How to Iron Clothes Simple Steps



A skilled sewist or tailor puts as much artistry into wielding a hot iron as she gives to plying a needle. Factory sewing often eliminates pressing after each step; however, in custom and couture sewing, as soon as you finish a seam, it is pressed flat. At virtually every stage of garment assembly, the fabric is carefully molded with a pressing technique.

Select an iron temperature that matches your fabric. Natural fibers such as cotton and wool can withstand high temperatures, but synthetic fibers can easily scorch. Steam and moisture may be used depending on the fabric and garment.

Ironing is a lost art. I have learned a lot about garment care because my mom irons every day, including pillowcases, sheets, shirts, and all the family clothing.


Use the iron as soon as you begin a project in order to smooth the material and pattern. The secret of perfect ironing is to use a long, gliding motion. Do not push when you move the iron forward. Try not to move backward so that you do not put wrinkles back in the material.


Pressing is a quite different technique from ironing. Pressing is used to flatten details such as pleats or seams as soon as they are permanently sewn. The trick here is to set the iron straight down vertically, directly on the spot to be pressed, add heat and pressure, and then lift straight up.


It is easier to press a seam during the sewing process than it is to wait until later when the iron must be wiggled into the corners of the completed garment. With your free hand, open the angles and folds in the fabric. Use only the point of the iron to press the confined spaces. Pressing tools such as a mini-iron or point presser are perfect to press these hard-to-reach areas.


Final ironing and pressing are done on the right side of the fabric, the side that is visible in the completed garment. Place a cloth over the material to protect it from scorching or developing a shine. Use a silicone cloth for heavy fabrics and silk organza or cotton for lightweight materials. To get the right ironing temperature, experiment with a swatch of extra material.

Of course, the most essential pressing tools are a first-rate steam iron and an ironing board with a scorch-resistant cover. Some people use an adjustable board and others may like a flat surface or table mat. In addition, specialized pressing boards and forms allow the sewist to do the extra-fine shaping and molding that help give a tailored garment its distinctive look.

Back row (left to right): velvet board, pressing ham, pressing sleeve; front row: pressing clapper, mesh pressing cloth, pressing mit, iron, spray stiffener; underneath: sleeve board


Sleeve Board

This is a miniature ironing board for pressing small areas such as sleeve and neck seams that will not fit over the end of a regular ironing board. The sleeve board may also be used when pressing straight darts and when shrinking out puckers along the armhole seams. The best sleeve boards for tailoring rest on a sturdy wooden platform. They should be well padded and covered with a firmly woven twilled cotton fabric called cotton drill cloth. Wash the cloth cover before using it to remove all sizing or starch, which would otherwise cause the iron to stick and would also adhere to the garment fabric.

Pressing Cloth

When pressing, you should place this piece of fabric, preferably cotton drill cloth, between the iron and the garment. For all pressing operations while the garment is being made, use a dry cloth; enough steam from your iron will pass through the cloth to shape the fabric. For final pressing, use a damp cloth to remove any gloss or shine the fabric has picked up during construction. Wash all new pressing cloths before using to remove the sizing. If cotton drill cloth is not available, substitute white paper towels.

Tailor’s Ham

This oval, ham-shaped cushion has built-in curves that conform to the general contours of the body. Use the ham when pressing areas that require shaping, such as the curved darts on the jacket front and the seams at the bust, chest, shoulder, and hip. The ham is also a convenient aid for pressing collars into shape, for sculpting the roll line of lapels, for pressing open the armhole seam, and for shrinking out fullness at the armhole. Select a ham that is firmly stuffed, smoothly rounded, and with a surface free of lumps. One half should be covered with cotton drill cloth, to be used when pressing most fabrics. The other half should be covered with soft, lightweight wool, which must always be used when pressing woolen fabric to prevent shine.

Press Mitt

A soft, padded, thumbless mitten that fits over the entire hand, this item is used to give a light pressing to small, curved areas, such as sleeve caps, that do not fit over the tailor’s ham or the regular ironing board. It may also be slipped over the narrow end of the sleeve board to provide extra padding. As in the tailor’s ham, one side of the mitt should be covered with cotton drill cloth and the other side with soft, lightweight wool.

Point Presser

A point presser is a narrow, hardwood board mounted on its side and shaped into a fine point at one end; it’s also called a seam board or tailor’s board. It is used for pressing open small seams in narrow or hard-to-reach places such as collars, lapel peaks or points, and waistbands. Since the point presser is bare wood, not covered by padding or drill cloth, it also provides a firm, hard surface for pressing open regular seams on hard fabrics that do not flatten easily. Before using, make sure that the hardwood surface and edges of the presser are completely smooth, with no nicks or splinters that could cause damage to the fabric. Point pressers and clappers (see below) are frequently combined into a single piece of equipment.

Tailor’s Sleeve Cushion

This is a long, flat pad with a sleeve-like silhouette that is sometimes inserted into a completed sleeve to prevent wrinkling the underside or forming undesired creases when pressing. Since sleeve cushions are not generally available outside tailor’s specialty shops, you may have to make do with an ordinary ironing board. Simply lay the sleeve on the ironing board and press it down the center, being careful not to crease the edges. Then roll the sleeve slightly and again run the iron down the center. Continue in this manner until the entire sleeve is pressed.


For dampening a pressing cloth—or the fabric itself if you need extra moisture to flatten a stubborn seam—a sponge is perfect. The sponge is also handy to wipe up water spillage from an overfull steam iron. Keep the sponge clean and let it dry out frequently to avoid mildewing; never store it near metal tools or you run the risk of rusting them.

Tailor’s Clapper

A tailor’s clapper is an oblong or rectangular piece of hardwood; it’s also called a beater, striker, or pounding block. As these names imply, the clapper is wielded like a paddle to slap parts of the garment in order to shape them. Typically, it is used to flatten the edges of collars, hems, and lapels, to form trouser creases and pleats, or in any other areas where a crisp, sharp edge is desired. When working with very heavy fabrics, use a clapper to smooth and reduce the bulk of seams. Before using a clapper, cover the fabric to be shaped with a press cloth and apply steam from the iron until the fabric is thoroughly moistened. Remove the cloth and pound the area until the fabric is dry and the desired edge has become distinct. Because a clapper (like a point presser, above) has no cloth covering, make sure that the surface and the edges are smooth and splinter-free.

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