Ironing or pressing wrinkles and creases out of clothing or fabric has NOT been a strength of mine…until now.
Most of my life after I ironed clothes the garment looked exactly like it did before any heat was applied to it. The same thing happened when I ironed or pressed a piece of fabric before a sewing project.
Regardless, I would still go through the motions of pressing the fabric before sewing because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
However, if I need any clothes ironed for work, my husband does it. He is the ironer in our family.
Note: I use the terms ironing and pressing because both have been weaknesses of mine. However, they do have different meanings.
- Ironing is the back and forth movement of the iron over a garment or piece of fabric.
- Pressing is the lifting and lowering of the iron on a garment or piece of fabric. Pressing helps to keep the fabric from stretching.
A Little History
I first became aware of my inability to iron when my husband, Douglas, and I were dating.
He worked at a restaurant called Steak ‘n Ale. The dress code for waiters was a white dress shirt and black pants.
One afternoon, he was getting ready for work but was running late. I offered to iron his shirt for him and he agreed.
I ironed the shirt with confidence using the skills and knowledge I had acquired growing up. (One of my chores had been to iron my dad’s work shirts. I got paid 50 cents for each one.)
After I finished ironing, I gave it to Douglas.
He looked at it.
Looked at me.
Then said, “Thanks, but there are a couple of spots you missed.”
He then proceeded to re-iron the ENTIRE shirt.
While re-ironing the shirt, he told me he appreciated my effort but would iron his own shirts in the future.
“What? Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong with my ironing?”
He had just finished ironing one sleeve. He compared it to the sleeve I had already ironed. There was a definite difference.
His sleeve was wrinkle-free. The sleeve I had done had wrinkles all over it. As if it had just come out of the dryer…what the heck?!
Slightly embarrassed, that got me thinking about the ironing I did as a kid. Did my mom go back and re-iron all my dad’s shirts. Did Dad just not care and wore them anyway?
When I asked my mom about it, she told me she never re-ironed anything. Also, she said Dad’s shirts were permanent press and really didn’t need to be ironed. She went on to explain it was an easy chore for me and my sister to do and limited that allowance amount to no more than $2.50 per week.
Years later, after Douglas and I were married, he tried to teach me how to iron but I never managed to master the skill.
Thank goodness he likes to iron (it relaxes him) and I was happy to let him do it. Until now.
Why I Want to Successfully Use an Iron Now
After making the decision to begin the journey of sewing my own garments, selecting fabric was going to be necessary after deciding on a pattern.
Along with that, the fabric would need to be prewashed and pressed prior to laying out the pattern pieces.
Douglas doesn’t mind ironing my clothes, but I didn’t want to be dependent on him to iron the fabric for the clothes I wanted to make.
When I was ready to sew, I wanted the fabric ready, too.
He prefers to iron while watching TV at night and I wasn’t sure how that would mesh with my sewing time.
It was time to do some research, experiment, and figure out how to iron and press with successful results!
Preparing for My First Garment
Picking Out the Pattern
I went across the street to my mom’s house and looked through all the patterns she had saved throughout the years.
My hope was to find a pattern I could use to create the first garment in my journey to sew my own wardrobe.
I found a fun looking pattern in my size for a wrap-and-go pantskirt.
Selecting the Fabric
My mom has a ginormous fabric stash. A majority of it is for quilting but she also saved a lot of different fabrics for clothing that she or my grandmother never made.
We found several solid colors of a cotton-like fabric with a visible weave that we thought would work well for the pantskirt.
Mom couldn’t remember if the fabric was 100% cotton or a polyester blend because she purchased it decades ago.
All four fabrics seemed to fit the pattern’s recommendation, I liked the colors, and the price was right. (Shopping from my mother’s stash is always free.) So, I brought them home.
Washing the Fabric
I washed and dried the fabric because the fabrics had a slight odor from being stored for years in a Rubbermaid tub.
After pulling the fabrics out of the dryer, I was dismayed to see they all retained creases where they had been folded. Evidently being folded in a bin for years results in some stubborn creases.
I asked my husband, the ironing expert in our house, if the creases would iron out.
He replied, “Probably. But with cotton and cotton blends, it usually works best when the fabric is slightly damp.”
Pretty sure the fabric was either 100% cotton or a cotton/poly blend, I filled the iron with water and set it to medium heat.
I was all ready to apply what I had learned in my research and figure out this thing called ironing!
How the Fabric Looked in the Beginning
To illustrate what I learned, the methods I used, and the results of each method you’ll need to know what the symbols mean in the photos below.
Symbols in Each Photo
- Circles – The circles anchor the photo. Each circle is around a white dot that is a minor flaw in the fabric.
- Arrows – The arrows identify the stubborn creases that did not come out of the fabric after it was washed and dried.
- Dotted lines – The dotted lines enclose the area where I used different methods to remove the wrinkles and creases. I only used the iron in this area so I could compare my efforts to the original appearance of the fabric.
How to Successfully Iron or Press Wrinkles and Creases
Tip 1 – Know What You’re Ironing
When ironing clothes, you always want to check garment labels for fabric composition and ironing instructions.
When purchasing fabric to be used in constructing a garment, read the end of the bolt to identify fabric composition and ironing instructions.
If you’re unsure of the fabric composition, set the temperature for what you think the fabric is. Start with a lower temperature. Then test a small area to see results. Adjust the temperature if necessary.
Not knowing the exact composition of the fabric I got from my mom, I started with a medium temperature because that was the suggestion for polyester on my iron’s dial.
Tip 2: Use the Correct Temperature
The correct temperature is one factor in getting rid of wrinkles and creases.
Because I didn’t know the exact blend of fabric, I tested a small corner at medium heat. The fabric didn’t scorch or burn, so I increased the temperature.
Knowing the fabric could possibly be 100% cotton, I wanted to keep increasing the heat and testing the results until I could get the temperature as high as possible without damaging the fabric.
After a few minutes, I discovered I could set the iron to the highest temperature without damaging the fabric.
With the iron set to the correct temperature, I first tried to iron out the wrinkles and creases with a dry iron.
Tip 3: Use Water on Natural Fibers
Most of the clothing my husband irons are made from natural fibers like cotton and linen. He knows they are easier to iron if they are slightly damp and that’s what he told me.
Having no success with a dry iron, the next thing I tried on the fabric was ironing with steam.
With steam, the wrinkles were much improved but the creases were still slightly visible.
The fabric needed to be damper than the steam was getting it. Especially where the creases were.
I used the spray function on the iron to mist the fabric, applying a little more water to the creases, and started to iron.
I realized as I ironed I was constantly moving the iron over the fabric. It really didn’t stay in one place for too long. The iron really needed to be on the fabric for a longer period of time.
Tip 4 – Time and Pressure
After applying the spray to the fabric and creases a second time, I tried letting the iron do the work.
This time I pressed instead of ironed. I placed and held the iron in one spot, then lifted it up and repeated letting the heat remove the wrinkles and creases.
For the deeper creases, I applied some steam, too.
Curious, I experimented with different amounts of pressure on the iron. I discovered the iron could remove the creases and wrinkles even when I didn’t push down on it at all. All I really needed to do was hold it in place long enough.
Maybe that’s why I’ve had little success ironing most of my life … I wasn’t allowing the time and pressure necessary for the iron to do its work.
Hopefully, you’ve had more success than I’ve had with ironing. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing probably not.
If you haven’t, remember the following four tips for successful ironing and pressing:
- Know the fabric composition of what you’re ironing.
- Use the correct temperature setting. (If you’re unsure what temperature to use, start with a lower setting, test it, and increase the temperature if necessary.)
- Use water on fabrics made from natural fibers.
- Allow enough time and let the iron press out wrinkles and creases.
Steam and mist work best on natural fibers as does the time and pressing technique. It’s important to mention that natural fibers are only a small portion of available fabrics.
Important: Pressing and holding the iron isn’t the right technique for all fabrics.
There are many different types of fabrics and blends available in ready-to-wear clothes and in fabric shops. It’s critical to know the type of fabric you’re ironing so you can use the correct temperature setting.
I’m all about learning and want to help you have wildly successful sewing experiences.
Send questions you have about sewing-related topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.