Kids, listen up. It’s time for a little tough love. A few years back, I wrote an article for Threads titled, “Pressing Matters” and I think it’s time to revisit that. I’m so thrilled to see what seems to be a resurgence in sewing. It’s delightful to see new sewing enthusiasts creating and presenting their finished works. The problem? I wouldn’t call them well finished in some cases. What I’m about to tell you is said with love, and with the desire to see you end up with a garment that you are going to wear proudly.
Let’s face it. We all love sewing, and the best part of the sewing process is sitting at the machine, feeling the fabric zip under our fingers, watching two-dimensional fabric turn into a three-dimensional garment. That’s the most fun! But that’s not the most important part of the process. Getting up from the sewing machine after stitching a seam, going to the ironing board, and pressing that seam into shape is the most important part.
Got that? Let me put it to you again.
Pressing is the most important part of your sewing process.
And notice that I say it’s part of the sewing process. Here’s how I sew a garment:
- Stitch seam
- Press one side of the seam flat
- Press the other side of the seam flat
- Press seam open (or to one side, if indicated) on the wrong side
- Press seam on the right side.
An interesting thing to note is that, for each single seam I stitch, there are 4 pressing steps. And you know what? If you ever go into a clothing factory, you’ll see that the presser spends much more time with the garment than the stitcher does. Pressers get paid more, for that reason. A well-pressed garment is a hallmark (along with a perfectly straight seam) of a fine sewing job. Here’s a picture from the article I wrote for Threads.
Jennifer, my editor for “Pressing Matters”, and I call the garment on the left the “Sad Top” and the one on the right the “Happy Top”. Clearly the Happy Top was pressed at every step. The Sad Top is, admittedly, an egregious example of lack of pressing. But if you press your garment only at the end of its construction, you’re going to get less than stellar results.
Let me show you the difference, using silk charmeuse. I chose charmeuse because it’s notorious for showing every little lump bump and pucker. But it also responds beautifully to proper pressing. I’ve stitched the seam using contrasting thread in the needle and bobbin, so you can see what I’m doing.
Once you’ve done this, turn the fabric and press the seam on the right side. This whole process takes far less time to do than it does to read about it. And it’s worth every second you put in. Here are two samples of finished seams. The one on the bottom is the piece you see above. The one on the top is another piece of the same charmeuse, but I didn’t press the seam flat on each side, I only pressed it open.
You can see that it’s not as clean as the one where I took the extra time. It may be subtle, but it’s those subtleties that differentiate between a garment that looks like it came from Neiman Marcus and a garment that looks like Happy Hands at Home.
So next time you sit down at your machine, remember the sage words of the late, great Bobbie Carr: “Pressing is sewing.”