Shirtdress Sew-Along: Pressing and Edgestitching

Shirtdress Sew-Along: Pressing & Edgestitching

This week we’re talking about two techniques that will kick up your sewing game several notches. If you aspire to sew clothes that look like better RTW fashion, pressing and edgestitching can help you get there. Read on!


If I had the closet space to keep everything I’ve made, you could easily group my garments into two categories: Before Pressing Aha Moment, and After Pressing Aha Moment. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t save the Before Pressing garments even if I had a closet space like this one. Learning to properly press during sewing construction, coupled with investing in some good pressing tools, has been a significant factor in helping me create polished, well-made garments.

You already know that pressing is different from ironing: Ironing is that thing you hate to do. Pressing, on the other hand, encompasses all the magical ways you can use your iron and its heat to make your finished garment look professionally constructed.

pressing tools at the McCall Pattern Company
Oft-used pressing tools in the McCall Pattern Company dressmaking department.

So, as you are making your shirtdresses or anything else, please press in these ways:

  • “Meld” your stitches. With your iron at the highest heat your fabric can tolerate, press your seam flat before you press it open. This will help meld the stitches into the fabric and make them less noticeable.
  • Press open seams before pressing them to the side. Even if the instructions say “press seam to the side,” first press them open. This will give you a smooth, flat seam.
Pressing and Edgestitching. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Constructing the collar stand of M6885 shirtdress. Here you can see how I pressed open the seam (where the stand is attached to the collar) before pressing it the the side.
  • Don’t skimp on pressing when it comes to enclosed pieces, like collars and cuffs. Here’s where it helps to own a pressing helper like this wooden presser tool. My collars have neat, smooth edges when I press open those narrow seams on my point presser. Turn your collar, press the edges together as directed and you’ll see how smooth and flat your collar seams look now.

    Pressing collars using a pressing tool. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
    The narrow point of this pressing tool lets you get into tiny places, like a collar. Here I pressed the seam open first before turning the collar.
  • Press darts and curved seams, like sleeve caps, on a curved surface such as a tailor’s ham.
  • Use a clapper to make areas behave. My M6885 collar went all wavy on me, so I shot it with a blast of steam and then held the clapper on it until the collar cooled and remained flat. Clappers can also set-in nice, sharp creases.

    Pressing tools. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
    Using a clapper and steam heat to flatten my collar into submission.

Pressing tools I own and use all the time include:

There are lots more pressing tips to avail you of, but these are the key ones to know as you work on your shirtdresses. We’ll try to talk more about pressing in a future post. In the meantime, here’s a helpful article on pressing tools from a 2014 issue of Vogue Patterns Magazine that you can download. Enter your email address here and it will begin downloading.

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Edgestitching and topstitching

Topstitching and edgestitching are both forms of decorative stitching which hold fabric layers together, like at a collar’s edge or along a placket. Topstitching is typically done 1/4-inch, more or less, from an edge or seam, while edgestitching is much closer, about 1/8-inch. Because topstitching stands out much more so than edgestitching does, you need to do a very good job of topstitching if you want your finished garment to look well-made. Every stitch should be exactly 1/4″ from the edge or seam, the corners are perfect, etc.

This kind of perfection is not easy to achieve. Personally, I avoid topstitching anywhere near the upper half of my body, since that’s most visible when you’re talking to others or sitting down and I hate for anyone to see my wonky stitches. I know that if I stitched very slowly, and marked my collar points, I could do a good enough job of topstitching. But why, when edgestitching is so much easier and looks just as attractive?

An example of edgestitching on a Tommy Hilfiger dress.
An example of edgestitching on a Tommy Hilfiger dress.
Mary of Idle Fancy edgestitched the collar of M6696 and topstitched the armhole. Nicely done.
Mary of Idle Fancy edgestitched the collar of M6696 and topstitched the armhole. Nicely done.

Use an edgestitching foot, like the one I have for my Bernina 350PE (photo below). That blade hugs the edge or glides in the seam ditch, helping you stitch evenly and precisely. Of all the specialty feet I own, the edgestitch foot definitely gets the most use.

edgestitching. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Edgestitching the placket using the edgestitching foot for my Bernina 350PE.

For your shirtdresses, edgestitch the entire collar (collar and stand), the placket, and any decorative touches, like pockets, sashes, or sleeve tabs. Here’s a good article on edgestitching, topstitching and understitching by Vogue Patterns designer Kathryn Brenne.

Speaking of pressing, how’d you like to win a brand-new Oliso Smart IronOliso® Smart Iron with iTouch® Technology   TG1100?! If you’re participating in the Shirtdress Sew-Along you’re eligible for our random drawing. All you have to do is show that you’re finished or at least half-way through constructing your shirtdress by July 31, 2016 [new extended date]. We’ll give more specific details about how to do this in next week’s sew-along post. Stay tuned! #shirtdresssewalong. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!


We’ve been sewing since 1863.

  1. I completely agree with your statements about pressing. I tell my kids (when we’re sewing together) that it should be called “pressing and sewing” and not just “sewing” because they go hand in hand like “peanut butter and jelly.” I sometimes cringe when I see the lumpy product of a prolific sewer whose garments have only reached 70% or less of their easily fulfillable potential if they pressed along the way. It’s a make or break factor in a finished garment and you can’t save it for the end!

    1. You are sew right! I press almost as much as I sew, and it’s a press-it -as-you-go project. It make all the difference, even in making bags and such.

  2. I agree with your emphasis on pressing. The importance of pressing as you sew cannot be understated. It is the difference between a professional looking garment or loving hands at home garment.

  3. This is oh so true. I use all my pressing aids, although my non-sewing friends call them gadgets, especially the tailor board; Can’t make a collar without it.

  4. I almost always use my clapper. It seems to reduce the amount of energy needed both mine and the iron.

  5. The tailor board was the best best best gift I ever bought myself. All those shapes, curves and edges! Make sure you get one that can stand on it’s end. I can use it as a teeny seam sleeve board and I can use it as a clapper (press, place board on pressed thing, rest iron on board for weight). I’d always been a press and sew gal, but this takes it to a appreciably higher level. Skip the expensive iron and spend the $ on the board; better results for sure!

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