We recieve A LOT of questions about our ironing/pressing set-up. I get it... it took me YEARS to figure out the best iron for sewing. In our consumer economy, it seems almost everything these days is designed for planned obsolescence, so even the priciest irons seem to have a two-year lifespan, max. I cannot tell you how often I've shaken yet another broken iron at the sky, asking why the sewing gods have forsaken me. That said, I think I've cracked the iron code, so today I'm going to tell you about our pressing station and my/our favourite tools for getting the crispest, prettiest seams using the best/most dependable equipment.
PRESSING IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
It's a sewing truth: no matter how much time you spend cutting and assembling a garment, the finished product succeeds or fails based on your pressing. You can sew the most gorgeous French seams ever, but if you aren't properly pressing at each stage in the game, your project will inevitably look homemade. Pressing IS sewing, and choosing the right tools will make this stage much less of a chore.
I've cycled through quite a few pressing setups over the years, and I am super happy with our current configuration. Here is what it looks like:
Our pressing station is set up in front of the windows, which is a lovely place to work; I have spent a lot of dreamy time staring outside while I should be ironing. After we moved to our new studio space, I abandoned a traditional ironing board. They are so narrow and awkward to work on, and I wanted a big, wide surface that would make it easy to press long lengths of fabric. Our current ironing board is actually an old worktable I found in the garbage years ago (it was my kitchen island up until fairly recently). For its second life, I cut a piece of plywood for a new top (about two by four and a half feet) and covered it with a layer of batting and sturdy canvas fabric.
This pressing station has been a total game changer in the studio. It's nice and big, making it easy to press large pieces of fabric, while also doubling as another work surface when we need it. The extra storage shelf is also handy for storing larger pressing tools. If you'd like to ditch your ironing board for a stand-alone pressing station like ours, this IKEA workstation would be perfect. Alternatively, you can simply pad a large piece of plywood and use it on your cutting table in lieu of a traditional ironing board.
OUR FAVOURITE IRON
Let's talk about our beloved, gravity feed iron. As I mentioned, I've been through the iron gauntlet and have tried everything in the low to high-end spectrum. In my opinion, the high-end ones are about as durable as the cheapo $20 guys. While a spendy option may make better steam or hold a more consistent temperature, they inevitably seem to stop working after a year, or never recover from an ironing board fall. If you are serious about sewing, I believe the absolute best option is a gravity feed iron. This is what you'll find in any professional atelier or tailoring shop. They are sturdy and durable (I drop mine frequently and they keep chugging along) provide massive amounts of steam and have no auto shut-off. This might be a negative if you're absentminded, but nothing irritates me more than an iron turning off when you're mid-project (our solution for this is to have a small light next to the iron we turn on every time we're using the gravity feed; when we leave at night the light reminds us to turn everything off).
We use a Sapporo model, but I have also used and enjoyed the Silver Star. Both clock in at under $100 on Amazon, include a bunch of accessories, and will likely last a few years or more. Most gravity feed irons come with a heat-proof silicone mat for it to rest on (they are meant to rest face down, not on their side) so even if you do forget to turn it off, it won't start a fire unless you have some kind of electrical issue. On that note, it is VERY important that you plug your gravity feed directly into a socket. If you have to use an extension cord (like we do) make sure you use a heavy duty 10 gauge extension cord. Anything less is a serious fire hazard. Other notes:
- Gravity feed irons are quite heavy (ours is around 4 pounds). I love the weight since it makes applying interfacing much easier, but if you have wrist issues it might not be the best choice.
- The water tank is attached to the iron with a long clear hose and is quite large (4 liters!) which means lots of steam without having to refill it all the time. The tank must be suspended a few feet above your workstation (the water enters by... you got it... gravity) to work properly. We hang ours from an exposed beam, but you'll need a sturdy ceiling hook at home. Alternatively, you can use an IV stand if you don't want to make a hole in your ceiling. If it's suspended from the ceiling, I suggest attaching it to a thin rope secured to a wall hook with a figure 8 knot - that way you can easily raise and lower the tank without climbing on a stool to fill it up (ask me how many times I've fallen trying to do that).
- To get the most life out of your iron, ensure you use demineralizer beads in the tank and change them regularly (every 3-4 months or so depending on use). Alternatively, you can also use distilled water -- just make sure you're not using water direct from the tap, since the minerals will clog up the gullyworks.
- Use a teflon foot on your iron (the irons I linked to include this in the kit)! It helps moderate heat and protect your fabric.
I really can't sing the praises of a gravity feed iron enough! I teach in a lot of different studios and have used many irons, and the gravity feed is by far my favourite. It does take a bit of getting used to (you'll learn how to work around the cord) but the results are so much better. The only other iron I've liked as much is a steam system with an attached tank like this one, but it is 4 times the cost. Gravity feed baby! I promise you won't be disappointed.
OUR NEWEST ADDITION: THE STEAM PRESS IRON
This summer I finally caved and got us a Singer steam press iron. I've wanted one for a while and don't for a moment regret the investment (about $180 on Amazon). I would file this item as "lovely to add if you have the space and cash". The steam press is essentially one giant iron; to use it you lay your fabric on the board and close the press with the handle. You can then optionally hit it with a LOT of steam, making it basically the best tool ever for steam shrinking a few yards of wool, pressing a large piece of fabric, or apply interfacing.
So far I'm super happy with it, and while we don't use it every day, having it there when we need it is a huge time saver. Same rules apply for a power source: directly into the wall or use with a heavy-duty 10 gauge extension cord. This model does have an auto-off and also has a ten-second timer, very handy for applying interfacing so you don't have to count in your head! We keep it on top of this Ikea cabinet, which also happens to be the ideal size and depth for storing work in progress projects.
OUR FAVOURITE PRESSING TOOLS
One of my favourite additions to our pressing station was this rolling Ikea caddy. It's where we keep most of our pressing tools since I love having everything easily at hand. On the top shelf I keep water bottles for misting and smaller tools like a point turner, scissors and seam gauge. Middle shelf is for our pressing aids, and the bottom shelf is for our pressing cloths. This little guy is the best.
Over the years I've amassed quite a few pressing tools. You don't need all of these, but each one does its job well, saving you time or energy. Here's a list, with a star next to the ones I think are must-haves:
- Tailors ham * - This funnily shaped guy is ideal for pressing curved surfaces like darts and collars. The cotton side is for high heat fabrics like linen and cotton; use the plaid side for wool and lower heat fabrics.
- Seam roll * - A seam roll is a godsend for pressing seams in hard to reach areas like sleeves or legs. It's also handy for pressing open seams on responsive fabrics like wool, since the curve of the roll prevents the seam from showing through on the other side.
- Sleeve board - A seam roll will work in a pinch, but if you make a lot of shirts, a sleeve board is a great tool for pressing sleeves and pant legs.
- Clapper - Do yourself a favour and invest in a clapper (or make one using a piece of sanded hardwood!) I've sung their praises many times before, but a clapper really helps to create gorgeous pressed seams. After pressing your seam, you apply the clapper to absorb the heat and moisture. It essentially "locks" the seam in place, and is indispensable for making jeans and tailoring, although I tend to use it almost all the time.
- Point presser * - I recently purchased one of these and love love love it. It has a few functions: the bottom part works as a clapper, while the top part is a narrow and pointed pressing surface that lets you get into those itty bitty awkward places like shirt collars. If you can only afford one, I would buy the point presser over the clapper - it's a little more awkward to use but serves multiple functions.
Hopefully, this answers any questions you've ever had about our pressing set-up, and maybe gives you some ideas about pimping out this area in your sewing space. Investing in the part of your practice that gives you the most professional looking results will never be a bad idea.
What are your pressing secrets? Do you have an iron or tool you really love? Sharing is caring!