Pressing seams and darts is the secret to making clothes that look professional.


The best iron gets hot and stays hot and gives off a good shot of steam.

Always test a scrap of your fabric to determine the best setting to use.

You'll also need a clapper/pointer, a hardwood tool for flattening seams and pressing points; a pressing ham, a contoured device that looks like its namesake and is used to shape darts and curved seams; and a press cloth.

Press cloths protect the surface of the garment fabric, and professionals rely on them. Use a cotton, see-through press cloth for cottons, silks, and linens; a specially treated, heavy drill (cotton twill) press cloth and a scrap of wool for pressing wools.

The heavy cotton protects the wool fabric, particularly if you are ironing the right side of the fabric, and allows you to press with the iron set at a high temperature.

Wool pressed against wool prevents the fabric from flattening and becoming shiny. (Professional tailors often sew a square of wool to one area of the heavy-cotton press cloth in order to have both at hand.)

Test your fabric to see if it can be pressed on the right side. If right-side pressing changes the appearance of the fabric, always use a press cloth. Your fingers are also important pressing tools, especially for fabrics that are slippery or don’t hold shape easily.

Finger-press all seams before using the iron.


After sewing each seam and dart, press it flat, as it was sewn, to blend the stitches, smooth the fabric, and erase puckers.

Then press the seams open on the wrong side of the fabric. Use your fingers and the point of the iron to open the seam halves to lie flat as you work (1).

💡 1. Press the seam flat on the wrong side, holding the seam halves open as you work.
Press the seam flat on the wrong side

Press the seam or dart again on the right side of the fabric, using the press cloth if necessary (2).

💡 2. Press again from the right side, using a press cloth if necessary.
Press again from the right side

Unlike ironing, which is a sliding motion, pressing is a lifting and lowering motion.

As you work, use the clapper to flatten and cool the pressed area.

The hardwood absorbs heat and moisture, and the weight of the tool and the pounding flattens the stitched seam or dart. For some fabrics, such as cottons, rayons, and silks, just the weight of the clapper is enough to do the job; for wools, you may need to apply extra pressure.

Also press back darts and curved seams over the ham to build curves and shape the garment (3).

💡 3. Shape curved darts and seams by pressing them over a ham.
Shape curved darts and seams by pressing them over a ham

Press front darts over the ham’s flattest part to avoid rounding them.

Press all vertical darts toward the center of the garment.

After pressing, seams and darts should be so flat they almost disappear. Let the pressed area cool before readjusting the fabric on the ironing board.

Pressing the Stretch out of Bias
Before handling any piece of fabric that’s been cut on the bias, press the stretch out. This technique is straight from the workrooms of French couture. After pressing, the seams of bias-cut skirt panels can be sewn with minimum distortion. After the garment is finished, the hem will not sag, and the skirt will be less likely to stretch in length and decrease in width. Position the bias-cut skirt panel on a pressing surface that is long enough for the entire length. Steam-press, and as you do, gently stretch the fabric in the lengthwise direction of the skirt. Begin at one seam and work in radiating parallel lines across the panel to the other seam. Allow the fabric to cool before repositioning it. Repeat the process with all of the skirt panels. The hem may become uneven, but after you've measured it and hemmed it evenly, it will stay even.
Mark darts with tacks
Steam-press while gently stretching the fabric lengthwise to ensure that the finished garment will hold its shape.