First of all, what is considered “good” pressing technique, and why should you care? Pressing is the step that happens after a seam is sewn, and the pressure, heat, and (when appropriate) steam all work to relax a fabric’s fibers around a seam and “set” it in place. Typically this is done once a seam is sewn, and then again to press the seam allowances open or to one side. If you aren’t already making it a habit to properly press your seams, you’ll find that adding this step to your sewing practice is one of the fastest, easiest, and least expensive ways to level up your sewing projects. It’s often the biggest difference between a garment that looks homemade and one that looks professional.
But what about in the middle of summer, when turning on the iron sounds as undesirable as turning on the oven? There is no denying that irons can heat up an entire room quickly, especially if they are left on in the background. While we don’t recommend skipping the iron entirely, there are times when it might make sense to seek out alternatives.
You’ve heard of batch sewing, right? Instead of cutting and sewing a single garment straight through and according to the instruction booklet, you can “batch” different processes together to save time. For example, cutting multiple projects out at once, making duplicates of the same pattern at the same time (like the Plantain), or prioritizing your sewing queue by thread color.
The same idea can be applied to sewing and pressing seams. Instead of pressing after every single seam, try sewing as many seams as you can until you can’t move forward without pressing. Then, press all of those seams, and repeat. This will allow you to only turn on the iron when you need it, and you may find you only have to iron once or twice during an entire sewing session (rather than throughout).
Seam presser: also known as a wooden iron, finger presser, or crease maker, this handheld tool has a wedge at the end and uses pressure to open the seams. Alternatively, you can use half a clothespin, a chinese spoon, or a tongue depressor as an inexpensive alternative.
Seam roller: works similarly to a seam presser, but instead of a wedge it features a solid wheel that rolls over the seam. The wheel is typically tapered so that pressure is applied only to the seam line and not the rest of the seam allowance. These can be found online or at hardware stores.
We don’t recommend either of these as a total replacement for the iron (unless you are working with a stiff cotton, in which case it may be fine), but used in conjunction with batch pressing, a seam presser or seam roller can provide a great temporary press until it’s time to dig out the iron. Both are more effective and are easier on your hands than finger pressing, and they are available in a variety of materials. Keep in mind that they work best with natural fibers like cotton and linen, and if you want to manipulate the fabric into a specific shape, you’ll still need to use steam.