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Sewing your own clothes at home does not necessarily mean that your garment has to look homemade. Most of us will agree that sewing your own clothes saves you money and brings much satisfaction.  It is gratifying when you complete a project and can say that you sewed it yourself.  But, perhaps the biggest reason most people do not sew their own clothes is because they look homemade.  You start out with visions that the outfit will look exactly on you the way it looked on the pattern envelope, but when it’s finished it looks like something is missing. And, you can’t quite put your finger on what it is.






I remember staying up all night to finish outfits, so I would have something new to wear the next day for a special event or occasion. Even though I thought I looked cute, people could tell I’d made it the night before. The only time the iron touched it was when it was finished, and then I really ironed it… hard. I didn’t know what was missing until I stepped into a home economics sewing class, and saw a bunch of odd looking tools that I did not recognize, or know how to use.

Pressing tools

Pressing tools

What I learned in that class, was the secret to making home sewingnot look homemade was in the press, using those odd looking tools. I didn’t know that if I put off pressing the garment until completion, that it would be too late to set in the shape. I didn’t know that no matter how well I sewed, the professional look was also a result of proper pressing.

Yes, properly pressing seams as you sew actually shapes the garment and sets the stitching lines.  As we all know, the body is not flat, it has curves, and using the ironing board alone will not shape the garment properly.  The only way to shape your garment is by using the proper pressing equipment along with the ironing board.

If you are like me, and most home sewers, before taking a sewing class, you are also unfamiliar with specialized pressing equipment and not accustomed to using them. But, using the proper sewing tools along with the proper techniques makes the difference in the end result. It helps shape the fabric so it will fit the body more smoothly.

Pressing Equipment - Tailor's HamTailor’s Ham for pressing curved seams and dartsPressing Equipment - Tailor's Ham


Tailor’s Ham – Shape curved seam over ham

Steam iron that has the ability to produce high-pressure blasts of hot, dry steam, to press and shape fabric, and set stitches at all stages of construction.

Ironing board, well padded and smoothly covered in 100% cotton cover, absorbs moisture from the steam iron.

Tailor’s ham is a tightly stuffed wool pillow shaped like a ham for pressing shaped areas and curved seams.  It’s used in pressing and shaping parts of a garment that need to have shape or curves built into them, which are mostly the bust and hip areas.

Seam roll, or sleeve roll, is a tightly stuffed wool pillow shaped like a roll for pressing seam allowances open and pressing seams in narrow areas. It allows you to lightly press the stitching line of the seam without applying pressure along the edges of the seam allowance.

Clapper is a wooden pounding block that forces steam into the garment by beating steam into the fabric to flatten seams, sharp creases and facing edges without an over-pressed look. Or, when bulky or synthetic fabrics require extra steam and pressure.

Wooden point press is a board with a sharply pointed end, used for pressing corners and very sharp points on lapels, collars and waistbands, and pressing straight seams open.

Press cloths, a thin piece see-through material for protecting the right side of the fabric during pressing.

Pressing is different from ironing.  When most of us iron, we use a back and forth motion, moving the iron over the fabric.  In pressing, the iron is lowered to the place to be pressed, then raised off the fabric, and moved to the next area.

   First, be sure you know the fabric content to determine the proper heat setting for the iron, then follow    the techniques below as

Pressing Equipment - Tailor's Ham

Tailor’s Ham – Pressing and applying steam over ham

you sew your garment pieces together.Ironing board covers should be 100% cotton because the all cotton fabric absorbs the moisture so that the fashion fabric will dry quickly.  The traditional ironing covers with the reflective surface, actually reflects the steam, and may cause burn damage to some fabrics and slows down the drying process when you’re shaping with steam.


Press curved areas such as darts, hiplines, bustlines and collars over the tailor’s ham from the wrong side with the point of the dart      smoothed flat over the end of the ham to shape their curve.  Horizontal darts should be pressed down, and vertical darts should be pressed toward the center of the garment.

Sewing Linen Vest

Sewing Linen Vest – Almost finished


Curved seams sometimes need to be clipped slightly along the edges so they can be pressed open without puckering.  Do not clip any closer to the seam than absolutely necessary to press the seam flat.  Be careful not to cut pass the stitched seam.

Darts in heavy or bulky fabric will be less bulky if you slash, and then press open. Be careful not to slash so close to the point that the fabric will pull apart.

Sewing Linen Vest

Sewing Linen Vest – Finished

Press seams open over sleeve or seam roll from the wrong side with the tip of the iron along the stitching line to prevent the seam edges from marking or showing through on the right side.

Follow the grain line in the fabric when pressing by moving the iron in the same direction as the lengthwise yarns of the fabric.  Pressing across the grain or on the bias can stretch the garment piece out of shape.

Following the above guidelines will help you achieve professional-looking results in your sewing.  So, instead of a homemade looking garment, proper pressing will give you professional results and a garment you’ll be proud to say, “I sewed it myself.”

Thelma Horton has a degree in Home Economics, and has taught hundreds of high school students and adults how to sew for the very first time. She has also sewn prom & wedding dresses, tailored suits and coats and altered ready-to-wear for her clients.  To help others learn how to sew, she offers free tips and techniques on her learn how to sew website and authors two e-books, “Sew-It Like a Pro” and “Hem-It Yourself, Hem Finishes.”