In my first few years of sewing, I never thought much about pressing. In my mind, it served the same basic purpose as ironing: flattening and smoothing fabric. The more I sew, and the more I read about sewing, the more I realize that the shaping and stabilizing achieved by pressing are just as vital — and just as involved — as the stitches that hold a garment together.
The importance and the depth of pressing are illustrated in the range of tools used. It’s very possible to achieve lovely results with only a few basic tools and minimal investment. This helps me avoid feeling overwhelmed; I know that I can make beautiful clothes with the resources I have, and improving my craft will come with practice and not necessarily a room full of stuff. (Although, I admit, a room full of stuff is something I aspire to.)
But perhaps more than anything else, I like being reminded of how much there is to learn about sewing. A new technique, a new term, a new style. Pardon the lame analogy, but I love that sewing will never be a repeat of my first year of college, when I got addicted to Cubix only to beat all the levels in short order and have nothing more to look forward to.
On that note, here are some pressing tools that you may not use yet. For me, simply reading about them helps me understand the behavior of fabrics a little better.
Pressing Cloths. I recommend Claire Schaeffer’s article “Press Cloths Take Center Stage” in Threads issue 84. She emphasizes that press cloths are used not only to protect fabric from the heat of the iron, but also “to provide additional moisture, lift and refresh the fabric’s fibers, preserve its texture, prevent shine, and avoid flattening the fabric’s surface.”
These tools are extremely economical, since you can cut them from fabrics that are already in your stash. It’s best to have a variety pressing cloths with different weights and levels of absorbency.
Remember that the pressing cloth can be used either over or under the fabric, adjusting either the iron or the pressing surface.
Tailor’s ham. This is a hard, curved surface that is available online and in fabric stores, or make your own! Use the ham to press curved areas, like darts, collars, or skirt seams. Some custom-made hams even have more than one curve, in different sizes, to better approximate the curves on a human body. This is one of several pressing tools that strike me as absolutely ingenious in their simplicity.
Sleeve board. The sleeve board looks like any ironing board, except it’s longer and narrower. Since it’s designed specifically for pressing, you won’t have to worry about the surface damaging your fabric. The board will slide into sleeves and pant legs, and every edge can be used for careful, detailed pressing.
Point presser/clapper. Actually two tools in one, the point presser/clapper can perform several tasks for you. The pointed side is inserted into points and other narrow spaces to isolate and open the seam. The clapper is placed on a just-ironed seam to maintain pressure without heat.
Word on the street is that you can also use the clapper when a hard pressing surface is needed.
Bamboo point turner. A tiny tool performs essential work. I’ve always used a knitting needle for turning points, but, as Barbara Emodi describes, this little puppy is much easier on the fabric! Like so many on this list, it’s dual- (or multi-?) duty; use it for turning and as a shaping tool when pressing.
Dry iron. The steam irons used to iron clothes are also lovely for pressing, providing even moisture and preventing scorching. However, sewers may opt for a dry iron, applying moisture themselves with tailor’s daubers or spray bottles for greater precision.
I want to start thinking more about the final shape of my projects and, more specifically, how each line contributes to that shape. I love the possibilities illustrated by these two images, a crisply tailored 1930s coat from Queens of Vintage and a stunning 1929 Madeleine Vionnet dress at the Kyoto Costume Institute.