this, I press the seam after sewing as explained above and then I hold the edges together again to serge them. I do this because I prefer to press the seams with the seam allowance open - it gives it a crisper look. If you want to use the serger alone for construction, you can press the serged seam flat and then press it to one side, opening the seam in that manner. Just be careful to not press too hard on the seam allowance side so that you don't press a crease into the fabric from the bulky seam edge.

Pressing is also a good way to add shape and contours to fabric and there are some special pressing tools that can make this easier. Trying to press darts and princess seams on a flat ironing board doesn't work well because the curved seams need to be shaped for them to look smooth and professional. The best way to do this is to use a tailor's ham (shown on the right). The Tailor's Pressing Ham has a narrow end and a wide end so that there are different curve profiles that you can use for pressing different types of curved seams. There is also a Ham Holder which cradles the ham, keeping it in the correct position.
tailor's pressing ham

Another useful pressing tool is a Seam Roll. This is a long stuffed roll that can be used in hard to reach areas such as sleeves or pant legs.

Lastly, a pressing cloth is an inexpensive way to protect your fabric while ironing, especially those that are delicate or easily marred. The pressing cloth goes between the garment or fabric and the iron. These are great to have around for all-purpose ironing, not just for sewing.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of the sewing lesson series. It is almost time to start working on a beginner sewing project!

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