It's All About Pressing By Russell Conte

I tell people all the time I’d sooner give up my really good sewing machine than a really good iron.


That’s right! In my humble (not-so-much) personal opinion, pressing is 90% of sewing. At the end of the day, you can have the most amazing sewing machine in the world, but if you have a five-and-dime iron and no pressing tools, you’re never going to get a good press. And after all is said and done, it’s great pressing that makes for a great garment. (And great fabric, and cutting, and sewing…)

What makes for a good iron? Good heat and good steam. Couple good heat and steam with a long-lived iron, and you’ll have a winning combination.

But that’s not what this article is all about. Of equal importance to a great iron is a great pressing surface and pressing tools. I find myself notoriously dissatisfied with retail ironing board pads. I can live with the covers. The trick is knowing what to use for the pad. What I found that serves the purpose perfectly is a textile known as silence or bump cloth, or table felt.

Silence cloth (pictured right) is a heavy, double-faced cotton fabric that is napped on both sides. Sometimes used as an interlining for draperies or under tablecloths, it is perfect for padding an ironing board. (It’s also great for building out costume components – but that’s another story.)

Best Pressing Tools - Tailor's Ham & Silence Cloth.png

What's a Pressing Ham and Why Do I care?

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.

Learn how to make your own Tailor's Ham with Russell's tutorial here.


And... a tailor's anvil?

A tailor’s anvil (you’ll also hear it referred to as a tailor board) is an amazing pressing tool. Built sort of like a modern art project, it’s got a myriad of contours and points to allow you to get into areas of a garment that are challenging at best to press. For some reason, it’s no longer manufactured broadly. There are some independent wood workers who make them, and you can find them online. Since most people have no clue what it is, you can also find used ones on eBay.

Best Pressing Tools - Tailor Anvil.png

How about this clapper?

When pressing, we often first apply a bit of steam. Steam helps to relax the fibers in the fabric. Relaxed, steamed fibers are easier to press into a desired shape or position. Once steamed and positioned, the seam benefits from being set. To set the seam, we need to remove the moisture from the fibers. Enter the clapper. After pressing the seam into position, we place the clapper over the seam and exert a little pressure. The hardwood of the clapper draws the moisture from the fabric, and the pressure sets the seam.

What’s a seam stick?

You may also hear about a seam stick. Sometimes when pressing a seam on a flat surface, particularly on heavier or napped fabrics, the seam allowance will leave inden-tations in the fabric that are visible from the face of the garment. A seam stick helps alleviate this. (It’s even great for pressing seams open on pieced quilting blocks.)

An ingeniuous and indispensable tool, it’s a half-round piece of wood sometimes cov-ered in muslin. Placing a straight seam on the center of the rounded portion of the seam stick, it lifts the seam allowance away from the surrounding fabrics, allowing you to press the seams open without risk of the balance of the seam allowance also being pressed into the face fabric.

Best Pressing Tools - Tailors Clapper & Seam Stick .png

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