Nothing is more devastating than pressing the seam on a project and lifting the iron to find a giant brown scorch mark. One second of heat from your iron can accidentally set you back hours on your project. With a pressing cloth, however, you don’t need to worry about scorching.
Pressing cloth is an important sewing tool that protects your fabric from shine, scorching, and other heat damage. Made out of fabrics or materials with a high-heat tolerance, pressing cloths or sheets are a barrier between your iron and your working fabric.
All pressing cloths are not created equal. There are different kinds for different situations and uses. You wouldn’t use the same cloth for fusible interfacing as you would for quilting flannel, for example. This guide will set you up to always know which pressing cloth you should use and why!
What Is a Pressing Cloth?
A pressing cloth is a piece of fabric or other material that you place between the iron and the fabric you’re pressing. The pressing cloth protects your fabric from the iron and vice versa.It’s easy to accidentally mark your fabric with an iron. You can leave a mark if you use the wrong temperature or leave the iron for just a fraction too long. Depending on the type of fabric, this could be anything from a scorch mark to adding shiny patches or even melting the fabric.
Pressing cloths can also protect designs or embroidery on the surface of your fabric. Using a pressing cloth on needlework projects like cross-stitch or embroidered patterns lets you press out any wrinkles in the fabric without harming the texture of the stitches.
Some fabrics are sturdy enough that you won’t damage them with iron, but they have the potential to harm your iron. Fusible interfacing, iron-on patches, and other fabrics or embellishments with an adhesive can get stuck to the iron plate. Keeping a pressing cloth between the iron and the fabric will activate the adhesive without making the iron sticky in the process.
Pressing cloths are also an easy way to steam fabric when you don’t have access to steam iron. Combining a damp pressing cloth with a hot iron will create the same effect as using a steam iron on your clothing or fabric.
What Is the Difference Between Ironing and Pressing Fabric?Pressing and ironing are two different motions. When you press fabric, you’re putting the iron down on it and picking it up without moving it. In contrast, ironing is when you sweep the iron over the surface of the fabric. The difference is when you move the iron; to press, you move it in the air, and to iron, you move it on the fabric.
Ironing is what you do for finished clothes to remove wrinkles. To iron, you move the iron back and forth over the top of your garment to push out the wrinkles.
Pressing is what you do for projects that are in process. It’s common to press seams, especially in sewing projects with a lot of detail and shaping. Instead of sweeping the iron over the fabric, you press down, then lift the iron and put it down again on the next section.
You shouldn’t iron when your pattern says to press because the movement of ironing can stretch out your fabric. This could change the way the pattern pieces fit together and warp your project a little.
On the other hand, pressing will smooth out the stitching in your seams and help your pattern pieces hold together. It adds a level of polish and professionalism to your projects.
Types of Pressing Cloths
Just like there are different heat settings on your iron for different fiber contents, there are different types of pressing cloths. A pressing cloth will never be polyester or a meltable synthetic fabric because it could fuse with your working fabric. Otherwise, almost any type of fabric can be a pressing cloth.
Certain fabrics work best, however. Each of the fiber options below has benefits for different fabric types and pressing needs.
White/Unbleached Cotton MuslinThe most common kind of pressing cloth is a white or unbleached cotton muslin pressing cloth. It’s important that you use a white or unbleached fabric so that color doesn’t leech from the pressing cloth into your fabric.
Muslin is good for general-purpose pressing. It’s got a very high heat tolerance, so it protects well. Heavier fabrics like flannel prints do well with muslin pressing cloths. It also works well for steaming as it will let steam through the weave without soaking the fabric.
However, the texture of the weave can get embossed on less sturdy fabrics. Avoid using a muslin pressing cloth for linens or other sensitive fabrics.
Silk OrganzaDespite its soft and delicate appearance, silk is an incredibly sturdy fabric. It has a very high melting point and a fine-weave texture, makings it a great all-purpose pressing cloth. Additionally, it’s sheer, so you can always place it precisely where you need it.
This kind of pressing cloth is excellent for embroidered and embellished fabrics. You can easily see where wrinkles in the cloth are and easily avoid pressing out the embroidery or damaging an embellishment.
Silk organza can be more expensive than muslin, but it is a sound investment for a pressing cloth you can use so widely.
Mesh is a great option for pressing your clothes. You can see through it to make sure you’re getting all of the wrinkles out. The weave gaps let a lot of steam through, so if you’re using a steam iron, this is a great choice.
If you don’t have a steam iron, a mesh pressing cloth won’t hold any water, so you won’t be able to press your fabric effectively. Mesh is not a good choice for embroidered or delicate fabric either, as you can easily flatten a design or push the weave pattern into your working fabric.
Teflon Pressing ClothTeflon pressing cloths aren’t actually cloth. They are thin fiberglass mesh coated in Teflon, which is incredibly heat resistant. This is the best option for stickier projects, like iron-on patches and appliques.
Teflon is easier to clean than most fabrics, so you can keep using a Teflon sheet even if you get adhesive on it. It will protect both your project and your iron, making it a valuable tool in your sewing kit. Some versions are see-through, but others are opaque. You can choose the version that best fits your needs.
Specialty Pressing Cloths
There are a few situations that require a more specialized pressing cloth. These cloths won’t work well across all fabrics, but they solve specific issues. While you may not need one of these specialty clothes every day, nothing compares to them when you do need them!
Parchment / Applique PaperIf you don’t have a Teflon pressing sheet, parchment or applique paper is the next best thing. These specialty papers protect your iron from sticky adhesives on appliques or fabric embellishments. Iron-on patches and fusible fabrics also press well under the parchment paper.
The drawback of parchment paper is that you only get a few uses from each sheet. They wear out, and if you get adhesive on one, it’s not usable anymore. They’re cheap, but that’s because they don’t last.
Worsted wool pressing cloth is the perfect solution for steaming and pressing wool fabrics. Wet wool is much more fragile than dry wool. Because wool can hold a huge amount of water without feeling wet, using wool pressing cloth lets you steam a wool garment without getting it wet.
Using a worsted wool pressing cloth can also keep your wool fabrics from getting shiny or losing their texture. Worsted wool is a strong twist, so one wool pressing cloth can last you for a long time.
When to Use a Pressing Cloth
Despite its name, you can use a pressing cloth when you’re pressing or ironing. You should use a pressing cloth any time you’re using an iron, especially on delicate fabrics.
While heavy, heat-resistant fabrics don’t need the protection of a pressing cloth, using one will extend the life of the fabric. It will preserve the colors and guard against accidents. Even the most experienced sewist can occasionally set the iron too high!
Any time you have a sewing pattern that tells you to press your seams flat, pull out a pressing cloth. Make sure you use the right pressing cloth for your fabric type to get the best results. This can be the difference between a beautifully polished garment and a project that gives you trouble from beginning to end.
Muslin cloth is a great choice not just for pressing but for general ironing. When you’re doing regular ironing for your finished garments, it can be annoying to switch pressing cloths constantly.
Muslin isn’t just for finished garments. You can use it to press seams for sewing projects that use thick, plain woven fabrics.
Cotton Shirting Pressing Cloth
Cotton shirting is a good choice for pressing fabrics that need a lot of steam. A cotton shirting cloth is breathable enough to let steam through while still protecting the fabric underneath from scorching.
These pressing cloths have long-staple fibers, which makes the weave smoother. A cotton shirting cloth is less likely to leave an imprint on your fabric than muslin. It will also protect flannels and other brushed or fuzzy fabrics.
Silk Organza Pressing Cloth
Silk organza pressing cloths are good general purpose pressing cloths. They have a finer weave than muslin or cotton shirting, so they do better with delicate fabrics like lace.
You can use silk organza for pressing or ironing. Because it works well for a wide variety of fabrics and is fairly transparent, it is good for small or finicky seams. For small shapes in quilting, silk organza is the best choice when you need precision.
Teflon Pressing Cloth
Any time you’re working with something that could damage your iron plate, Teflon is a good idea. For ironing, using Teflon on garments you need to starch can keep your iron clean.
Pressing with a Teflon pressing sheet will also keep adhesive from fusible interfacing or iron-ons off your tools. You won’t have as much visibility with a Teflon sheet, however.
Mesh Pressing Cloth
Mesh pressing cloths are a great inexpensive option for detailed pressing. They have the best visibility of all pressing cloths. They work well with steam irons and are useful for both finished garments and projects in process.
Look for mesh cloths with a fine weave to avoid pressing the weave pattern into your fabric. The larger the weave, the more likely you are to accidentally damage your fabric.
Worsted Wool Pressing Cloth
Worsted wool cloths are best for pressing wool garments or fabric pieces. Any time you need to steam wool fabric, use a worsted wool pressing cloth to minimize the amount of water that gets in your fabric.
It will be too heavy for most other uses, but it is the only effective option for wool. Most wool fabrics hold their shape fairly well after construction, but any tailoring or alterations will need pressing, so the new seams lie flat.
Pressing Cloth Substitute
For casual use, you don’t need to buy a fancy new pressing cloth. In a pinch, you can use a variety of objects you probably already have in your home.
It’s important to remember, however, to always check the fiber content first. Any cloth with a synthetic fiber could potentially melt when you put the iron on it.
Old Sheets / Pillowcases
Old sheets and pillowcases make great pressing cloths. Pillowcases are already a manageable size, and old sheets are easy to cut into smaller cloths.
Since sheets and pillowcases touch your skin, they’re usually soft and made with natural fibers. Cotton is a common fiber for sheets. Try to use sheets with a higher thread count, so the weave is smaller. A small weave is less likely to leave an impression on the fabric you’re pressing.
White sheets work best for two reasons. First, you don’t want to risk any dye leaking into your fabric. Second, an old white sheet is often thin enough for you to see through, making it easier to make sure you’re pressing the right area.
Kitchen towels are another great pressing cloth because they tend to be sturdy. A damp cotton dishcloth will create good steam and help you press more delicate fabrics.
Kitchen cotton does tend to have a larger weave, so be careful not to press the weave pattern into your fabric as you work. This also makes kitchen towels harder to see through as you work. They are better for steaming garments than pressing seams.
Additionally, don’t use a dishcloth that has food stains or other discoloration. The heat of the iron could potentially transfer some of the stains to your working fabric.
Old Cotton T-Shirt
Like old sheets, old cotton t-shirts are good pressing cloths because of their fiber content and tight weave. Make sure the shirt is 100 percent cotton before using it, not a cotton/polyester blend.
White and light-colored t-shirts are easier to see through, especially if you only use one layer of the shirt. Just make sure the shirt is clean first and that any color isn’t going to bleed when you use it.
What Is the Best Pressing Cloth
With all this information about pressing cloths, you’re equipped to find the best one for your needs. You can always make your own, but if you want to jump right into your sewing project, a premade pressing cloth is a worthwhile investment.
There are tons of options on the market, but these are two of my favorites for pressing and ironing.
Dritz Pressing ClothThis silk organza pressing cloth is a sewist’s staple. It’s 11 x 28 inches, so it’s narrow enough to fit on your ironing board and long enough to cover most garment seams and shorter quilting seams. You can use it for pressing or ironing easily.
It is part of a line of pressing cloths made specifically to be easy to see through. It won’t leave a weave impression, either, as the silk threads are very fine.
The Dritz cloth is a professional grade pressing cloth that will work on a wide variety of fabrics.
June Tailor T-Shirt Pressing ClothThis cotton pressing cloth is designed specifically with adhesive transfers in mind. It’s large enough to cover the surface of most t-shirt sizes and is easily washable, so you can get plenty of use out of it.
It’s also a great tool for t-shirt quilting. The cloth will protect printed designs from melting or stretching when you press the t-shirts.
It’s 16 x 16 inches, so while it has a shorter seam length than the silk organza cloth, it still covers a significant amount of fabric at a time.
A pressing cloth might seem like a simple piece of fabric, but it can be the difference between homemade garments and handmade pieces. Knowing how and when to use a pressing cloth will elevate your projects and keep them in good condition for years to come.
Do you use a pressing cloth? Let us know what your favorite kind is in the comments below!