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Quilting Tips

Why and How to Press Fabric the Right Way

how to press fabric

When you’re really excited about a new sewing or quilting project, it’s tempting to skip the pressing step and get straight to sewing. We’ve all been in this position. But trust me when I say that it’s worth taking the time to properly press your fabric.

Why? Because your project will look more professional.

Just like anything else in sewing, you need to press the fabric properly to get the results you want.

Why is Pressing Important?

Why should you press your fabric before you start sewing? Because you want the fabric to be as flat and smooth as possible when working on your project.

If your fabric is crinkled or wrinkled before you start sewing, it will probably stay that way no matter how many times you dry it or iron it. It’s particularly difficult to remove wrinkles if they’re sewn into the seam.

Pressing also ensures that your measurements are accurate. Whether you’re quilting or sewing a garment, you need your measurements to be precise. Otherwise, pieces won’t line up, or you may wind up with some pieces that are bigger or smaller than others.

Pressing vs. Ironing

Pressing is very different from ironing. It all comes down to the motion.

When you press fabric, you simply lift the iron up and down on the fabric. With ironing, you’re actually swiping the iron across the fabric in a backward and forward motion.

Tools You’ll Need to Press Fabric

There are some optional tools you can use when pressing fabric, like clappers, a seam stick and a point presser. But for most projects, you won’t need these tools.

You’ll need a few different types of press cloths to work with different fabrics, including cotton muslin, silk organza, cotton drill, velvet or corduroy. As a general rule of thumb, you want the press cloth to match the weight of the fabric you’re working with.

How to Press Fabric

Before you start pressing, I recommend washing the fabric first. Prewashing will pre-emptively shrink the fabric and remove any debris that may have been left over from manufacturing.

After prewashing, you can move on to pressing.

Test the Iron

Before you go to town and start pressing all of your fabric, you’ll want to test the heat of the iron first.

  • Find a small corner of the fabric that you won’t be using.
  • Test the iron by pressing it down onto the wrong side of the fabric for several seconds.

Note: Do not test the iron on delicate fabrics or velvet. You’ll need to use a pressing cloth when working with these fabrics. Direct contact with the iron will ruin the fabric.

Additionally, you’ll always want to use a pressing cloth on:

  • Synthetic fabric
  • Silks and delicate fabrics
  • Coating weight wools
  • PVC, oilcloth and pleather
  • Scuba material

If the fabric looks fine, you can continue on with pressing. But if the iron leaves a mark, you’ll need to turn down the heat. Try turning off the iron for a few minutes to let it cool down. When you’re ready to turn it back on, choose a cooler setting.

If the iron continues to leave marks, you may need to skip pressing for your fabric or get a new iron. There may be something wrong with the heating mechanism that’s causing it to get too hot.

Once you’ve tested the heat setting, you’ll want to test the steam setting. Steaming works great for most fabrics, but you may find that it warps thinner fabrics.

Pressing Fabric Step-by-Step

You’ve tested the heat and steam settings on your iron, and you’re ready to go.

1. Position Your Fabric

Start by laying down the fabric on the ironing board with the wrong side facing up.

If you’re working with a large piece of fabric, you can drape it over the edge of the ironing board and slide it across the board as you press.

The pressing fabric should be placed between the fabric and the iron.

2. Focus on Trouble Spots

Many beginners are tempted to skip the pressing step because they think they have to press every single inch of the fabric. That’s not necessary.

The goal right now is to focus on the trouble areas where there are wrinkles and creases.

3. Start Pressing

Start with the first trouble area. Take your iron, and press down on the crease or wrinkle for several seconds.

Simply pressing down on the wrinkle should flatten it out. If it doesn’t work and you still have a wrinkle, press again.

Do not press the fabric for too long, or you’ll risk burning it. And check to make sure that you’re pressing the fabric – not ironing. It’s easy to fall into auto-pilot mode and start ironing when you should be pressing.

4. Continue Pressing for Each Crease and Wrinkle

Repeat the previous step for every crease and wrinkle in the fabric. The goal is to get the fabric as flat as possible without damaging it.

Once you’re done pressing, lay out your fabric and cut it immediately. If you fold or store your fabric at this time, you’ll only create more wrinkles and creases.

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