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You’ve just finished stitching your beautiful embroidery project, so now what?
Just like with sewing, a good pressing, of course.
Ironing embroidery sets the design and gives it a more professional appearance.
And, in the case of machine embroidery, a quick pressing can even fix very minor embroidery mistakes. For instance, if tearing away stabilizer disrupted the design.
Let’s talk about the best pressing techniques and tools for hand-embroidered and machine-embroidered projects and clothes to ensure your embroidered projects look their best when finished.
Iron Settings for Pressing Embroidery
There are three main ironing variables: steam or no steam, temperature, and the weight you use to press.
These three settings will be selected based on the base fabric and the thread type used.
This guide on how to iron different fabrics will give you a starting point for choosing the best iron settings based on your fabric type. Fabrics like quilting cotton respond great to ironing whereas others like silk are very temperamental.
Also, some threads aren’t amenable to pressing. For example, metallic threads wrapped in a thin layer of foil do not respond well to high temperatures or to pressing on the front of the design.
In general, most embroidery floss and polyester and rayon machine embroidery threads tolerate low heat. To be very cautious, just check the manufacturer-recommended settings for your thread or floss.
Pressing with too much force might also flatten some threads, so be careful here as well. Always press gently!
In general, if in doubt about the best iron setting to start with, start at the lowest temperature setting.
Increase the temperature only if needed, testing each time it changes.
What side to press from?
It’s best to press your embroidery from the design’s wrong side (back). Pressing on the design’s right side (front) is more likely to flatten the threads. And, if your iron is dirty or your fabric scorches, you don’t want that visible from the front!
An exception to this rule is when ironing off stabilizer topping from machine-embroidered projects.
If you do accidentally squish your threads too flat, try reviving them by pressing the steam button on your iron a few inches from the front. Then, give them a gentle finger fluffing.
Setting Up the Pressing Environment
Place the embroidery right side down on top of a towel or other padded surface. A squishier pressing surface supports the embroidered stitches more and keeps them from being pressed flat.
And, use a press cloth, a thin towel, or a piece of heat-resistant fabric. Place this over the back of the embroidery.
Cautions When Pressing Embroidery
Now, don’t go get started ironing your embroidery quite yet. Here are some other things to watch out for.
1. Press, Don’t Iron
Getting technical with terms, you should be pressing, not ironing, your finished embroidery.
This involves placing the iron over the embroidery for 10-15 seconds, then lifting and pressing another section.
The process of ironing, where you move the iron back and forth, can cause fabric or stitch distortion.
2. Remove All Markings First
Some water- and air-soluble marking pens may become permanent when pressed. Thus, remove these fully before ironing your embroidery.
Water-soluble marking pens are best removed with cool, plain water rather than warm, soapy water. On the other hand, air-soluble markers will dissolve over time.
4. Don’t Use Soaking Wet Fabric
If your fabric is still wet from removing wash-away stabilizer or marking pens, it’s important to let the fabric dry a bit first before pressing.
Ironing dripping wet embroidery can cause scorching and can damage the fabric fibers.
Ironing slightly damp embroidery is usually okay if the fabric has been preshrunk.
And, using an extra spritz of water, a little steam, or some spray starch can actually make some stubborn fabrics unwrinkle more easily.
5. You Can’t Iron Away Shrinking or Puckering
If you’ve washed your embroidery project in the washer and see new puckers around your design, this may be caused by the fabric and thread shrinking disproportionally.
Unfortunately, if the shrinkage has caused wrinkles, you’ll be unable to press away this embroidery issue.
The same applies to significantly puckered designs because of poor stabilization or hooping. No amount of pressing will get rid of that type of puckering!
Testing Before Pressing
If you’ve never pressed the fabric or thread type before, you’ll always want to test the settings first. It’s ideal to use a completely separate piece of fabric rather than your project.
Pressing Embroidery with Toppers
If you’ve machine embroidered a project and have heat-dissolving topper, you’ll have to press the project to remove it.
In this case, press the front side of the project using no steam, a pressing cloth, and a temperature around 430 degrees. Here are more in-depth instructions if you need them.
A unique way to remove a water-soluble stabilizer is to also press from the front using a damp paper towel as a pressing cloth.
Use an iron with medium heat and no steam to press until the paper towel has started to dry. Once you lift the paper towel, the residual topping should stick to the textured towel.
How to Iron on Backing for Embroidery
If the back of your project is going to face sensitive skin, you might consider adding a backing. T
his covers the scratchy stitches and is especially useful for the inside of embroidered onesies and other baby clothes.
There are many different backing brands, but I like using Tender Touch backing by Sulky.
To apply Sulky Tender Touch, cut a piece slightly larger than your embroidery design.
Then, press with the textured side facing down on the back of the embroidery.
Sometimes if not pressed well, it can roll on the edges after washing or during wear. You can use pinking shears around the edges to decrease that tendency.