Pressing vs ironing

The Difference Between Ironing And Pressing

In sewing, there are two ways of ironing.  

The wrong way and the right way in ironing.  The correct way is to press the fabric. This consists of an up and down motion to move along the material.  The incorrect way is to keep the iron on the material and go back and forth.

Why is ironing bad?

If you iron your fabric, it will distort the shape of the fabric.  This is why you want to press it.  Below you will find my testing experiment with ironing vs. pressing.

Three identical pieces of fabric…

First I went to the store and purchased three identical pieces of fabric.  These three pieces are fat quarters.  What is a fat quarter?  A fat quarter is a precut 1/4 of a yard of fabric.

If you take a yard of fabric and fold it in half turn it and fold in half the other way.  This will create a fat quarter.  It’s a quarter of a yard, but instead of cutting 9 inches wide by the length of the fabric at 44 inches, you get the 18 inches by 22 inches.  Therefore, it’s a more workable and useable piece of fabric with the same area, just different shaped.  One side will be the salvage, and the other three sides are cut edges.

I unfolded all three fat quarters and laid them top of each other.  They are not all the exact same size.  I took out my friskers cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter to  trim down the fat quarters so they are all the same size exactly.  They now all measure 18 inches by 22 inches. I also made sure and measured each to confirm they are identical in size.  Each one is exactly 18 inches by 22 inches.

Into the Washing Machine

Next, I wrinkled up two of the fat quarters and stuck each one in a sock.  This way when going through the washing machine and the dryer they will stay wadded up and dry all wrinkled.  I washed them on the normal warm water wash cycle with my load of towel laundry.

Into the Dryer

Next, they both went into the dryer with a load of towels, still stuffed into each of their socks.  I put them on the regular heat dry cycle for 50 minutes.

As you can tell, this is my not so technical way to wrinkle these fat quarters.  Just washing and drying them without being in a wad, stuffed into a sock doesn’t create a lot of wrinkles.  The fat quarters start to fray apart on the three raw edges.  (As you will see in last two sets of my photos.  Even with the fat quarters being in a ball protected in a sock they still start to fray and have strings hanging off the edges.)

Out of the dryer, onto the ironing board.

Here is where pressing vs ironing comes into play full force.  After taking the two fat quarters out of my two socks it is now time to start the experiment.  I started by smoothing them both on the ironing board by hand, getting them opened up and lying as flat as possible.  Next I fill my Rowenta iron to the fill line with distilled water.

(Yes, it is very important that you use distilled water in your iron.  If you use regular tap water, over time calcium and mineral deposits will build up.  They will start to come out of the iron while you are ironing and possibly even clog the steam and spray parts of the iron. As well as, even potentially ruining the item you are ironing.)


You are probably asking what is really the difference between ironing and pressing fabrics.  Also does it make that much of a difference?  And, is there a difference between the two?  Hence, the answer is YES, it really does make a difference and here is why.  Ironing is when you put the iron on the fabric and move back and forth.

The issues

This action can stretch the fibers in the material.   The fabric will loose its original shape until it is rewashed.  Sure, on some sewing projects it might not mater but others it will create a headache with trying to line up seams correctly.

Sometimes it isn’t noticeable until after you have finished your project.  You will have worn your sewn garment and now after washing it for the first time after is has been sewn together.  When it comes out of the wash one side of the fabric at some of the seams on lay nicely like they did when you originally finished the outfit.  One side will seem to be stretched a bit and may even have a little puckering to it.


Pressing your fabric is an up and down motion.  Don’t put the iron on the fabric and slide back and forth without picking up the iron.  Each time you will press for a few seconds and then pick the iron up off the fabric and move it to another spot and repeat.

To steam or not to steam

Sometimes I will use the automatic steam setting on the iron and use the extra steam button along with the mist button.  Always make sure it is okay to use steam on the fabric you are using.  I am using cotton, so I have the iron set on the appropriate temperate setting for this fabric.

Pressing does take some time to get used to doing.  And it can also take longer to get your fabric free of wrinkles, but it is more likely not to distort your fabric.

When using steam isn’t appropriate for your type of fabric that you are using, I will sometimes use spray starch.  Once again you have to make sure spray starch is safe for the fabric you are using.  If you are not sure, you can always test out the steam or spray starch on a scrap piece of your project fabric.

The evidence

Ironing fat quarter

Pressing fat quarter

The ironing photo set on the left is the measurements of the fat quarter after ironing.  Notice in this pair of photos that the one on the left the top 18 inch line is straight across the top edge.  Also see where the edge where the numbers are counting up is flush with the side of the ruler around the 9 to 10 inch marks and goes completely screwy by the 18 inch mark.  The right picture of this pair, the fabric is actually above the 22 inch mark.  Even along the side of this piece of fabric is misshaped and not straight.

Now look to the right set of images that are of the fat quarter where the pressing technique is utilized.  Notice how both the side where the numbers are counting up and the top side of the ruler line up entirely with the edge of the fabric.  It is extremely little to no distortion of the fabric.

My take away from this blog article post.

These are things that when you are learning to sew doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is.  Therefore, you should always learn to do things the right way, and it will help you create fewer headaches and problems in the long run.