Sunday, January 30, 2011

V1C2 The Sewing Machine,The Iron, Needle, Thimble, Thread: Part 2 of 3--THE STEAM IRON

These irons were used --before electricity.  The one on the left was heated with natural gas.  On the right is a "self heater" into which hot coals were placed, the conventional "iron" that was placed on the stove--many households had a few of those so one would heat while the other was in use; at the bottom are a brass iron that had a metal core that was heated separately in a stove and an early 20th century one in which the handle detaches whilst the iron heats.  I can only imagine the burns as I am pretty clumsy.  However, in light of going green, these irons may prove useful in a post-peak world.   There could be a market.....

The history of the iron is pretty much a horror story.   There were the irons that were heated on a stove, ones that used gas or coals placed inside.  I don't believe there was much in the way of heat regulation.   I cannot imagine using the irons of the past.  I can only imagine the burns women would suffer while ironing.  Considering everything was pressed and startched in the 18th and 19th century.... the modern steam iron, the dryer and permanent press fabrics are wildly liberating technology.  

A good quality steam iron is integral to constructing quality made garments.  You can find one at a department store; you usually cannot go wrong with an iron from the price point of about $35 and up. Sometimes they can be found on sale.  I purchased my Conair from Big Lots for about $20.  Conversely, there are gravity feed steam irons and semi-professional hand steam irons that cost $300 and up.

The issue with modern irons and modern fabrics is to really pay attention to the heat, especially when working with synthetics and synthetic/natural blends.    The best course of action is to use pressing cloths and experiment with scraps.  Start by setting the iron a little lower in temperature than is recommended to allow for variation among different brands and models of irons.  Newer fabrics and chemical finishes can melt or become warped when given too much heat.  Also, pay attention to interfacing. There are low heat varieties available if you are sewing with poly heat sensitive fabric.

When you think about sewing, you may as well think about pressing.   You use the iron from the very beginning and throughout the entire sewing process. First you press out wrinkles in the pattern (don't use steam!); then pressing the yardage before you lay the pattern pieces out.  After cutting, you are using the iron to fuse interfacing.  Once you start to sew, pressing seams, steaming areas eased, darts and hems -- you go from the sewing machine to the iron back and forth.  You may as well have them next to each other if time is of the essence.  The iron is integral in the construction of a garment, you use it to give it shape and provide clean lines.  The difference between a garment constructed with pressing and without is stark.  It makes all the difference.

For a great treatise on the importance of pressing and the amazing difference it makes in your sewing please read: Gorgeous Things' Blog: And Now, a Word from the Pressinatrix 

For ideas on how to incorporate the pressing in with the sewing see Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing

It is important to use the appropriate technique of pressing.  Ironing is when you drag or slide the hot iron along the fabric-- a long gliding movement you don't want to go backwards or you might put in wrinkles.  I use this technique when pressing yardage before laying it out. 

Pressing is when you press the iron straight up and down with even pressure.  I use this to press seams and apply interfacings.  

Detail pressing is when you use the point of the iron only and your hands to press confined spaces. I use this technque with collars when pressing open seams on a point presser, when pressing cuffs on a shirt and when pressing hems before sewing.  Don't forget to use pressing cloths to avoid damaging the fabrics.  It is good to test.  A variety of press cloths are necessary for different fabrics.  I keep a silk organza, a thick cotton, and a medium cotton as well as cheesecloth and vary them depending on the fabric of my project.  

Some other tools you may want to use while ironing are hams, ham holder, point presser, clapper, arm board or sleeve seam board, pant seam board, velvet or needle board.  We will talk about the use of these tools later in the series.


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  2. Hi Ruth, sorry I did not respond quickly! Anyway, I hope you visit again!