Help, sewists! I can’t press my fabric

My dear sewing friends, I have an issue and I need help!

By the way, the yoke is gathered, even though it looks like a big pucker in this photo.

As if I didn’t have enough problems with the bodice already. Seriously, the place where the collar and yoke joins is beyond the laws of physics—or at least my sewing skills. And the collar is bizarrely short at the back of the neck and I worry it won’t roll properly. But all that aside, another so far unsolvable problem has surfaced: I don’t think I could press a crease into this fabric if my life depended on it.

I’m sewing a 1940s dress from a brownish wool blend gabardine from my stash. I don’t know the exact fiber content, but it refuses to press a crease. Very unfortunately, I didn’t really think about this until it mattered most, at the collar and facing.

What to do, what to do? There’s no way this will ever look good unless I can sharply press the collar and facing. Is there a tool I can employ? Would a clapper help? Are there any great tips from the annals of sewing history? I’m not even sure I could press it enough to topstitch the very edge.

I hope this dress isn’t doomed to failure, though I think it is.

Good thing I could use a brown skirt…

Filed: Sewing

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Golly, 29 Comments!

  • Oh I feel your pain. Wool gabardine has been the hardest for me to work with because it won’t press as I expect nor will it drape as I like. It’s easy to sew though. I wish I had some ideas. I bet some of your readers out there will have some. :)

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  • I would try steaming the heck out of it and then putting pressure on it with a clapper. At this point I don’t think it could hurt to try it.

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  • Understitching the collar may help with it rolled towards the right side. I’d do this by hand instead of by a machine since you have such tight corners.

    Then… after aggressive steaming, perhaps you could try out some spray starch to help press this into submission.

    I’ve actually never had this issue, but I really feel for you! I think I’d shed a few tears if I couldn’t get the collar to work out properly. If all else fails, how about a contrast collar in a different fabric?

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    • Sadly my research online shows me gabardine can be problematic pressing. Boo. :( I may indeed shed a few tears. lol

      I’m not sure I left enough after trimming the inside seam to under stitch but I’ll definitely take a look. So far I haven’t tried steam (I think I was worried with the wool) but I don’t think it could possibly hurt at this point. And I’ll try some spray starch too, thanks for that suggestion!

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    • An update to this: the starch seemed to leave marks on the test I did on scraps. BUT on the bright side, the vinegar along with a crazy amount of steam and pressing is totally working!!

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  • I have previously hand stitched hems, collars etc and then got my local dry cleaner to press it in place. I don’t know what they use though – but perhaps you could take it to them and see if they could help?

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    • I’ve also had success via my dry cleaner. For my Abbey coat, a lot of the seams were just too thick because of the heavy wool and I didn’t think they would ever look normal. The dry cleaner gave it a professional press and it worked like magic. It only cost £3.50 too. I don’t know if it would work with wool gabardine as I’m not familiar with it but it may be worth giving it a try? x

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  • Maybe try top stitching? Either by hand or machine.

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  • I’ve seen people make little cardboard stay cutouts of the colar shape to push into the collas while ironing that help. Also failing everything else maybe you could take it to your drycleaner? I think they usually have special chemicals and super steam presses that would do it.

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  • Not even the wet pressing cloth press works?
    Hmmmm…. I like Liz’s idea of the starch, that is a good idea.
    My only suggestion would be to topstitch the crease in place. Fat lot of help I am ;)

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  • I would say top stichting and pressing with a pressing cloth

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  • I was going to suggest taking this in to a dry cleaner and having them press it for you just as BusyLizzie suggests – it will cost extra, but they have the proper tools. Boiler irons and vacuum boards produce enough steam and instant cooling power to tame almost any fiber content into submission. I also second the idea of understitching, in fact you should always understitch shaped collars and facings, (trim your seam allowance to 1/4″ first). Worst case scenario, press as best you can and then topstitch the collar edge. Best of luck, such lovely fabric and a cool dress style!

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  • If you have a largish wooden clothes or hair brush with a flat back you can use that as a clapper.
    Personally if you have any spare fabric I would make a seam to experiment with.
    My first thought was steam and use a clappper then top stitch close to the edge.

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  • oh no! could you ease it out with a pin (like Tilly’s post about getting a square corner recently), pin it flat and topstitch close to the seam?

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  • Personally I’d pin the life out of it at the edges, then hand-baste them flat: one line of stitches as close to the edge as possible, and another 1/2″ in from that. Then topstitch it close to the edge.

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  • I had trouble too with a pair of pants, I hemmed them but they won’t press either.

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  • Ugh. I’ve had this happen too – such a drag! In general, I use a lot of steam and a higher heat when pressing anything – after testing it out on a scrap! Might be worth a try. Otherwise, I was going to suggest topstitching too.

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  • I would try steaming and pressing the everloving hell out of it on a very high heat (use a presscloth!) and then smashing it down with a clapper and leaving it there while it cools off. Then topstitch the whole thing. I’ve had a fair amount of success with this, even using pure polyester.

    Also, I just realized how violent this comment sounds ahaha.

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  • Not being a sewer myself, I fear I can’t really help here and feel dreadfully sorry about that. It looks like a lovely start though, and I’ll certainly keep my fingers firmly crossed for you that a solution to this quandary arises.

    ♥ Jessica

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  • There are 3 things I think might work; starch, topstitching or if everything else fails, use an iron on interfacing for the back of the collar, press, and if needed topstitch the collar. Best test on scraps. For the yoke try smocking it. I think that might work. Smocking and back the smocking with a fine but strong fabric.

    Best of luck :)

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  • Try steaming it, and then top stitching?

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  • When I was sewing a pleated skirt years ago the fabric I was using (a large weave polyester), wasn’t taking my pressing well at all. Even with aggressive steaming I wasn’t able to beat it into submission. Then I remembered a conversation that was happening on a message board: using household vinegar to remove stubborn wrinkles AND (more importantly) create crisp pleats! I gave it one last go and it worked beautifully.

    To use vinegar, pour 1 part white vinegar and 2 parts distilled water into a spray bottle. Mist fabric liberally and press using the steam setting. If you need some more pressing “power” add some more vinegar to your solution.

    So give vinegar a go!

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    • YES! I forgot about this till you just mentioned it. I can’t remember where I read about this but I bet this may be better than starch (or just as good).

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  • Genius, thank you! I’m working from home today and trying these things out on my lunch break.

    LOTS of steam, press cloth, 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water in a spray bottle and using a block of wood as a make shift clapper = it’s starting to work!

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  • I think it’s all been said :) I would have suggested steaming/starch as well. Hop it works out ok! Good luck <3

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  • It would be a bit of work but there is an old fashioned way to top stitch and I think the name is saddle stitch. But it is a running stitch put in by hand with a heavier or top stitching thread or pearl cotton. Good luck!!!

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