Jul 15, 2021

DIY Tailor's Ham

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A tailor's ham is a valuable pressing tool to have especially if you sew garments! Russell Conte from SewpBox Productions shares how you can create your own.

Download the project instructions here to see addition step-by-step photos.

Download the tailor's ham pattern here.

What's a Pressing Ham?

A pressing ham (also known as a tailor’s ham or a dressmaker’s ham – the name derives from the shape) is an oblong object with a nose that is narrower than the seat. It allows you to press items without flattening them. For instance when sewing a dart into a garment we are creating shape that contours to the body. When we press the dart we don’t want to lose the countour. So one of the items we use is a pressing ham to support the shape of the garment. Not only does it support the shape but pressing hams are filled with sawdust which helps to draw the moisture when steam is applied. Pressing hams are available for purchase on the retail market. However I find them quite spongy and it’s inevitable that the size in which they are available – though “standard” – doesn’t always serve the purpose as well as you hope. So I acquiesced and made a pattern and now make my own. I’m not sure why I was so reluctant other than I felt like I really shouldn’t have to make a pressing ham. However on the other side of making one I’m quite glad that I did. $eally easy to make my custom hams are firm made in fabric that I choose and the right size for my purposes.


  • Baby Lock Sewing Machine (the Baby Lock Accomplish was used)
  • Sewing Machine Needle Size 80 Sharp
  • Polyester Sewing Thread
  • Pins
  • Fabric Marker
  • Scissors
  • Handle Needle and Thimble
  • Pattern (listed above)
  • Fabric:*
    • Muslin (2 under layer pieces cut 1" larger than pattern)
    • Melton Wool (2 top layer pieces cut 1" larger than pattern
  • Sawdust - I like to use cedar sawdust (I like the smell!) but any sawdust will do. Cedar sawdust can be a little hard to find (I found it online) and it can also be expensive. However one of my students was able to help herself to the sawdust at her local hardware store that cuts lumber for customers.
  • Spoon - to scoop the sawdust into your ham.
  • Muddler - or something to help tamp down the sawdust. You can also use your fist. You want to make sure it's really compacted.
  • Flower Pot - I found it helpful to place the smaller end of the ham into some sort of container such as a flower pot to support the ham while stuffing it with sawdust. For the biggest ham I have a small wastebasket next to my sewing machine that has an oblong opening – it worked well.

Fabric Measurements Details:

  • Small: 10" x 15"
  • Medium: 13" x 18"
  • Large: 16" x 21"
  • Extra Large: 19" x 24"

Pattern Details: the last six pages of the downloadable project instructions contains the 4 sizes. The smallest is what you will typically find available in stores. The medium large and extra large may seem a bit odd at first but I find them really useful. They often take the place of my ironing board.


Preparing the Pattern: The pattern prints on 6 pages. Simply print butt the edges and tape together. There are no overlaps. (Once printed I stapled mine to manila (poster board is fine too) and used a slot punch so that I can mark the pattern lines and still keep all the pattern sizes intact.)

Cutting the Fabric: Instead of cutting fabric following the outline of the pattern you’ll find it easier to sew if you cut rectangles of fabric 1” larger than the cut lines of the pattern. (Anytime you are sewing curved shapes together the shapes have a habit of not lining up as precisely as you might like. Cutting a larger size of fabric tracing the outline to the upper most layer then sewing on the line helps to mitigate this.)

Note: (The fabric requirements described on the first page describe the measurements needed for all sizes inclusive of the 1“ allowance.

Tracing the Fabric: Using a fabric marker trace the pattern to the wrong side of the top layer as shown below. (Don’t tell anyone but I use a felt marker for this - it’s not going to show. And even if you are concerned that it might show you can sew inside the line slightly.)

Layering the Fabric Before sewing layer your fabrics in the following order from bottom to top:

  1. Inside Layer (muslin)
  2. Outside Layer (wool face up)
  3. Outside Layer (wool face down)
  4. Inside Layer (muslin)

Pinning the Fabric Pin inside of the pattern to secure the layers.

Sewing the Layers When sewing multiple layers using a walking foot will help the fabric layers to feed together successfully. (On my Baby Lock Accomplish I have a pin-feed feature that serves the same purpose as the walking foot. I use this feature all the time!)

Using a short stitch length of about 2.5 mm sew on the line. (If you like make two rounds of stitching to really secure the edge.) Leave the larger end open so that you can successfully turn the ham to the face side. I like to leave at 3”- 4” if possible so that I can get my big hand in to pack the sawdust.

Trimming the Seam Allowance Once sewn trim seam allowance to 1/4” around the perimeter except at the opening (leave this area a little longer - 1/2” is fine.) I like to use my pinking shears for this - it makes the seam allowance less bulky.

Turn the ham right-side-out.

Time to Pack the Ham Now it’s time to start packing the sawdust into the ham. Retrieve your chosen receptacle to support the ham. Use a spoon a scoop - whatever works! - to start filling the ham. After every 4 or 5 heaping teaspoons tamp the sawdust firmly into the ham.

Time to Close the Ham When you’ve finished filling the ham lay one raw edge flat. Lap the folded edge of the other raw edge back to cover the first raw edge and slip stitch the opening closed. It doesn’t have to be pretty (What?? Of course it does...) but as long as you take reasonably small stitches you’ll be surprised at how nice it looks when you are done.)

Once you close up the ham it’s likely to be a bit misshapen. Don’t hesitate to mold and knead it into a shape that is more pleasing.

Now that you’ve made a pressing ham... There’s no reason not to add a sleeve roll - it’s even easier.

  1. Cut two inner layers 5” x 18” and two outer layers 5” x 18”.
  2. Round the ends. (I use the edge of a glass for the rounded corners.)
  3. Layer the sleeve roll as you did for the tailor’s ham. Pin all layers together.
  4. Leaving one side open at center for about 4” sew around the perimeter 1/4” from the edge.
  5. Before turning grade the seam allowances at the corners to help them finish more cleanly once turned to the face side.
  6. Turn right-side-out once completed (no need to trim seam allowances.)
  7. Fill and finish just like you filled and finished your pressing ham.

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