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!


5 Ways To Make Everyone Think You’re a Sewing Pro

5 ways to make everyone think you're a sewing pro. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Just think, with a sewing machine, a pattern and some fabric you can actually make your own clothes. Being a beginning sewer is exciting and empowering as you learn how to sew a wardrobe that’s uniquely you. It can also be really frustrating when you’re trying as hard as you can but keep churning out things that look “Becky Home Ecky,” an insult Michael Kors used to toss at struggling designers on Project Runway.

Relax, making clothes that look as nice as better RTW is within every beginning sewer’s reach. All you have to do is follow these five tips:% Ways to Not Look Like a Beginning Sewer

1) Know what fashion styles work best for you.

Just because you now have the ability to make your own clothes—which makes you a super-cool human being—doesn’t mean you need to turn into a DIY fashionista queen. Remember that while sewing may be your new passion, it does take time and money. Before you even think about sewing the latest fashion trend (ooh, culottes!), head to the store and try it on. Or search online and see how it looks on people with your body type. Think of all the time you saved but not sewing something that was going to look terrible on you no matter how well you made it.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

2) Choose a fabric that makes you look like a pro.

Beginning sewers often feel their nascent sewing skills aren’t worthy of better fabric, so they limit themselves to low-cost fabric. (We don’t mean good fabric at affordable prices. We mean poorly-manufactured fabrics that are priced low because the quality is low.) One, cheap fabric will always look like cheap fabric, even if you sew well enough to meet Patrick Grant’s approval. Two, better fabric is a pleasure to sew with, and will help you be a better sewer because it will cause less frustrations at the sewing machine. Cheap fabrics fray easily, snag frequently, pill when washed, and are often printed off-grain. Three, better fabric can make the simplest of designs—an elastic-waist skirt, for example—look like expensive designer RTW.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

3) Test the details first.

As a beginning sewer you’re going to have a lot of firsts: first zipper, first pocket, first buttonhole, etc. Grab some scrap fabric and practice sewing these details before you begin working on your pattern. Be prepared: You may need to test-sew several versions before you get it right. Only after you’re satisfied that your imaginary sewing teacher would give you an A+ should you attempt sewing your first [insert scary new sewing technique here] in the garment you’re working on.

basting stitches blog

4) Baste for greater control.

Sure, pins are perfect for holding things together and we use them all the time. But when you want to have real control at the sewing machine and achieve perfect stitching the first time, baste your garment pieces in place. Hand-stitching secures your fabric much more precisely than pins do, and it doesn’t come out like pins can. Sure, it may take you a little longer to baste rather than pin (though not much), but you’re so much less likely to need to rip out your stitching and try again. Use a thread for basting that pulls out of your fabric easily, like a silk thread.

5 Ways to Keep From Looking Like  a Beginning Sewer

5) Press for perfection.

Nothing screams “beginning sewer” louder than a garment that was sloppily pressed during construction. Invest in a good iron with steam and high heat, and pick up some pressing tools such as a tailor’s ham and a wooden point presser. Then follow the pattern’s directions and carefully press seams and sewing details at every juncture, not missing a single step where pressing is called for. The result will be a crisp-looking garment with sharp details.


Five ways to make everyone think you're a sewing pro. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.