More Tools From the Pressinatrix’ Arsenal

Darlings, The Pressinatrix’ alter ego is still down with some sort of nasty flu bug, but your Pressinatrix will attempt to press on (oh, The Pressinatrix does so amuse herself!) to make sure you are all well versed in the tools that will whip your garments into professionally finished shape. To whit:

The Pressinatrix must have her tools handy at all times

From left to right, you see:
Stitch Nerd Contoured Ham and Stand: Patsijean, that bad girl, stole a bit of The Pressinatrix’ thunder, but being the (mostly) benevolent Pressinatrix that I am, I shall forgive her. This once. Indeed, when The Pressinatrix commented that they don’t make ’em like that any more, she was referring to Dritz specifically. There is a company that makes ’em like that: Stitch Nerd. Darlings, your Pressinatrix cannot tell you how thrilled she was to find Stitch Nerd. If you want a wonderful ham, look no further. Stitch Nerd also makes sleeve rolls. This particular ham is the Contoured Ham. Bearing more of a resemblance to a ham on the bone, this type of ham has every conceivable curve, giving you greater control over your pressing. You can order hams in any combination of wool/cotton. You can also order (as The Pressinatrix did) a ham holder, which allows you to position your ham any which way while keeping both hands free for pressing.

Shoulder Stand: If you make jackets, dresses, tops, or anything else with sleeves, this is a fabulous tool to have on hand! Simply place your garment over it, and steam/press away to achieve the perfect, pucker-free shoulder opening that is the envy of all. The Pressinatrix purchased hers from This Etsy Vendor.

Point Presser/Clapper: this is a marvelous little tool that combines a clapper (see my previous post for more on clappers) with a prow-shaped tool that has a long, narrow surface tapering to a point at one end. This is an absolute necessity for getting a proper press on any sharp angle, like collars and mitred corners.

June Tailor Tailor Board: Such a boring, generic name for such a useful piece of equipment! Really, The Pressinatrix would have named it something interesting and pithy, but she was not asked. This wooden tool, which looks like a combination anvil and painter’s palette, has curves, points, and surfaces for pressing every manner of nook and cranny. June Tailor, alas, no longer makes these, but they are readily available on eBay, and Nancy’s Notions appears to have them in stock.

Velvaboard: This plush little blanket is a must-have tool if you work with velvet or napped fabrics. It allows you to press them without leaving the dreaded imprint. Simply place your velvet, napped side down, on the board and gently press. The napped fibers from your fabric will sink into the napped fibers of the Velvaboard, giving you a good press without marks. Made by June Tailor, it appears that this tool is also no longer manufactured, though it shows up frequently on eBay, and I just saw one for sale on Etsy. You can also use a high-quality, high-loft towel to press your velvets.

Sleeve Board: If you make shirts or pants, or dolls clothes or items for small children, this is an invaluable tool. It looks like a double-sided ironing board in miniature. It’s just the right size for pressing cuffs and sleeves, as well as pant legs. The one you see in this picture has been in The Pressinatrix’ possession since the 1980s. The Pressinatrix also has one of more recent vintage at the office. These are readily available at most sewing stores. The Pressinatrix does not recommend the types of sleeve boards that have fold-down stands. The stand gets in the way, and can defeat the utility of the sleeve board. The Pressinatrix recommends boards like the one you see here, which have boards long enough to fit most or all of a sleeve, with a brace at one end.

Well my darlings, there you see The Pressinatrix’ current arsenal of tools for whipping one’s garment into shape. Hopefully this gives you impetus and inspiration to get out there and press press press!

Remember – Pressing is sewing!

The Pressinatrix.

Hey, You with the Sewing Machine. The Pressinatrix wants to Show You Something.

Be warned. This post is NSFW (Not Safe For Wrinkles)

My dears, The Pressinatrix’ alter-ego has had, shall we say, a day. So The Pressinatrix will take over for her tonight and introduce you to some of The Pressinatrix’ best friends. Some of you may have seen some of them before, but it’s always good to refresh one’s memory, nest-ce pas? Alors, let’s take a look at some of the more provocative tools peeping out of The Pressinatrix’ closet. Oooo, how titillating, eh?

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s begin with an illustration:

From left to right, you see:
Clapper: a hardwood block that is used to “set” your pressing. To use it, press your item, using light pressure and lots of steam. Put the clapper on the area you just pressed and apply gentle pressure. Notice I say “gentle pressure”. The Pressinatrix wants to caution you against putting too much pressure on your fabric with the clapper. You can over-press it, and make your garment look “pressed to death.” Remember, you can always go back and press again if you didn’t get the crisp result you desire. You can’t always undo over-pressing.

Ham: The most basic, and possibly the second most useful (after your iron) pressing tool in your arsenal. This tool allows you to accurately follow curves and contours on your garment. The Ham is so named because of its resemblance to the old canned hams (Krakus anyone?) that were mid-century staples of Sunday dinner. This one is older than The Pressinatrix. Of course, that is not hard to accomplish, The Pressinatrix being eternally youthful. This particular ham is cotton, stuffed with sawdust, from a doubtlessly now-defunct company from Omaha, Nebraska. Oh, how The Pressinatrix yearns for the days when these tools were so well made. Speaking of which, the next item, under and behind this ham, is a…

Seam Roll: Much like a ham, this tool is stuffed with sawdust. Unlike a ham, it is long and thin, rather like a cruller from a doughnut shop, but far more impervious to heat and steam. It is used to press seams on cylindrical garment parts, like sleeves and pant legs. This particular seam roll has a cotton side, which is used for pressing cottons, silks, hard wools (like gabardine) and similar fabrics. The flip side is covered with wool flannel, and it is used for pressing lofty woolens, fleece-like fabrics, terrycloth, and the like.

This tool is, like the ham, older than The Pressinatrix. I sighed when I saw the tag:

Alas, they don’t make them like that any more.

Another Ham: This one, like the seam roll, has two sides: cotton and wool.

Press Buck: This is a ham on steroids. Almost impossible to find in the US (my friend Els sent this to me), these are not uncommon in Europe. A press buck is a wonderful tool for pressing larger areas, like jackets and coats.

Press Mitt: This handy (oh, The Pressinatrix is such a card) tool is like a portable ham for smaller spots. There is a pocket into which you can slip your hand. You can see it on the top of this mitt. It protects your fingers while allowing you to shape unusual or small areas.

Also, under the ironing board is another tool that The Pressinatrix loves, a Sleeve Board. I’ll write more about that when I show you my other set of pressing tools.

Of course, being The Pressinatrix, I have two sets of tools: one at the office, one at home. A Pressinatrix can never be in the position of saying, “Oh, never mind, I’ll just press it tomorrow, or whenever, or never.” If The Pressinatrix did that, planets would collide, cats and dogs would cohabitate, and the universe as we know it, would cease to exist. Not wanting to be responsible for that, The Pressinatrix keeps a set of tools at home, as well. But you know, I’m thinking The Pressinatrix may have reached the end of her reader’s patience. Or maybe The Pressinatrix has reached her quota of referring to herself as The Pressinatrix for one day, so I’ll leave you with this thought so I can go watch SYTYCD.

Remember, darlings, Pressing is sewing.

The Pressinatrix

The Pressinatrix Has A Sad…

Oh kittens. Dear, dear kittens. I, your beloved Pressinatrix (go with me on this one) am draped over my fainting couch, fanning myself, in dire need of chocolate to keep me from falling into a deep and enduring malaise.

And why, you may ask? Because, my darling, precious readers, this week I beheld the website of a purported expert, in which the garments on display were so badly pressed, I thought at first it might be a joke or a mistake. Alas, it was not a joke. On further exploration, I saw that most items on that site barely, if ever, saw the underside of an iron. Here. For your benefit, I will hoist myself up to a sitting position, look you right in the eye and remind you that…

Pressing IS sewing.

I must recline again. That took all my strength. My dears, lest you disbelieve me, let me point you toward a couple of items to remind you why pressing is so important:

And Now, A Word From the Pressinatrix – the introduction to my lovely and perfectly pressed self, and why you need to get thee to an ironing board.

If you prefer a video tutorial, watch “Press That Bad Mamma Jamma” to see your Pressinatrix in action:

My loves, I can’t begin to tell you how sad it makes me to see otherwise wonderful garments ruined, ruined by lack of pressing during the construction process. And I’m sorry poppets, but running an iron over the finished piece doesn’t cut it. No, you must press as you go. Or you risk sending the poor Pressinatrix into paroxysms of puckery-seam-induced grief. Now, you don’t really want that, do you?

Happy pressing (it is sewing, after all)

New Tools!

L-R: Fashionary, Shoulder Stand, Fashion Sketchpad
Thanks to Pam, I got turned on to a new pressing aid, the Shoulder Stand. What a cool idea! It makes shaping your shoulders so much easier.

I also got two sketchpad books from Amazon. I don’t do a lot of sketching, mostly because I totally suck at it, but I wanted to check them out as potential gifts for some of my young friends who are interested in design. Of the two, Fashionary and The Fashion Sketchpad, the Fashion Sketchpad is much better. It has larger croquis that are easier to see on the page. It also has several different poses. Fashionary only has one pose – straight on. If you need or want to do sketches, I’d recommend the Fashion Sketchpad.

Oh, and recognize the jacket on the shoulder stand? I am finally getting back to my Chanel jacket. I put it aside when the weather started to get warm, but it’s time to finish it up! More on that later…

Happy sewing!

The Pressinatrix is Appalled

I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to make myself a skintight costume with Spanx lining and a cape (Phyllis, I may need your help), and start parading around as the Pressinatrix. Anyone found pontificating as an expert and giving plain wrong advice will promptly get smacked upside the head with a seam roll.

Don’t think I won’t do it! I’m a mom, you know.

Gorgeous Fabrics U. Videos 3 and 4 are Up!

Heidy-ho, neighbors! I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July. As a quick reminder, today is The. Last. Day of our big huge sale at Gorgeous Fabrics. Almost everything is on sale for 25% off, but only until 11:59 PM EDT tonight, so go get ’em, tigers!

Click Here for the Sale!

And in other fun news, the latest two videos in the Gorgeous Fabrics University series are now up! The first one is on the classic burn test, “Burn Baby, Burn”

And today the Pressinatrix makes her presence known in “Press that Bad Mamma Jamma!”

Hope you find them helpful and of course,
Happy sewing!

Another Week, Some Progress, and a Reminder

This week was a bit of a loss. DH and DS the elder both had the galloping crud (respiratory) that’s going around. That meant I spent a lot of time making things like chicken soup and tea. Special thanks to Phyllis for the chickens. They make fabulous stock, Phyllis! And Hoover has been the lucky beneficiary of the meat. I managed to fight it off, but it’s going around, and everyone seems to be getting it.

Speaking of health matters, I saw my oncologist this week. The conversation went like so:
Dr. C: “So, how are you doing?”
Me: “Fine, I think. How am I doing?”
Dr. C: (scanning the labs) “You’re doing…. PERFECT! See you in 4 months.”

Woooooo hoo!
Not only have I graduated to the four month plan from the three month plan, but now when I have my blood drawn beforehand, they take three vials, down from five. Every little step is a good thing.

On the Chanel Jacket front, I’ve sewn the main body seams except the shoulders, and I’ve secured the bouclé seam allowances with catchstitching. I did part of one seam in a contrasting thread so you can see it:

Catchstitches keep the seam allowances in place

You’ll notice that the stitches are pretty big and that the catching is deep in the seam allowance. This is because the bouclé is big and ravelly. If I used little stitches, (say, 1/4 inch, like I would on a silk shantung or crepe), they wouldn’t catch enough of the bouclé and it would come undone. The catchstitching will keep the fabric from unraveling further, and will keep the seam allowances from lifting over time. These will be covered by the lining (more on that later), but it’s a good idea with a really loosely woven bouclé like this to finish your seams this way. The fabric is thick enough that they don’t show on the outside of the garment.

Here’s a picture of the jacket so far. I pinned the lining out of the way while I was stitching the outer garment SAs down.

Lining is pinned back out of the way

And, typical of working with a bouclé, my ironing board is covered with lint.

Don’t try to press anything light colored on this!

Speaking of Ironing Boards…
Kittens, I need to give a gentle admonishment. I’ve seen a bunch of posts on different blogs recently showing good work that is ruined by an obvious lack of pressing during construction. Take a read of this post:
And Now, a Word from the Pressinatrix

Seriously, it pains me to see really nice work undone by puckery seams. Nothing screams “Happy Hands at Home” more than poorly pressed garments, and you can’t leave the pressing to the very end. Bobbie Carr, rest her soul, used to say, “Pressing is sewing.” Truer words were never spoken. Know that I say this with love, not to be mean. Pressing properly adds just a few minutes to the time it takes to make your garment, but boy oh boy, what a difference those few minutes make!

Oh, one last thing. Tomorrow’s Martin Luther King Day here in the US, so we’re extending the Weekend Sale at Gorgeous Fabrics for one extra day. Have fun!

Happy Pressing! (It is sewing, after all)

And Now, a Word from the Pressinatrix – Press As You Go

Kids, listen up. It’s time for a little tough love. A few years back, I wrote an article for Threads titled, “Pressing Matters” and I think it’s time to revisit that. I’m so thrilled to see what seems to be a resurgence in sewing. It’s delightful to see new sewing enthusiasts creating and presenting their finished works. The problem? I wouldn’t call them well finished in some cases. What I’m about to tell you is said with love, and with the desire to see you end up with a garment that you are going to wear proudly.

Let’s face it. We all love sewing, and the best part of the sewing process is sitting at the machine, feeling the fabric zip under our fingers, watching two-dimensional fabric turn into a three-dimensional garment. That’s the most fun! But that’s not the most important part of the process. Getting up from the sewing machine after stitching a seam, going to the ironing board, and pressing that seam into shape is the most important part.

Got that? Let me put it to you again.

Pressing is the most important part of your sewing process.

And notice that I say it’s part of the sewing process. Here’s how I sew a garment:

  • Stitch seam
  • Press one side of the seam flat
  • Press the other side of the seam flat
  • Press seam open (or to one side, if indicated) on the wrong side
  • Press seam on the right side.
  • Repeat

An interesting thing to note is that, for each single seam I stitch, there are 4 pressing steps. And you know what? If you ever go into a clothing factory, you’ll see that the presser spends much more time with the garment than the stitcher does. Pressers get paid more, for that reason. A well-pressed garment is a hallmark (along with a perfectly straight seam) of a fine sewing job. Here’s a picture from the article I wrote for Threads.

Which would you rather wear?

Jennifer, my editor for “Pressing Matters”, and I call the garment on the left the “Sad Top” and the one on the right the “Happy Top”. Clearly the Happy Top was pressed at every step. The Sad Top is, admittedly, an egregious example of lack of pressing. But if you press your garment only at the end of its construction, you’re going to get less than stellar results.

Let me show you the difference, using silk charmeuse. I chose charmeuse because it’s notorious for showing every little lump bump and pucker. But it also responds beautifully to proper pressing. I’ve stitched the seam using contrasting thread in the needle and bobbin, so you can see what I’m doing.

Stitched seam before pressing
Press one side of the seam flat
After pressing one side, you can see there are still some ripples
After pressing the other side, all the ripples are gone
Press seam open

Once you’ve done this, turn the fabric and press the seam on the right side. This whole process takes far less time to do than it does to read about it. And it’s worth every second you put in. Here are two samples of finished seams. The one on the bottom is the piece you see above. The one on the top is another piece of the same charmeuse, but I didn’t press the seam flat on each side, I only pressed it open.

Subtle, but telling, difference

You can see that it’s not as clean as the one where I took the extra time. It may be subtle, but it’s those subtleties that differentiate between a garment that looks like it came from Neiman Marcus and a garment that looks like Happy Hands at Home.

So next time you sit down at your machine, remember the sage words of the late, great Bobbie Carr: “Pressing is sewing.”

Hey! I are a Celebrity!

Okay, I’m really about 6 degrees lower on the celebrity scale than, say Kathy Griffin. But I got my own little video on the Threads Magazine Website!

The shoot itself was a blast. Gary, the videographer from Taunton Press, is a consummate professional. It was a humid day in the Boston area. We have had a ton of rain this spring, and that day was no exception. Because it hasn’t been hot, we hadn’t brought up the A/Cs yet, so we had to work in my sewing “studio” (an 8 foot by 10 foot room) with no relief from the humidity. Thankfully, Gary is a wiz, and I can talk a blue streak with no prompting. I had to actually slow down my speaking – ask any of The Sewing Divas – I usually talk fast. It’s that whole born-in-New-England thing, I’m sure. We were pretty much improvising everything. I had all the tools, and I actually do know how to use them, and I’ve even taught other folks how to use them before, so I was able to give an extemporaneous lesson. But boy, do I ever admire folks like newscasters who can rattle off a report with few notes and no TelePrompTers!

I haven’t seen the article in Threads yet. My subscription will probably come in the next day or so. But it’s kind of fun to see myself on screen, even if I only see how much weight I have to lose. And all those years of operatic training must be paying off. I don’t hear too much of a Bahstin accent, even though I grew up in Jamaica Plain!

Happy Pressing