An Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

In this article, you will learn the virtue of a heavy iron; the necessity of a pressing cloth; how to clean your iron; the value of a tailor’s ham or seam roll; the simple $1 solution for leaky irons; and more.

If you sew, you MUST press. Sewing and pressing go together like Spock & Kirk, bread & butter, Batman & Robin.

You get the idea. One cannot, or should, not, exist without the other.

At the end of this post, I promise you that you’ll know how to wisely choose the basic pressing tools you need and why you need them!

You may be thinking to yourself: She crazy. I hate ironing. And I’m going to avoid it as much as possible.

But wait a minute…

Let me ask you a question:

Do you want your clothes to look professionally crafted or homemade?

Professionally crafted, right?!

Well then, you need to know that pressing–not ironing -is what makes the difference between a dress that looks like a hot, homemade mess and one that looks professionally sewn.


Well, let’s press on shall we…

First, A True Story

When I first started, I invested about $100 in a Rowenta iron.

At first, all was well. But it wasn’t too long before that damn iron became a great source of frustration and disappointment!

That stupid iron was a leaky, hot mess!

Which led to a fugly, stained ironing board cover. And I really hate fugly things.

Finally, one day, after trying to cope with its repeated bad behavior, I totally lost it and threw that leaky iron into the trash.

This hurt. It hurt a lot.

Because it felt like I had just thrown my hard-earned $100 away, which I had!

Not too long after, I replaced the Rowenta with a Shark Professional iron. At four pounds, she was chubby enough to make a good press and crease.

But damn, if she didn’t start to dripping and leaking too over time.

So I started doing a bit of research online. I don’t remember where I saw this, but I finally found a solution that keeps me humming at my pressing station and my money in my pocket.

Are you ready?!

Forget putting water in your iron’s water chamber. Instead, simply arm yourself a trusty, inexpensive spray bottle. Yes, it’s old school and it works!

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

In fact, get two (I’ll tell you why when I teach you how to press.) And call a truce with your iron.

UPDATE: I think that if you are willing to pay really, really good money for a professional iron, then maybe all the drippy drama is a non-issue. At this time, I have no experience with these expensive babies. But if I ever do, I will be sure to update this page.

Sew easy tip: If your iron is NOT producing enough steam, cover the area to be pressed with a press cloth and mist your pressing cloth with a spray bottle filled with plain water just until damp. Then, press away.

You Need a Heavy Iron

If pressing is not to be a total chore, you need to buy an iron that has some heft to it. No puny, lightweight iron for a serious dressmaker.

When choosing your iron, you do NOT need to spend an arm and a leg. There are irons and ironing systems that make the price tag on an iPhone seem like a steal.

But while you don’t have to take out a loan to get a good press, you do need to choose an iron that has these two crucial features:

  1. Heavy, about 3 to 4 pounds
  2. Good temperature control

Please, do yourself a favor and don’t even look at a featherweight iron. They are trifling. And they require more effort on your part to get rid of wrinkles and get a good crease and press.

Whereas, a heavy ar$e iron is ergonomically friendly — and allows you to press and crease with ease.

And my Shark Ultimate Professional Iron meets all of the requirements above!

RELATED: Click HERE if you are curious about the distinction between pressing and ironing!

How to Clean Your Iron

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

Your iron is one of your most important sewing tools. And as such you need to take very good care of her.

Here’s how to show your iron some love…

  1. First, empty the water chamber.
  2. Now, set your iron’s temperature to cotton. You want it to get good and HOT as you know where!
  3. Squeeze about two inches of Dritz Iron Off or Faultless Iron Cleaner onto a thickly folded 100% cotton washcloth or a cotton rag. Please do NOT use any fiber other than cotton–for example, polyester. It will burn and melt.
  4. Rub the cleaner over your iron using a circular motion. It might smoke a bit. Not to worry. This is perfectly normal.
  5. Finally, wipe iron clean with a thickly folded cloth, making sure vents and edge of the soleplate are completely free of any trace of the iron cleaner.

Sit back and admire your shiny, clean soleplate.

Sew easy tip #1: Never clean a COLD iron.

Sew easy tip #2: I buy my 100% cotton rags in bulk.

Brown Spots

If your iron has the audacity to leave brown water spots on your fabric when you use steam, this means you need to clean your iron’s reservoir. And here’s how:

  1. Empty your reservoir completely.
  2. Now combine ¼ cup distilled white vinegar and ¾ cup of distilled water and refill your reservoir.
  3. Then set your iron to full steam and glide it back and forth over an old towel until the reservoir chamber is empty.
  4. And if your iron has a spray setting, spray until there is no more discoloured water.

Repeat steps 2 to 4 as needed until all mineral residue is history.

Of course, if you were to use a simple 99-cent spray bottle as I recommended earlier in this article and forget about your iron’s steam feature, you will avoid all this nonsense!

Ironing Board

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

Of course, once you’ve got a nice heavy iron and your spray bottle, you need an ironing board.

I can hear you saying, “Janine, I got this one covered. I’ve got an ironing board somewhere.”

And I want you to hear me saying back, “Not so fast.”

In the beginning, I suppose it is OK to use whatever you have because you have it.

But if you really fall in love with sewing, then invest in a quality ironing board that has the following features:

  • It is full-size.
  • It is adjustable to sitting and standing height.
  • It is sturdy.
    It is nicely padded. (Add more cotton batting if you need to.)
  • Its cover is 100% quality cotton.

I love my Polder Delux Ironing Station. It is easy to adjust the height and it feels solid.

And I am especially partial to having a home to place my hot iron as I press.

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

Ironing Boards: The Size of It

Why so much fuss over an ironing board?

Because you will spend as much time in front of your ironing board as you do stitching in front of your sewing machine. So make it a nice place to be.

However, with that being said, don’t do like I did, and buy one of those extra wide ironing boards. It seemed like a good idea. It looked so promising.

But eventually, the truth was revealed:

It’s extra wide width become a frustration. This is especially true if you’re an average size woman (or sewing for little girls).

Because if you try to press fitted garments, sleeves, or little dresses on a too wide ironing board, it isn’t going to happen!.

Mini Ironing Board

And as for mini ironing boards, they may seem like a good choice if you live in a small space.

But I find them beyond annoying. And here’s why:

It’s difficult to press dresses for grown women, especially wrinkle happy fabrics. It just is.

So even if space is an issue, my recommendation is to buy yourself a full-size ironing board and find it a home somewhere.

What About Ironing Mats?

Some sewists recommend pressing pads for whatever reasons.

I can’t. I tried one.

I. Hated. That. Stupid. Mat.

First, some are pricey for what they are. Yes, I am looking at you Clover 7805 Deluxe Take & Press Mat.

And two, you can’t press one area of your garment without re-wrinkling the previously pressed area. Frustrating.

Ironing Board Covers

Ideally, you want one made of 100% cotton. This will allow you to iron at high temperatures without scorching.

Whatever you do, avoid Teflon-coated ironing board covers.

Teflon reflects heat back into your fabric, which can result in ugly shine, distortion, textural changes, and makes fusing interfacing difficult. I don’t have time for this sort of nonsense and neither do you.

Oh, and Teflon covers are so fugly. Just sayin’.

Pressing Cloths

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

Pressing cloths are NOT optional. Period.

They live to do ONE thing: Protect your dreamy fabrics from the uglies–scorch and shine.

You can buy pressing cloths that are ready-made.

Or, you can make them yourself, by cutting 12×12 squares of plain, unbleached muslin, cotton batiste, or silk organza. If you go the DIY route, make sure to staystitch and pink all four edges to prevent unraveling.

Personally, I love and use a 100% silk organza pressing cloth because it is transparent. This feature comes in very handy when you’re pressing fusible interfacing.

Sew easy tip: Other great options for pressing cloths include a white, cotton men’s handkerchief or even parchment paper.

Lint Roller

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

While you’re buying your ironing tools, go ahead and pick up a lint roller. It is cheap and great for quickly cleaning up pesky pieces of threads that insist on clinging to your ironing board or dress in progress.

I like the big Scotch-Brite Lint Roller.

Other Pressing Tools…

A tailor’s ham, a seam roll, and a sleeve board are commonly recommended pressing tools.

Here’s what you need to know about these pressing tools…

Tailor’s Ham

A tailor’s ham molds fabric to add shape to a garment. Use it to press darts, princess seams, and sleeve caps.

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

It has two sides: one side is wool (plaid) and the other side is cotton. The cotton side is for fabrics that require a high temperature when pressing. And the wool side is for fabrics that require a lower temperature setting.

When you use your tailor’s ham, you should use a pressing motion, not a gliding motion. That is, use a gentle up and down motion, please.

Seam Roll

A seam roll looks similar to a tailor’s ham, but it’s shape is longer and more cylinder-like. It also has two sides.

Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

For our purposes of sewing dresses, it allows you to do a couple of things…

  1. Press long seams (using the tip of your iron) without leaving fugly impressions on the RS of your fabric!
  2. Press the seams of sleeves without creating a center crease.

Just like the tailor’s ham, it has two sides. You would use the cotton side for fabrics that require medium to high temperatures when pressing, such as cotton and linen.

You can also use it to when pressing collars and corners, and finishing neckline and armhole edges.

This is a most versatile pressing tool.

The End

So for love of sewing, at the very least get yourself a good iron—and a good iron is a heavy ar$e iron.

And buy yourself a sturdy, adjustable, full-size ironing board so that your pressing station is a pleasant place to be.

And ignore your iron’s water chamber and use a 99 cent spray bottle from Walmart or the Dollar Store. You’ll avoid drippy messes and keep your sanity.

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!