Pressing or Ironing

We Carry
by in Sewing Tips

Ironing and pressing are often used interchangeably, but are actually two separate techniques. Ironing is the back and forth sliding motion most of us are familiar with and do regularly at home. Pressing is the placing of the iron on the fabric, holding it there, and then removing.

When working with loosely woven fabric such as tailored shirts, suits, lined garments, silks, or rayons, the act of ironing can distort the fibers. If using steam, this will move and keep the fibers in the new unwanted shape. These fabrics need gentle pressing with heat in an up and down lifting of the iron.

Pressing without distorting the fabric is a challenge for many quilters. Ironing, moving the iron back and forth, will often distort blocks, pleat seams on the front, or make seam allowances wander from side to side on the back. These common problems affect how well blocks fit together and the overall look of the quilt.

The most common pressing technique is to lay the seam to be pressed on the ironing board with the darkest color on top (or the fabric that the seam will be pressed towards). Use a dry iron to set the seam placing the iron directly down on top of the unopened seam. Lift the top fabric and let fall over the top of the seam allowance. Avoid pulling the fabric too far back or the seam allowance will flip toward the bottom fabric. Move the iron sideways along the bottom fabric toward the seam, letting the edge of the iron push the top fabric into place.

To steam or not to steam? Steam does have a place in the quilter’s world. A dry iron is best used during the construction of blocks. To help set the seams, blocks, sashings and borders, steam the quilt top at the every end, letting the quilt completely dry and cool before moving. Some quilters will spray a light coating of spray starch during the final pressing using a dry iron.