Pressing Matters

I believe pressing to be one of the most important parts of dressmaking. It is the act – or rather art – of pressing your garment throughout the sewing process, as well as the final press, that will set your clothes to the highest standard.

By paying close attention to the pressing of your garment at every stage of each seam, placket or collar, you set the stitches into the fabric, which allows them to perform their job of holding several pieces of fabric together much better.

Do not confuse pressing with ironing

Pressing requires you to use the iron as a precision tool, lifting and pressing it down rather than sweeping it across fabric, to flatten, shape or crease very specific areas on a garment. Pressing also requires a light touch. A heavy hand can result in over-pressing, which knocks the stuffing out of fabric!

There are several items of equipment that will really help with the pressing of your garments.

Iron
Make sure it is good quality. It should be reasonably heavy to have some weight behind the press, as well as a function to vary and turn off the steam. You could invest in a tank iron, which holds a large reservoir of water that is converted to boosts of steam when needed. The power of the steam is greater than that of an ordinary iron (and doesn’t need refilling as often!)

Ironing Board
Try and get an ironing board that comes up to waist height. It should also be well padded. If the padding is a bit scant or on the old side, you can always add more in the form of quilting wadding and make another cover to fit the board.

Pressing Cloth
his is invaluable, as it separates the direct source of heat from your garment, giving it a little bit of protection and preventing shine and scorch marks. A damp pressing cloth can also impart moisture to help achieve perfectly flat seams. Your pressing cloth doesn’t need to be anything special (a piece of linen or calico is fine), but it should be washed first.

Tailor’s Ham
This is a large egg – or ham – shaped bolster that features different curves to enable garments to be pressed on it without flattening out the three-dimensional form. Tailor’s hams are traditionally made from calico on one side and a wool fabric on the other. Usually they are stuffed with sawdust, as this absorbs the steam when pressing.

Sleeve Roll
This does a similar job to a tailor’s ham, but it allows you to press smaller and more difficult areas, such as sleeves. Both items are easy to make yourself.

Sleeve Board
This looks like a miniature ironing board. It makes pressing those small and awkward places a lot easier. Good-quality sleeve boards have the stand at the far end, which enables you to press along the whole length of a sleeve.

Clapper
This is a piece of old tailoring equipment and makes pressing creases a lot easier. It is a flat piece of wood, usually with a handle that can be shaped to a point. When you are pressing a heavier fabric such as denim, steam the area and then press down firmly with the clapper over the area to press. The clapper pushes the steam down through the fabric and helps to set the press. Ideal for pressing hems on jeans.

Fingers & Hands
Touch is one of the most important ways of assessing the amount of pressing required. Use your fingers to press out seams on delicate fabrics and your hands to hold seams flat after steaming.

Choosing fabrics

Choosing the right fabric for your project can make or break the finished result. If the fabric is too lightweight, the garment will not hold its shape or structure; if it is too heavy or stiff, the garment will not hang properly. Take note of the suggested fabrics in the pattern as the designer will know which will work best.

There are several points to consider when selecting the right fabric for your project.

WHAT IS THE GARMENT FOR?

Consider the occasion and what you will be doing while wearing that particular piece of clothing. Are you making an outfit for a wedding or a piece of new running kit? These projects will require very different fabrics that will need to perform different tasks.

Fibre
Think about the fibre content with regards to the purpose of the garment. A polyester satin fabric may have a beautiful pattern, but will be rather hot and uncomfortable worn next to the skin – a silk crêpe de Chine would be a better choice for that purpose. However, the polyester satin would work well as a jacket lining where it will slide over other clothing worn under the jacket.

Sheen
A satin fabric with a sheen will catch the light, but could also highlight a host of lumps and bumps. A more matte fabric will cover these and give a smooth overall look to the garment.

Drape
The stiffness of a fabric is described as ‘body’. Fabrics with more body will prevent the fabric from draping as much as a fabric with less body. The best way to check this in a shop is to unroll the fabric from the bolt and drape and hang it yourself to see the level of drape it has.

PLAIN OR PATTERN?

Plain fabrics are easier to work with, but sometimes a pattern is what’s called for. Be mindful of how the pattern works on the garment pieces. For example, if you have a large circular pattern, think carefully about where to place the front bodice pattern piece to avoid an embarrassing faux pas. Similarly, a small delicate pattern may get lost if used all over a garment – it might be better used as a contrast or for a collar.

Stripes and checks
When matched perfectly, stripes and checks look great, but wonky stripes do not. Take the time and effort to match stripes up. It will not always be possible to match up all the stripes across the garment, so focus on the ones that are most visible. Stripes can run horizontally across the body and vertically from the bodice down into the skirt.

  • Mark on the bodice pattern pieces where you want the stripes to sit
  • Mark on the sleeve pattern where those lines fall on the sleeve head
  • Match up the lines on the pattern pieces with the stripes on the fabric

Which way up?
Patterns can sometimes have a particular direction. Always check, even if you think it’s an all-over pattern, otherwise you may find the odd flower or bird that will be sitting on it’s head! Decide on the top of the pattern and mark clearly so that you don’t forget. You could even pin a note to the edge of the fabric to help.

Nap
Even when using plain fabrics, there are factors to bear in mind. Some fabrics, such as velvet or corduroy, have a pile or ‘nap’, which needs careful consideration. As the pile stands away from the base of the fabric, the light will catch it in various ways. It will also feel different stroked up or down. Decide which is top and place your pattern pieces accordingly. It is usual to have the nap of a velvet running down the body.

Making More of Your Patterns: Celia mitred corners

As much as I love a frill (and they don’t come much frillier than Celia!) sometimes I just want something a bit more simpler.

Just taking off the frill is a bit too simple though. Giving the hem a mitred corner gives a neat and clean finish to corners, and look great if they are top-stitched as well.

  • Draw on the original hem line
  • Add an extra 5cm on from the hem line
  • Draw on the side seam allowance
  • Add an extra 5cm onto the side from the seam line
  • Mark the split to end about 8cm or 3” from the finished hemline

I wanted to sew the hem by top stitching 4cm away from the finished edge to give a border to the hem and split, I thought it would look quite neat to have the split sewn with a gable (or point) above it. So I drew on the top-stitching line and created a gable over the split so the point of the gable was 4cm above the end of the split. I could then trim off the excess paper to give me the shape I needed.

Follow this tutorial on How to Sew Mitred Corners. Then, once the corners are completed, give yourself some guidelines for the top-stitching.

The hem and splits once sewn need a really good press – use a pressing cloth and plenty of steam if you need to.

This is a very straightforward pattern hack to achieve and I hope it shows how easy it is to adapt a pretty simple pattern to include a few interesting details.

If you haven’t yet got your Celia Top pattern then you can purchase yours here.