8 Things You Never Knew About the Tailor’s Clapper

Although the tailor's clapper originates in garment sewing, quilters have adopted this tool with excitement. Here are 8 reasons you need a tailor's clapper in your quilting toolbox!

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!

The quilt seen here is the Campfire quilt pattern and can be purchased here!

Although the tailor's clapper originates in garment sewing, quilters have adopted this tool with excitement. Here are 8 reasons you need a tailor's clapper in your quilting toolbox! | Suzy Quilts https://suzyquilts.com/tailors-clapper

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.

Below is a video to show you how great these results are! In this video I am using the Thrive quilt pattern during Weeks 3 and 4 of the Thrive sew along.

Although the tailor's clapper originates in garment sewing, quilters have adopted this tool with excitement. Here are 8 reasons you need a tailor's clapper in your quilting sewing studio! Learn all of the pressing and ironing tricks to using a tailor's clapper.

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.

Although the tailor's clapper originates in garment sewing, quilters have adopted this tool with excitement. Here are 8 reasons you need a tailor's clapper in your quilting sewing studio! Learn all of the pressing and ironing tricks to using a tailor's clapper.

Check out more of my favorite sewing tools!

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!

64 thoughts on “8 Things You Never Knew About the Tailor’s Clapper

  1. Marilyn says:

    It’s great to see an article about this. I’ve been sewing for over 60 years, although quilting for only a year. I bought a tailor’s clapper many years ago for tailoring woolen blazers and other serious garment sewing. About 3 months ago I found it a box among my unused notions and thought “wow that would be great on quilting seams”. It’s particularly good on dense intersections of blocks, like the center of several HST’s (something that often occurs in your patterns).

  2. karen s says:

    I’ve never had a tailor’s clapper, but almost bought one when I was making a blazer decades ago. Good thing I didn’t–I thought it was 2 pieces and you “clapped” them together from both sides of the fabric, really smashing that seam flat. Just one of those stories I tell myself 🙂 Thanks so much for the True Story of the Tailor’s Clapper, Suzy!

  3. Arita Rai says:

    Thanks for the info. I was looking at purchasing one last week. I was going to get the large one, but now I’m thinking for quilting the small one is fine. Are you happy with the small one?

  4. Kathy says:

    I purchased one a few months ago, from “TheLittleWoodShed” (Etsy) and seriously, it changed my world! I love that hunk of wood! I use it ALL the time! Who knew that a super smooth piece of wood could create magical flat seams. I especially love it for flattening open seams and that taught me another invaluable lesson…use matching thread. Duh. For example, when sewing with white fabric, use white thread…when sewing with black fabric, use black thread. I’m sure that’s a given for most people…but it was a head smacker for me!

  5. Liz says:

    Thanks for the detailed post about the clapper! I’m not much of a steamer, do you know if the Tailor’s Clapper would work well with dry iron, or is it specifically to trap the steam?

  6. Karen hough says:

    I’ve been using a tailors’s clapper for many years in making garments but never thought about it for pressing my seams for my quilts. I am definitely going to start doing that right now. Thanks so much for the insight.

  7. Denise says:

    As a home ec major back in the 70’s we had the opportunity to purchase the whole lot of pressing devices: the ham, seam roll, seam stick – still on e my favorites- and yes a clapper.). We used it in tailoring wool to flatten where there was bulk. We would get steam in the garment and then clap it down hard and flat. This prevented shine on your fabric and gave clean lines. Great story from you as usual.

  8. Machelle says:

    I just had a birthday and recieved a real treasure–My dear friend’s 80 year old Dad made me a tailors clapper!! I 💚it!!

  9. April says:

    My favorite thing about this blog post is that the amazon ads on it are for THE Clapper. Like from the old infomercials. Anyway, I really should order a tailor’s clapper soon, or at least put it on my Christmas list.

  10. Mike Jackson says:

    Hello Suzy! I am the co-owner of Jacksons Woodworks. We are thrilled to know you like our Tailors Clapper so much! From our research you are spot on with its inception of about 120 years ago. The size and materials have evolved overtime but the concept is the same, hold the heat and absorb the steam. Let us know if we can be any assistance to you. Have a great day!

    • Pam Sim says:

      Hello, after reading about the TC I ordered mine. I wanted a quality product so I ordered yours a short time ago. ( from Amazon. Ca, as I live on the Canadian side! )
      Can’t wait to try it!

  11. Jean Suplick says:

    I’ve always been a little confused about this. Do you “clap” the clapper down on the open, steamy seam, thereby putting some force into applying the clapper? If so, how much force? Or is it better to just place it and press? As I recall from researching this years ago, tailors actually clap it down with a little force in order to flatten bulky wool seams. It seems to me once doesn’t need to do that with quilting cotton.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Great question! Since it’s named a Clapper, you’d think clapping would be involved, but actually you just need to set the Tailor’s Clapper on the freshly steamed seam while adding some slight pressure. You don’t need to stress out your shoulder or anything with the pressure, just a small bit.

  12. Donna says:

    I got one from my mom that my dad had made for her. Mom was a seamstress and dad was a carpenter. I was never sure what to do with it. I’m so glad I know now!

  13. Carol says:

    I purchased an oak one from SawdustandthreadCo on Etsy. It is very heavy and is life changing on bulky seams. Thanks for the info.

  14. Christina says:

    Will the tailor’s clapper work well with the Magic Mat wool pressing mat or will the clapper work better on normal ironing board surface? Since both the clapper and the Magic Mat are designed to retain heat I was thinking using both might be overkill.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I actually just got one of those mats, but haven’t tried it out yet so I can’t say for sure. I kinda think that a TC will still help with flat seams since it’s creating pressure on the seam as it cools.

  15. Diane says:

    Thank you for this super helpful and easy to understand post! I had heard someone mention a clapper today and had no idea what it was. Now I want one. 😊

  16. Mania says:

    Thank you Suzy for another great post !. Recently, Following your blog and constantly learn something new from you, even though I’m a few years Quilter. We have several pieces of well-dried oak at home. So I ask my friend to do me a Klapper.
    thank you very much and I cordially greet from Poland.

  17. Mea Cadwell says:

    Before I found your blog I had happened to read about clappers on another blog. On Ebay I happened to find…wait for it…a clapper, a point press/clapper, tailor’s ham and tailor’s roll 4 item set on sale for $35. I snapped that up like you wouldn’t believe!

    I use the clappers constantly. On every seam, hem, and stubborn crease.

    Then I found another use for them if you don’t want to lug out the iron/ironin board. Hang up a wrinkled shirt, spritz with water, put the clapper inside the shirt (with the wrinkles up against the clapper) and heat with a hair dryer. The wrinkles disappear.

  18. Leisa says:

    I do not have a tailor’s clapper–it occured to me that a maple rolling pin (clean of course) would work in a pinch. I tried it and was pleased with results. I also have a teflon rolling pin, and that seemed to do well too.

  19. Kerry says:

    I just inherited a clapper in a box of quilting supplies from my aunt. I didn’t know what it was till now! But I’m going to use it! Thank you!

  20. Doug Marsh says:

    I’m a guy who sews. Got interested in vintage sewing machines and thought I needed to at least learn how to sew something so I could work on my machines. Bought vintage books to match the years of my machines so I could figure out what they were expected to sew. Made sense to me. That was then, fast forward to now. This sewing season I started to move into garment making and those old books talked about a tailors clapper. So I bought one. Went from nice seams to amazing. Tried it on a quilt I’m making, and I found the secret for award winning quilts. They are the best kept secret in the sewing world. Your comment on using a spray bottle instead of the steam from an iron, is spot on.

  21. Cheryl says:

    I recently found you on Instagram, and am doing the Grow Quilt Sew Along. I inherited one of these from a customer’s sewing stash. I always knew what it was, but have never used it. I can’t wait to try it out on the Grow Quilt!

  22. Jen says:

    If you have young kids, you may have toys that can be used as a clapper. Our kids have a set of hardwood wooden block with rounded edges, several pieces should work well. I’ll have to check and see!

  23. Sherry says:

    For those on a tight budget or anyone pressing long seams, magazines can do the job, too. I lay them down while I press along, leaving them in place while the fabric cools.
    Will put a clapper on my wish list!

  24. Glenna Denman says:

    Thank you so much for this lesson on the tailor’s clapper. I was given a point presser/clapper from the 1950s and had no idea it is useful for flat seams on quilts. I will bring it down off the display shelf and start using it! I found some years ago that the sleeve roll is also useful in quilting, to help with pressing opened seams. Just think how much better it will be to use the two together!

  25. Karen says:

    Thank you for all the information you provide on your website. You are passionate in what you do and shows in your tutorials. I am sewing a large quilt and have just finished the top. I read your blog on the clapper and ironing the seams flat.. I am gong to try some hand quilting. It’s all about having fun. Your instructions are clear and concise. I also like how you link your products to Amazon. It’s very handy. I recently listened to your binding video on a small project I was finishing and it was easy. Thanks for the inspiration. With kind regards.

  26. cori says:

    I have been quilting for decades and JUST bought the wool mat a couple of months ago and I thought that changed my world. Now time to purchase one of these bad boys and rock my world even more.

  27. Shirley Blood-Brennan says:

    Just found your blog, thanks for the information. Now I need to purchase a clapper. I used to sew clothes so I did have the ham so I was somewhat familiar.

  28. Véronique says:

    Hi Suzy,
    Would you use a TC on a wool mat? The wool mat instructions recommend avoiding steam, but it looks like the steam is what makes the TC so awesome… is it an either/or situation, or do you think it’d work anyways? Thanks!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      From what I can gather, some wool mats recommend no steam, while others handle steam well. My wool mat works really well with steam, so I use it with my tailor’s clapper all the time. In this case, I would follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your mat and not use the clapper on it.

  29. Sarimekko says:

    I am a garment sewist, and use my sleeve ham on my seams instead of a clapper (which got lost in a move 9 years ago … or is still in the garage somewhere …)

  30. Carol Cowee says:

    A friend at church, this morning, presented me with a gorgeous solid walnut clapper! I had had a regular one for 58 years, we lost our house to a CA wildfire in 2018 but was helping a friend clear out her aunt’s wonderful craft room and I was able to replace all my tailors’ tools including a clapper. But this one is a treasure and will be put to good use…when it’s not proudly on display as an object d’art

  31. Barbara DeBlasio Hillegass says:

    I am a gadget gal! I always thought TC was a garment gadget only. What a myth! I am a quilter and it certainly is a must have gadget in my sewing room. It sure amazes me. The flat result in a seam is unbelievable but even more astonishing is when used on the seam while hemming a pair of blue jeans. Excellent information. Thank you. ♥️TC♥️

  32. Teresa says:

    Thanks Suzy. I read and re read your blog posts all the time and always get something from them.

    My wonderful children just bought me my first clapper for Christmas and I’m so excited to start using it but do you know if there are any special care instructions especially for those of us who don’t get to quilt as often as we like.
    (ie: storage, cleaning)

    • Suzy Williams says:

      What a wonderful gift! This is a great question. My friend Chris, who makes wooden sewing notions at Modern American Vintage instructs people to oil the wood when it looks dry. I’d say depending on your climate and how often you use it, that could be anywhere between every 4-12 months. Any wood-specific oil would work (you could also buy some from Chris here – https://modernamericanvintage.com/collections/quilting-tools/products/pastewax), just make sure it’s fully soaked in and all of the excess is wiped away before using your clapper on fabric. As for storage, keep it in a dark cool place out of direct sunlight. I store one of mine in a cabinet and the others underneath my ironing board.

  33. Denise says:

    I do have one. It often moves around my studio but rarely makes it to the ironing board😶
    Thank you for the reminder to actually use this tool.
    BTW congratulations on your new Aurifil line.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *