Pressing Matters

If I could determine what makes sewing fun, the tools I use to coax fabulous fabric into a creation I am proud of would be at the top of the list.  Tools help us sew better and thus quicker with less stress and mess. Yes, we could probably sew clothing with the aid of just a steam iron, but consider all the accompanying pressing equipment that enhance sewing beyond the iron. (I’ll cover irons and ironing boards in another post).

The tailor’s ham is neither just for tailors nor a ham.  It’s better.  One side is canvas, the other half is covered in wool.  It is heavy.  It is curved.  Why?  Because bodies are curved and a tailor’s ham facilitates curving the parts and pieces of our designs to accommodate those curves.  If you always press seams and darts on a flat surface you may end up with the impression of the seam allowance or dart coming through from the wrong side of the fabric.  The two sides of the ham allow for differences in the temperature of the iron according to what the fabric requirements are.  The cotton side is designed for higher temperatures and the wool side for fabrics needing cooler ones.  Stuffed firmly with sawdust and weighing a little over a pound, you can use the broad side for areas like the front of a jacket and the edge areas to get into a shoulder seam or a bust dart.  The curves help to keep the bulk of a seam or dart from showing through to the right side of a garment and help mold fabrics to the curves of a body.

tailors ham

Use a pressing cloth at all times with any of the  tools to prevent giving a shine to a fabric’s finish, avoid melting synthetic fibers, scorching wools and cottons or picking up glues from fusible interfacing onto your iron’s surface.  The translucency and durability of silk organza ranks it as the number one workhorse as a pressing cloth, but other fabrics work well too.  A lightweight cotton twill, cotton calico or light weight linen can also be used. Use only light-colored or white fabrics to avoid any bleeding of color from excess dye onto your fabric.  Synthetics because of their tendency to melt with high heat and woolen which can scorch easily and retain too much moisture should not be used.  Fabrics with nap or pile should be treated with care using a specialty velvet cloth or needle board or terry cloth, pressing ever so gently with the nap face down.

silk press cloth

A sleeve roll is much like a tailor’s ham in its construction with its wool and cotton sides.  It is about a foot long, 4″ wide and cylindrical to use in places a ham can’t get into like a sleeve.  Because of its handy shape,you may end up using this tool more than a ham for seam pressing.

tailors sleeve roll

A seam roll or seam stick is usually made of wood and is about 20″ long and 1 1/2″ wide, curved on one side and flat on the other. The curve allows seams to be pressed open without having the edges being impressed to the face of the fabric.  In a pinch you can use a wide dowel for the same thing but it won’t be as stable.  Cardboard tubes that fabric comes rolled onto can also be used.  They can be cut to size or used as an extra long tool for gowns and coats.  They should be covered with batting and double layered plain cotton and hand stitched in place to be durable and not have the steam affect the cardboard.

seam stick

A sleeve shoulder stand is a tool widely used by tailors.  It is used solely for shaping shoulders.  It is a well padded hardwood design that accommodates any sleeve cap style

sleeve stand


A point presser looks complicated but it is a multi-purpose tool in one.  Made of durable hardwood without a cover, it includes a bar with a point on one end and square on the other.  The point is essential for being able to press the points of collars and cuffs. The flat top is long enough to press open seams without embossing the edges onto the right wide of the fabric.  The arch underneath acts as a handle when using the smooth thick base as a clapper or pounder when tailoring, holding the irons steam and using weight to mold and shape wools and set seams.  The wood facilitates absorbing the heat and steam that has been put into the fabric by the iron and letting it cool down gently instead of adding more heat and steam of you used the iron alone.  You can buy a clapper separately for this purpose if you want a less bulky tool.  To insure the seam impression won’t transfer to the right side of the fabric while using this extra pressure, cut strips of brown sturdy paper (like a paper bag) to insert under the seams before you use the clapper.

point presser                        seam clapper

A sleeve board is another tool you may want to purchase if sleeves are a main component of your sewing.  This tool gives you two boards that are nicely padded with a choice of a wider or narrower board which accommodates a variety of styles and purposes.  In order to be able to pull a sleeve down as far as possible, make sure you buy one that doesn’t have its connecting hardware in the middle interfering.

sleeve board

A pressing mitt is a very useful addition to your toolbox.  It can be used like a portable ironing board or ham and like a pot holder will protect your hand from an iron’s heat and steam while you slip it inside a garment to press hard to reach areas.  You can also use it in home decor when hanging draperies and steaming/setting folds in place while freshening up any wrinkled areas.

pressing mitt

Keep your pressing tools together in a drawer or toolbox for handy use.  Protect the points and edges of the wooden tools when being used and stored (you can create a point protector with cardstock or padding).  Respect your tools and they will pay for themselves for many years to come.



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