A Pressing Issue

I love to iron.

I started with pillowcases and my dad's hankies (now that's a word!). When my mom felt I was ready, I moved on to my dad's work shirts: collar, cuffs, sleeves, plackets, shoulder, body. I remember cheating on the shoulders and struggling with not ironing creases in the cuffs. I know that what i love about ironing is the finished product.

I can remember the dark of the damp basement where the ironing board was set up in front of my mom's sewing area and the washing machine and dryer. I'm old enough to remember my mom using a wringer washer with the washboard close by! I couldn't wait to graduate to shirts. I'm sure my mom couldn't either! I have a brother a year younger and I don't recall him sharing the task! But that's another story altogether!

I could go into the history of irons and pressing but a quick internet search will give you those details. It was interesting to see that pressing started without heat. Fabric was literally pressed on and between various materials. I can see how adding heat would have its precautions! Just looking at my little doll iron and it's rusty patina. How would that rust look on an ivory muslin?! Or if the fire in the stove was raging and the iron was left on too long? If I lived a hundred years ago I probably would not have written that first statement!

L to R: My doll clothes iron w/removeable heating base, typical homemaker's iron, specialty iron

L to R: My doll clothes iron w/removeable heating base, typical homemaker's iron, specialty iron

I never used that doll clothes iron but it was probably a gift from my grandmother. I've been frustrated with many of the typical irons available at the big box stores. Knowing a bit of the history of physically pressing fabric smooth I can understand why the earlier electric irons were heavy, perhaps a holdover from that idea. The newer, lighter weight models need the heat and steam to work the magic. But those have frustrated me for years. When I'm working a long session and after a time sewing I go to the iron and it's turned itself off I just want to scream. I can appreciate it's energy efficiency but it sure does break up a rhythm.

Enter my super deluxe, wonderfully amazing Euro steam iron! I I attended the AQS Quilt Week in Grand Rapids a couple years ago and while wandering through the expo section saw a demonstration about my Euro iron. It had a hefty pricetag and at that time I thought it was a luxury that was a want, not a need. Well, a year later I was READY to make that purchase! The little frustrations of now and then ironing were magnified when ironing was a serious part of my business. And it was easy to rationalize the purchase because the yearly quilt week expo has great pricing!

If you're sewing for an extended period of time there's nothing more frustrating than to be thrown out of a rhythm: sew, press, sew, press. It's not a question of multitasking but staying on task. My Euro iron is a basically a little pressure cooker. A half cup of water is good for about 3 hours of slow work. A downside is having to turn it off, let it cool (think a car's radiator cap) and add more water. But, that timeframe is about 5 minutes. The bottom plate's design has channels to direct the steam: the tip is great for corners and small pieces of fabric. I've unplugged it, taken it to my long arm machine and pressed a section of unruly fabric.

Another factor I love is it's ability to press even the most delicate fabric and knits without worry. My daughter's wedding ensemble was a combination of satin, taffeta, lace and tulle made up of cotton and polyester and blends. Easily scorched, melted and burned. This iron handled all of those fabrics without a worry. I took it with me on wedding day and final pressed the dress and veil (it had traveled from Michigan to Chicago by car) as well as a number of the bridesmaid dresses made up of polyester/knit blends.

It has been a joy when pressing quilt fabrics. I make many bindings and it's a breeze to press yards and yards of strips. Backing fabric brought in always needs a pressing before loading on my Handiquilter long arm. I'm not a salesman for this iron or get any type of kickback, I just want to pass on the idea of having the right tool for the job to make your work a little easier and a hobby more fun.

Another tool for pressing I've come to use quite often is a large pressing cloth on a large table. It's quite handy when I'm making t-shirt quilts. After I cut the graphic and need to adhere the interfacing to stabilize each square, I find a pressing cloth on a table is the best situation. A standard ironing board just isn't wide enough to comfortably work. I assembly line the process: cut t-shirts in one pile, cut interfacing in another pile, iron and pressing cloth ready.


Don't use steam when pressing your interfacing to the back of fabric.

Don't use steam when pressing your interfacing to the back of fabric.

Pressing tips for quilters

Don't wait to the end to press your quilt seams. I know how it is when you just want to see how it'll look but often there's a bit of easing or trimming and before you know it, you're a half inch off. It's the journey!

Think ahead to how the pieces will be pieced so that your corners and edges lay as flat as possible. That blob on the back could break a needle or distort the final quilt stitching.

For large pieces of fabric, don't put your iron down and circular motion iron on the fabric. Go with the grain or selvage to selvage. You don't want to distort the fabric.

Sometimes the heat and pressure of finger pressing is all that's necessary. But if you go to the iron, press down gently so as not to distort the fabric.

Generally, press both edges to the dark side. But that really depends on the pattern you're using! Sometimes it'll cause a huge blob of fabric so consistency is the watchword.

For a much longer list, check out this website: http://academyofquilting.com/library/quilt-glossary/pressing-tips/.