Basic Pressing Techniques

Basic Pressing Techniques

There are a few basic pressing techniques for pressing particular seams and stitching, which are adapted for pressing all stages of construction.

Always remove pins and tacking stitches before pressing. Pins damage the fabric and the sole plate of the iron; tacking stitches leave an imprint and are not so easy to remove after pressing. If you have to press prior to stitching, use fine thread and diagonal tacking.

When pressing a section of a garment for the first time, press the whole piece, not just the area around the seam or dart. In many cases there is a slight shrinkage even with pre-shrunk fabrics.

Always use a sleeveboard, seamboard, pressing mitt or tailor’s ham when pressing small details.

Plain Seam

Press the seam in the same position as it was stitched, using a pressing cloth if necessary. Open out the seam, wrong side up over the sleeveboard. Use your fingers to open up the point of the seam. Press the seam open, using a pressing cloth between the iron and the fabric.

For heavy fabrics, place a strip of brown paper under the seam to prevent the imprint of the edge of the fabric appearing on the right side of the fabric.

How to Press a Plain Seam

Curved Seam

A curved seam must be layered before it is pressed. See seam layering, page 51. Then place the curved seam over the curve of a pressing mitt on the end of a sleeveboard, or over the curve of a tailor’s ham. Open and press as for a plain seam.

French Seam

After stitching the first stage of a French seam, press as for a plain seam in the position it was stitched. Use a pressing cloth, as the seam is stitched on the right side of the fabric. Press the seam open with the point of the iron in the usual way, then trim seam allowance. Turn seam to wrong side and fold sharply on the first line of stitching. Press again. Stitch the second stage of the seam, then press the stitching and fold back on itself again, before pressing for the final time.

Darts and Tucks

Press the dart flat, as it was stitched, pressing the crease only as far as the point of the stitching. Place the dart over the curve of a pressing mitt, which has been placed on the small end of a sleeveboard, or over the curve of a tailor’s ham. Darts are pressed towards the centre of a skirt front and back, blouse front and back; and downwards at the underarm and elbow.

Turn dart in the appropriate direction and, if the fabric is heavy, slip a piece of brown paper under the dart to prevent an imprint on the right side. Press towards the point of the dart, and then press the entire section, using a pressing cloth.

Press tucks in the same way: they are normally pressed towards the centre if they are on the inside of a garment, and outwards or downwards if they are on the outside of an item.

How to Press Darts

Darts in Heavy Fabrics

Darts in heavy fabrics are slashed and pressed open to reduce bulk. After pressing the dart flat, as stitched, place the dart over the curve of a pressing mitt or tailor’s ham. Open the dart with the point of the iron.
Place a strip of brown paper under each side of the dart, cover with the correct pressing cloth and moist cloth where necessary. Press the dart open.

Neckline and Facing Seams

Press the seam in the same position . as stitched, after trimming the seam allowance, clipping corners and curves, and notching where necessary. Slip the facing over the seamboard, so that the seam lies along the top of it. Apply moisture with a sponge or paintbrush. Carefully control the heat of the iron so that you can press without a pressing cloth in this step.On the curve of the neckline, press just a small portion at a time. Lift the garment with both hands to move it.

Curved Darts

After pressing as stitched, slash darts at waistline to relieve strain. Position the top half of the dart over a pressing mitt on the end of the ironing board as for ordinary darts. Repeat for the lower half of the dart. Use the appropriate pressing cloth and moisture.

Using a Pounding Block

Use a pounding block to press faced lapels and collars on tailored suits and coats that are made of heavy or bulky fabrics. Stand the iron on its heel and cover with a piece of damp towelling. Hold the facing in front of the towel and allow the steam to penetrate the fabric. Then quickly pound the finished edge of the garment with the wooden block. This will force out the steam and leave a flat edge without a shine.


Press from the wrong side, moving the point of the iron in towards the stitching. Lift the iron, move along and repeat. Since the gathers are usually made in soft fabric, a pressing cloth is not usually necessary (and would make the job more tricky).


Hems should not be visible on the right side of the finished garment. As well as marking, folding and finishing the hem properly (see page 100) you must press it carefully. First mark and fold up the hem, then tack the hem in position 6 mm (‘/4 inch) from the fold. Place the garment, wrong side up, over the end of the ironing board. Cover with the correct pressing cloth and apply the moisture required by the fabric. Do not slide the iron: lift it from one section to the next, pressing lightly and forcing steam through the pressing cloth to form a sharp crease at the fold.

When pressing bulky fabrics, use a wooden pounding block.If you want a softer hemline, particularly on double knits and woollens, press the hem very lightly so that you do not flatten the fold.

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