If quilters were cowboys, they would all have irons in their hip holsters. Sometimes I wish I could spin my iron around on my index finger before pressing wrinkles, but I think I might break a finger. Irons really are an essential tool when you’re working on precise sewing projects like quilts, so you should know what the best iron for sewing is! Which model should be your wrinkle weapon of choice? I’ll help you decide, partna.
First, some smooth talkin’.
1. Just Do It.
There’s really just one major tip you need to know about ironing, and that’s this: DO IT.
Always, always iron before you cut. Whether you’re working with fabric from the bolt or a bunch of leftover scraps from your stash, just do it. I can’t tell you how often I’ve regretted skipping out on pressing. But have I ever regretted doing it? NO. Not once have I been like, “man, I wish I would have never gotten the tiny wrinkles out of this fabric before taking a razor sharp rotary cutter to it.” Nope.
I can't speak for Scrappy, though. This is the look she will give you if you ask her to iron.
2. Use A Little Water
The amount of heat and water depends entirely on the fabric you are ironing. For specific info on various substrates, check out this seres: A Quilty Adventure!
If you're an indie film-lover, you don't want to miss this revolutionary short film on pressing seams. Did I mention it's won awards? Like lots of awards. Soooooo many awards...I can't even list them all here.
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Ironing vs. Pressing
Before getting into the best iron for sewing, we should clarify a couple terms. Now, you’ll notice that I have used ironing and pressing interchangeably so far in this post because...well...I don't really have a good reason. So that’s all about to stop, because there actually is a difference between ironing and pressing.
Ironing is when you move an iron back and forth over fabric to smooth it out. You want to keep the movements pretty constant so the fabric doesn't scorch.
Pressing is simply lifting and setting your iron down. It’s like the difference between painting, and using a stamp. You got it. Some pattern instructions (a-hum, mine) are pretty specific about this, so it’s a good little bit of knowledge to store away.
Before cutting and sewing fabric, you always want to iron it. Once you've sewn a seam, however, I recommend pressing the seam and not ironing it. Confused? Let me break it down:
- You have just sewn two pieces of fabric together. Thus, you have a seam.
- Take that sewn unit to your ironing board and set your iron directly on top of the seam you have just sewn. Don't move the iron around, simply press the seam. The reasoning behind that is it gives you flatter seams by setting the stitching into the fabric.
- After pressing the seam for a few seconds, lift up your iron.
- Either use your fingers or the tip of your iron to gently nudge open the seam. This is the step when fabric can stretch, so be gentle.
- Now that your seam is open, press it again by directly setting your iron down.
Iron Features to Think About
The Cord. Before purchasing an iron, get a good look at the cord. There are cords made specifically for left or right-handed users, and also irons that offer retractable cords (which are really great. Get one of those.)
The Weight. Also, pay attention to the iron’s weight. Though we’re usually into light, portable products, you want a heavy iron, so you can get some power behind that press. (Have you ever seen an old-fashioned iron? They’re huge, heavy chunks of metal. They got the job done.)
I must (simply because this is my blog and I feel the need to share my opinion as much as possible) add a couple things to this iron review from my own quilty experience. I have had A LOT of irons spit out too much water while on the steam setting – thus flooding my ironing board and, worst case scenario, scorching my fabric.
Since I wasn't going to drop a fortune on an iron any time soon, my solution was to get this shiny squirt bottle, fill it with water and never ever put water in my iron.
Fellow sewists, I think it's one of the best decisions I ever made as a quilter. Below you can see that I own the cheapest iron on the list and I love it. So my disclaimer is: I truly believe that if you just avoid steam from your iron and create your own steam from a squirt bottle, you can make inexpensive irons last a long time and work great for your needs. The end.
Oh wait!! Not the end. Sorry sorry. If you do put water in your iron, it's very important to not use regular 'ol tap water. Use distilled water or, at the very least, filtered water. The minerals in your tap water will form build up in your iron and drastically shorten its life.
Addendum: After getting a couple comments about distilled water, I am adding that you should read your iron's manual and follow the instructions specified for your specific make and model.
OK. Now the end.
And now, let’s take a look at the best irons in the West (or East… or North… or South.)
The Best Iron for Sewing
This is my personal fav. Things I love about the Singer Expert Finish Iron: It’s easy to use (and face it, you’re going to want to use it more if it’s easy), it has 9 temperature and fabric settings, and it’s smart enough to turn itself off if I get really into a project and forget. Need I say more?
Price: $50 - $70
They call this baby a “Smart Iron” for a reason. This iron actually hovers over fabric, and lowers automatically with a light touch, so you don’t have to use those shoulder muscles to lift and drop it over and over while pressing. The Oliso also has a massive 12-foot cord, and a 360 cord pivot which makes a huge difference – you don’t have to reposition your board or fabric while you iron.
Price: $90 - $170
This is a good choice for all of my clean, green, sewing machines out there. The Rowenta uses less energy than other irons, but still definitely gets the job done. It also has a system to reduce calcium build-up around the steam ports, which actually makes your iron last a lot longer. The Rowenta 6080 has a rotary trigger which is great for both left and right-handed users, and will also shut off automatically to prevent fires (hooray!)
Price: $90 - $110
I got to play with one of these systems at BERNINA University this summer and WOW. I don't think I would even call this an iron...it's more like a spaceship that makes wrinkles disappear.
If you’re really serious about ironing (or you find yourself doing it ALL THE TIME…) you should check it out. The system comes with an inter-connected ironing board, blower and vacuum, as well as a steam generator and a professional iron. This machine is FOR REAL. If you have an ironing system, I’ll totally step down during our iron stand-off (this town ain’t big enough for the both of us!)
Price: $1,500 - $3,000
I’ve been impressed by these four irons, but I’d love to hear what you have in your holster! I'm also curious if any of you have had similar issues with the steam setting on your iron. Let's commiserate! 😉