I take pride in pressing and I follow almost all of the rules. I press throughout the course of a project (instead of at the end) and I use the right temperature settings for the fabric (instead of burning the crap out of each seam). I also lift and press instead of glide the iron, which is the difference between pressing and iron (super important to know seamstresses!). But do I know a lot about irons and their features? I don’t, or didn’t, have a clue until I started researching for this post.
Just like a microwave, the iron has a lot of hidden tools that can be beneficial to seamstresses (I use the example of a microwave because how many of you use the popcorn button for way more than popcorn?). Learning about the neat tricks of each, I’m about to make a mad dash to Target for an upgrade. Yes, I have a lousy (and sometimes lazy) iron – a Shark.
Before getting into features, let’s talk money. A home iron in the $50-100 price range works just as well as a $250 ironing system. But stay away from anything under $40, especially if it’s labeled as lightweight. It’s cheap and will not have many of the essential features needed for sewing. Even Megan agrees with me on this one. She recommends the Black and Decker D2030 (pictured top left).
Searching for information for this post, I asked other sewing bloggers what irons they used. Marci, always one to have a clever response – even if she doesn’t know it, said that she uses a Black and Decker that she bought at an estate sale. Her iron is a reproduction of a vintage iron and has a nice weight to it – it’s heavy.
Weight – it is something to think about when purchasing. The latest models are built to be light, weighing between 3-4 lbs, but this might not be a good thing. I have an old sewing iron that has spent the last three years in the closet and when Marci brought up the subject of weight and irons, I brought it out to test press a seam. The heaviness of the it made it a lot easier to press the seam, which was sewn using a thick fabric – wool houndstooth. Vintage irons are super cheap and with summer reaching this side of the equator (sorry Aussie folks), you can pick one up for less than $10 bucks at a yard sale. In this case, spending that amount of money on an iron is okay because this will be an extra iron that is used for seams that need the extra weight more than the extra features. Also, and just like Laurie said, many vintage irons are dry irons, meaning they don’t emit steam – which is good when your iron gets snooty and snotty. They also get a lot hotter than modern day irons, which is a huge plus when it comes to pressing and ironing linen and cottons.
Some hate this feature and some love it. Almost all modern day irons automatically shut off if they haven’t been used for a long period of time. Don’t hate on this feature. It’s like auto insurance – you don’t need it most of the time but when you do, it’s a life saver.
Folks, there is a lot to learn about steam. Steam is essential for a seamstress. It is used for fusing, shaping, and fine tailoring. Steam can be shot vertically or horizontally and steam can be pressured or surged into fabrics. Irons with vents at the tip of the sole plate only give a burst of steam. Yes, it gives off steam but there is less control over the direction of the steam – it simply shoots horizontally. Irons with vents placed throughout the sole plate push steam into the garment, which is needed in order for interfacing to stick and for garments to take shape (side note: irons should be used on an ironing board that allows steam to pass through the surface, otherwise moisture will collect underneath the garment). Also, irons with vertical steam capabilities, such as the Rowenta DW8080 (pictured bottom right) and DW5080 (pictured bottom left), allow you to steam hanging garments.
Is an iron with a separate reservoir or chamber necessary? Does it make an iron better? Although it holds more water and creates steam under more pressure, the difference between and iron and ironing system, or one withe a separate container for water, is insignificant. In my opinion, you can save a ton of money by choosing an iron without this feature.
In sewing, the term press rather than iron is used. To press means to move the iron up and down in a lifting and pressing movement. Ironing, which is done after clothes are washed to remove wrinkles and creases, means to slide, or glide, the iron across the fabric with a back and forth motion. Ironing may distort the shape of the garment; pressing won’t. Also, pressing builds shape and structure while constructing a garment, flatten seams, fuses interfacing, and even sets pleats.
A widely accepted rule in sewing is “press as you go,” which means to first press a seam before crossing another. This doesn’t mean you have to be at the ironing board as much as you are in front of the sewing machine. Work on several different sections of the garment at the same time, sewing as far as you can on each section, and then press.
Just like choosing a sewing machine, choose an iron based on your needs. Don’t have the money to spend on a $100+ iron? Then don’t. Or maybe you don’t sew enough that you can warrant buying an iron that is labeled “eco intelligent” (pictured top right). That’s okay, it’s not essential. But if you have the cash to buy an iron with a separate reservoir, good for you! Because it holds a lot of water, you’ll spend less time filling more more time pressing, shaping, or interfacing your garment.