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!


Sewing Your First Coat: 5 Tips For Success

5 tips for sewing your first coat. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Are you in the market for a new coat this season? If you’ve never sewn a coat before, this is the time to make one, even if you’re still a fairly new sewer. Coats are easier to sew than you think, and they’re usually significantly less expensive to make than buy. Here are our five tips to help you sew your first coat:

Tip #1: Take a look at RTW and designer coats you like first, for inspiration. Pin them to a Pinterest board or clip examples from magazines. Getting organized—by determining what you like and don’t like before you look for patterns and fabric—will save you lots of time. Also go to the store and try on coats to see which styles flatter you most.

looking at coats for sewing inspiration, on the McCall Pattern Company blog

Tip #2: If this is your first coat to sew, stick with patterns featuring a loosely-fitted shape with minimal details. And you’re in luck, because that’s the style in coats this season. Take a look these RTW coats below, for example:

looking at coats for sewing inspiration, on the McCall Pattern Company blog
J.O.A. coat, Shopbop; Doublecloth coat, J. Crew.
looking at coats for sewing inspiration, on the McCall Pattern Company blog
Funnel neck coat, Ann Taylor; By Malene Birger coat, Stylebop.

Tip #3: Choose a solid-color, quality 100% wool. There are many coating options out there, but for your first coat project go with a medium-weight wool in a solid color, so you don’t need to worry about matching plaids or patterns, and so the layers aren’t too thick to sew. Texture is ok as long as it’s a tight weave. Trust us, wool is wonderful to sew and press, and it keeps you nice and warm. (Steam-press it to pre-shrink it before cutting out your pattern.)

sewing your first coat: examples of wool coating fabrics
Wool coatings, l-r: Fabrics & Fabrics, Gorgeous Fabrics, Fabricmart.

Tip #4: Select a lining fabric that’s warm and easy to work with. We like satin linings with a flannel backing, often called Sunback or Kashi linings. The flannel-backing provides extra warmth, and the thickness of this fabric makes it easier to sew.

Tip #5: Pressing is as important as the sewing. Press coat edge seams open first, then press them to the side as directed. Use pressing tools to help you press seams in tight areas, like collars and corners. A well-pressed garment makes you look like a sewing pro, even if you’re still new to sewing.

pressing tools to make your first coat. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Pressing tools available at Nancy’s Notions.

These five tips will help you get started on your first coat. Seasoned sewers, please feel free to add your tips for first-timers in the comments section. Coming next: Coat patterns for beginning sewers.