Pressing. Should I use steam and/or a tailor’s clapper?

techniques Sep 04, 2021

A member says she only uses a dry iron when pressing seams, being under the impression that steam could result in distortion. Should she be using steam to press seams and does a wooden tailor’s clapper help when using a dry iron?

Philippa says:

There are so many variables to consider: I use steam in my heavy iron. I also use a water spritzer, and a clapper if required.

You would not get good results ironing a cotton shirt without steam so why would you get good results ironing pieced seams without steam? Irons tend to leak when they are not hot enough, leaving dirty marks on the fabric - which is why some quilters do not use steam.

I do not buy irons that switch themselves off because they have a 'mind' of their own and switch off when you do not want them to. Be patient and wait for your iron to heat up! (I have a remote adapter to switch my iron on and off).

Tip out the water from a steam iron when not in use as it gets dirty. For preference use distilled water as it reduces scale build up and so prolongs life of your iron.

If you're distorting your seams when pressing them with steam then your pressing techniques need addressing as this should not be the case. Good pressing enhances and improves the work and does not distort or spoil it.

What does make a difference in your pressing is a very firm ironing surface. Foam backed ironing board covers do not 'cut it' as far as I'm concerned. A flat wooden board with a layer of washed cotton wadding and washed heavy cotton fabric stapled/nailed to the board would be a much better tool than a spongy ironing board which the work just sinks into.

A wooden tailors clapper is not usually necessary for pressing cotton fabrics in quilt-making. If you're having to clap the heck out of the seams I suggest you might want to have a look at the quality of piecing first. A clapper is an extremely useful tool for garment making, and a tailor would struggle to produce good results without one.

Pressing is covered in detail many of our QQT classes and more specific garment making/tailoring pressing will be addressed in out GMQT classes. Good pressing is a skill and requires time and thought, and is as important as the sewing you do!


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