Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was sewing with double gauze and using the heck out of my tailor’s clapper, when I suddenly stopped. I raised my trusted hunk of wood up in front of my eyes and said, “Mr. Clapper. What even are you? Where did you come from? What’s your story?”
You know by now that it’s pretty normal for me to have conversations with my quilting tools, so this was a completely routine and not-weird moment in my life. But it got me thinking. I use my tailor’s clapper aaaall the time. So I wanted to do some research and get to know it, and I thought I’d share all of my newfound knowledge with you!
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The Hard Facts About This Hard Block of Wood: A Tailor's Clapper's Story
I’ll start with a few facts about what the tailor’s clapper actually does (because I bet there’s someone out there that never knew this thing even existed), but once we cover the basics, things will get more interesting… just about as interesting as a carefully shaped block of wood can get.
1. What exactly is a tailor's clapper?
The tailor’s clapper is used to get flat, crisp seams and creases while sewing. Seriously, I don’t know what I would do without it. Have poorly pressed seams, that’s for sure. And I’d probably miss the company, too. (If you have doubts, do half a quilt with a clapper, and half without. You will DEFINITELY notice the difference!)
2. What's the clapper's backstory? Gimme that history!
The tailor’s clapper originated in the dressmaking world… and tailoring, of course! According to my online research, the first one popped up about 120 years ago in England. Chances are, there were other versions of the tailor's clapper prior to that, but they were probably not the smooth shape and size we know today.
3. How does it work?
The wood itself absorbs the steam, and traps the heat inside of your fabric, instead of setting it free into the air of your sewing room. This is the magic of the tailor’s clapper. Your fabric needs the right combination of hot to cool, steamy to dry in order to make a perfectly flat seam. The TC makes it happen.
4. Is the wood special?
Tailor’s clappers are made out of hardwood only. In order to do the job, the wood has to be heavy and close-grained. Maple and tulipwood are popular! If you use another, less dense wood, it can absorb the steam and pop the wood grain! And NOBODY wants a popped wood grain...
5. What's the most common size?
The traditional width of tailor’s clappers are 2" - 3". This size gives you enough weight to press heavy-weight fabrics, and also enough width to cover big seam allowances.
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6. When should I use it?
You can use the tailor’s clapper on not only quilt seams, but tucks, collars, cuffs and hems. You can even use it for pant pleats, if you’re into that look (the TC won’t judge.) It works wonders on TINY seams! You know those seams that are so teeny-weeny they’re hard to nail down? That’s a job for the tailor’s clapper.
7. How do I use a tailor's clapper?
To use the clapper to its fullest potential, with either a spray bottle or the steam in your iron, give your seam a nice, steamy press. Lift up your iron and press the tailor's clapper on the seam until the area is fully cool (about 5-7 seconds is enough). Lift it up too soon, and you'll rob the seam of the complete magic of the tailor’s clapper (mostly because you’re shortchanging that heat treatment!)
8. Can I make my own?
You CAN make your own tailor’s clapper, as long as you’re keeping in mind all of those special stipulations above (I found some great instructions here if you're interested. The thought of using a saw is pretty scary to me, but I bet you'll be fine...as long as your not as accident prone as Yours Truly. It’s pretty involved). But as you’ll see… it’s a lot of work! You may just want to get the same one I'm using here.
I have not found an actual reliable source for the full history of the tailor’s clapper… anyone have a site? Or better yet, a firsthand account? ARE YOU THE INVENTOR of the yailor’s clapper! Let us know in the comments!