The secret to better sewing
Which sentence sounds better?
You made that!
YOU made that???
Right, the words are the same, but the meaning is completely different.
When I started sewing some years ago, I would proudly present my items and people would nod politely and say „Right, you made that, looks nice….”.
Okay, all know, what nice means. So it is something completely else, when someone widely opens his eyes and you can see the astonishment, awe and almost disbelief, accompanied by the exclamation „YOU MADE THAT??”. Stroking units for soul and ego and a great reward for all the work you put into your project.
But how do you achieve such a let’s call it emotional outbreak? You will need the right ingredients (like nice fabrics and threads), but also the right tools. With the right tools, the results won’t be only much more attractive, but also the work will be a whole lot easier.
And that is also true in sewing, you need the right tools.
And by that I don’t mean the super expensive sewing machine, with 257 possible stitches and 125 presser feet, an integrated foot pressure sensor, integrated embroidery machine, that can deal 50×50 framces, darns your socks by itself and of course makes coffee, when you get tired.
I know, these offers sound tempting, and I enjoy watching those offers just as everybody else. But no, to make your project more beautiful, you don’t need such a wonder machine. A starchiefs capabilities won’t get any better by using a 5000$ pot.
So what are the right tools?
What you need are not sewing tools, what you need are pressing tools:!
Pressing is great! Pressing is awesome!! By pressing everything just gets so much better!
I mean frankly, we don’t really need to press our bed linen, do we? It will get clean and (hopefully) germ-free by the hot washing and if it is smooth and flat no one really would every see. And after one night, it has resolved itself…
… but this one night!!!! ! In freshly washed AND pressed linen!!! I am sure, you know what I mean 🙂
Okay, so back to the topic.
What is actually happening, when pressing your fabric?
Well, by pressing, we straighten our fabrics and remove wrinkles. What your fabric needs to really become wrinkle free, depends on the fiber it is made of.
Fabrics made of natural fibers, like cotton, linen, silk or wool are hydrothermoplastical.
Crazy word, isn’t? It means, with water (hydro) and heat (thermo) they can be formed (plastical).
Synthetics like polyester are „only” thermoplastical. This means, they require heat (and pressure) to be shaped. Despite natural fibers, synthetics don’t have a hollow space, that could be filled with moisture and help straightening the cell structure.
Of course the fabrics also distinguish as to how much heat they can take.
Fibers made of acrylic, nylon or acetate can only be pressed by around 110° Celsius, whereas wool and polyester can take about 150° Celsius and for cotton and linen it can be even 200-220° Celsius.
If you are unsure, what your fabric is made of or how much heat it can take, just check the laundry. You won’t find the exact heat number but an iron with either one dot, two or three. These stand for the three heat levels mentioned above.
And besides that, laundry labels can be super funny 😀
What do you need for pressing?
Of course without iron, no ironing. You can choose between dry or steam iron, although nowadays most irons are steam irons. And that is perfectly fine, because as you have seen many fabrics require moisture to flatten. If you prefer a dry iron, you would need to either spritz some water on the fabric, or place a damp cloth above it, because without moisture you can’t flatten it out. On the other hand dry irons are have the advantage of not spilling water. Especially in silk water spots can leave ugly stains.
With a steam iron, you’ll have a water tank, that needs to be filled with water, that will then be heated and emitted through the iron sole.
Here some basics:
Steam develops from around 100°. So if your iron is set to heat level one, don’t expect some good steam. Your water just won’t be hot enough, to make steam out of it. But if you’re pressing like wild the steam button or switch the button to have it open like all the time, you just open the gates to let the water run out. So, if you want to have some nice steams, do the following.
Make sure, your iron and the steam function are switched off. Fill in the water (possibly de-calcified) and switch the iron to the needed temperature. Now WAIT until the water has reached its temperature (usually this is indicated with a little lamp going off). Now you can use the steam function without ruining your fabric, iron desk and floor with over-flooding water.
2. Ironing Board
To use the iron, we need also a suitable ironing surface, usually an ironing board. Those come in all kind of sizes and some with even some very cool features. From super simple to super high-tech. Many tailor’s will use a pressing station, where the water tank is not in the iron, but separated. The advantage is that you can fill in much more water. Furthermore, these stations usually have a heated surface (remember heat plays an important role to shape fabrics) and some kind of suction function. That has several advantages. Because our fabrics can be shaped when in contact with heat they also easily loose shape when moved as long as they are warm. The suction cools down the fabric in seconds, so they can be removed safely. Furthermore you can „fix” them to the board by suctioning. This is very useful for those slippery fabrics.
And how will that improve my sewing?
The secret is to press each seam right after sewing!
First you press your closed seam from both sides and then you open the seam. With enough steam press the seam open from the wrong side and finally go over the opened seam from the right side.
Make sure your seam is really open and that there are not little fabric pucker hidden in the seam.
Another important point is to not press and move the iron as that will distract the fabric grain. The pressing we do is really just pressing. So you set the iron, press, lift the iron, move to another sport and set down again. Otherwise just hover the iron over the fabrics without touching it.
Only when your seams are nicely pressed, you can go again to the sewing machine.
Quite some sewer like to skip this step. Maybe there is not enough space to have an ironing board set up or they feel it takes too much time to commute between sewing machine and ironing board.
Or you just make one by yourself 🙂
A wood panel (mine was 40x40cm)
Cotton batting or thermolan
Nice coverfabric (cotton or linnen)
maybe some glue or a helping hand
Cut the batting to the same measure as your panel. The cover fabric should be somewhat bigger so you can turn it under.
Staple your wood-batting-fabric sandwich at the bottom. This is when a helping hand might be handy, or just use some glue to temporarily fix the fabric. And ready is your little pressing board 🙂
Basically yes, but sewing wouldn’t be such a cool hobby, without all those little extras for even better results.
1. Sewing ham
A sewing ham is THAT ONE tool, that will bring you many of those Ohhs and Ahhhs..
This is because the curves on the ham, will allow you to press some curves into the fabric, which makes totally sense.
Think about it, our body is three dimensional, so to cover it, we need to shape the two dimensional flat fabric pieces to adapt to our curves. We do that by using seam lines and darts. So at these points we don’t want the fabric to be flat, but have a round. Now if i take that roundness and roll over with my iron, then you can wave your rounds good bye. Furthermore, you’d probably press in more wrinkles than out.
So keep in mind:
One layer of fabric is flat and can be pressed flat.
Two layers of fabric sewn together are (most of the time) also and can be pressed flat.
A straight open seam is also flat and can be pressed flat.
BUT: An opened curved seam like a princess seam or a dart are NOT flat and hence can not be pressed on a flat surface.
For these places look for a equivalent curve on your ham and lay it below the fabric and press it. Your seam will look nice and flat and your fabric can keep its three dimensional shape.
2. Seam role
The seam role is another tool which makes your seams look so much more beautiful. This tool is especially handy, when you something like a tube, say a sleeve. You simply insert the role and press the seam as described above. This really helps reducing additional wrinkles where you don’t want them. Remember, the best way to take out wrinkles is not to make them in the first place.
A ham and seam role are not really expensive, but making them by yourself is even more economical. At Elewas blog you’ll find a nice sewing pattern and some easy to follow instructions.
3. Seam Stick
The seam stick is like half a wooden stick. This way you’ll have one side round and the other flat. This is handy so the stick won’t roll away. It works basically the same a the seam role and helps to avoid imprints of the seam allowances on the right side of the fabric. A seam stick is quickly found in any hardware store 🙂
If you need something even faster, than simply use same backing paper between seam allowances and fabric to avoid the imprints
4. Tailor’s Board or Point Presser
This tools has as many names as it has forms and shapes. But in the end they all serve the same purpose.
The nice pressing of a point.
Let’s say you want to sew a collar. You will have to sew a corner. As long as the two pieces are flat you can press, but how to press those seams open? This is when the point presser makes his entrance. You just place the seam on the point presser and now you can easily press those little seams and corners.
The clapper is often the base of the point presser, but you can certainly get one on its own. It is a very versatile tool.
When you have a somewhat thicker fabric and you can’t really get those seams to lie flat, than put it quite some steam in to the seam and press it with the clapper. The wood will absorb the steam, and cool down the fabric, while the pressure of the clapper will give the fabric is shape.
You can also use the clapper to press in creases, like the crease fold on pants. Apply again steam to the fabric and use the clapper to set the crease.
Just keep in mind, that a crease set with a clapper is not likely to be every removed completely again. Also an unintentionally set crease is there for almost eternity.
6. Pressing Clothes
Our fibers need heat to be shaped, but then they often don’t like the direct contact to the iron. Poly fibers will melt, wool gets shiny and looses it’s elasticity when pressed to hot. Silk is so delicate that many wouldn’t dare to press it at all. A remedy can be pressing clothes. These are places above the fabric when ironed, and prevent the direct contact between fabric and iron. Some of those are even heat resistant up to 200 degree. If you don’t want to pay, you could also uses some of your rest. Look around in your stash. I have a little collection of different fabrics I use as pressing clothes. Like some plain old muslin, a piece of wool and my favorite silk organza.
I like to use the muslin when pressing silk. I can damp the muslin and use the the iron without the steam function. The wool is great for other wools, as I can apply enough pressure without ruining the surface. But most of the time I’ll use the silk organza, as it is also very heat resistent and transparent. So I will always see what I am pressing and won’t move the clothe away jsut to realize I pressed in a big fat crease. Just make sure, you really use silk organza and not that cheap polyester thing
7. Needle board
Yes, you read correctly,y a needle board. A needle board is not only for fakirs, but also a great sewing tool. Especially when working with velvet. When velvet is made, it is always produce “doubled”, because, there is an additional warp or weft yarn, that combines two pieces of fabrics. Once complete woven, the two layers will be cut apart through this additional yarn. This tiny yarns will stand up from the base fabric, and this is what gives velvet this nice touch.
But if you start running your heavy iron over these yarn, you will flatten them and that’s it with your velvet. So to press over iron, you lay it over a needle board. This leaves enough room for the little yarns to go in between.
If you don’t want to buy a needle board (they are pretty expensive) you can also use another piece of velvet instead.
You see, the right pressing tools and techniques will give your sewing a much cleaner and more professional look. These little tools really will make the difference between “You made that.” and “YOU made that??”.
Do you have additional pressing tools you like to use? Tell me in the comments.
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