This post is part of the series Learning to Sew
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In the process of learning to sew, you will learn just how important it is to use your iron. I like to use the mantra: “Press and press often.” Irons are for pressing those seams and they can be essential tools in certain methods of sewing. You might not need it for your quick mending job, but as you advance your skills the more you are going to use that iron frequently.
Do irons have to be expensive?
A lot of people ask me if they have to buy an expensive iron to sew and they emphasize that an iron is not in their budget. I always offer a crooked smile in return. In this case, I firmly believe that many people have bought into the notion that more expensive is better. I assure you that this is not the case when it comes to irons.
Buy an iron that fits into your budget, even if your budget is currently only $10. Rest assured that even the cheap $10 iron can get the job started and done decently. You can sleep easy knowing that you do not need to spend $100+ on an iron that is only used for crafting, etc.
However, do not be fooled thinking that it will be the last iron you ever buy. All irons suffer from the same fate – they leak. How quickly they succumb to fate is the question, but in the end every iron will start to leak. Even if you set your budget at $10, it is not the last $10 you will have to spend when it comes to today’s irons. Plan on purchasing a new iron every 3-5 years. If you get longer use out of your iron, that is fantastic. Just mentally prepare yourself for the purchase so there are no surprises.
What is an iron’s job?
First let’s establish what an iron is:
An iron has a very focused purpose – get hot, make steam (or not), smooth material, reheat and do it all over. It does this while being applied to whatever you are pressing or ironing at the time.
I think that it is important to point out the textbook definitions for ironing vs pressing. This will come in handy in the future.
Ironing as opposed to pressing…
To many the slight variance in definition will be lost and it often becomes confusing with some methods of sewing. Do not stress about this right now, but know there is a difference.
Most importantly, just know that you NEED AN IRON!
Do irons need to use special water?
Short answer: NO!
Long answer: The water used in your irons is determined by the manufacturer first and foremost. However, if you live in an area where you have hard water (which contains more deposits) then you should consider your iron purchase carefully as it will affect the lifespan of your iron.
My preference is to purchase and use an iron that does not specify that it only use distilled water. I also prefer that my iron specify that distilled water can be used instead of other water options under certain circumstances. Remember the hard water? Yes, I live where we have very hard water and it can be hard on irons if you use the tap water. I research my irons to make sure that they allow any type of water when in use.
I personally use standard issue bottled water in my iron. I avoid the problems our hard tap water introduces. Distilled water is not always readily available and I do not like having to store it for iron use. Bottled water works for me and my irons.
Buy what works best for you. Do what works best for you.
What features are important in an iron?
There are a lot of bells and whistles available on today’s irons. I will talk about the basics, but anything above that you will have to research on your own.
Does the iron get hot?
The MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE of any iron is whether or not it gets hot. Period.
The level of heat and the speed at which it heats up is where the variances come in. If you are going to be pressing heavier materials, you should consider a higher wattage iron. It will produce the heat you need for these materials.
Your basic $10 iron gets hot. It will be plenty for some sewing tasks.
Does the iron have heat controls?
You may find yourself using the iron for a variety of different materials and if this is the case, you need an iron that you can adjust the heat setting. This ability is important when working with materials that are blended fibers or loosely woven materials.
Your basic $10 iron allows for the basic heat settings acceptable for a variety of different fabric types.
You may want more adjustments but many irons use the same basic fabric type settings. Do your research based on what you need.
Does the iron auto shutoff?
I never thought I needed or would ever want this feature but I will confess that I LOVE this feature. Auto shutoff can be frustrating when using the iron for ironing/pressing large pieces of materials, but if you know what the auto shutoff feature is set to, you can mentally adjust how you work to compensate for this.
Why do I like it? Have you ever left the house and worried that you left the iron on? If so, you need this feature. No lie. No joke. Buy one with a auto shutoff if you have ever worried about whether or not you left the iron on. Why? The iron turns itself off!!! Need I say more?
The average length of time for this auto shutoff feature is 3-10 minutes. That means that you get 3-10 minutes of NO ACTIVITY AT ALL before it turns off the heating mechanism. Think about the power savings if your iron is not running while you walk away to take a phone call or if it takes you 30-40 minutes to pin the binding on a quilt.
I personally thought that 3 minute was way too short. I would not buy another one with a 3 minute shutoff. So frustrating. However, the iron I have now has a much longer auto-off timer and it is much more pleasant to deal with.
Your auto shutoff feature should have more than 1 shutoff feature. These are safety features you want:
- How long does it take to shut off if you knock it over on its side?
- How long does it take to shut off if you set it on your fabric and do not move it?
- How long does it take to shut off if you walk away like the absent minded professor?
For the first two questions, you want a really short shutoff time. If you knock it over, you want it to shutoff quickly so it does not catch something on fire. Likewise, if you leave that iron sitting on your fabric, you want it to turn off quickly so that it does not burn your fabric. However, if you are doing regular sewing tasks, a longer vertical shutoff time is appropriate as this is a safety feature intended for the forgetful (as well as power saving).
Does the iron produce steam?
If the iron does not produce steam, I personally would walk away from it. There are some things you just want steam for as it is more efficient and effective.
At the same rate, you also want to be able to control that steam. Some irons are magnificent steam producers while others only produce a small wisp of steam. For those steam weaklings, steam control may not be a big concern but for those steam superpowers, you want control.
Ask these questions:
- Can I turn the steam feature off?
- How many levels of steam output does it have?
- Does it have a steam burst button?
- Can you use the steam in the vertical position?
Sometimes you don’t need or want it so it is nice to be able to turn it off. It is common for most irons to have 2-3 different steam levels and that steam burst button is nice if you just need to produce steam right at that moment!
Is it easy to add water to the iron?
Adding water to an iron is not a task for the faint of heart most of the time. It is also not a task for the shaky hand on some irons.
The opening for adding water on most irons is very small. If your opening is very small, you may consider a small funnel to help with the process.
The larger the opening, the higher the risk of the water leaking out the opening while in use. This is not typically a problem with most irons, but it does happen. Look for an iron with a reasonably sized hole and a hole that has a cover over it.
Does the iron have a mister spray?
Sometimes you may need to moisten the surface to get the best results. Most irons have a little mist sprayer on the front of them. I am not a huge fan of these because they use the water in the tank that you also use to make steam thus running that tank dry faster. These mist sprayers also don’t put out a very accurate or spray more than a very small area. This might be ideal for some tasks, but when ironing large pieces of fabrics a little more coverage may be desired.
While this might be a nice feature that you’re glad you have when you need it, I opt for the spray bottle with water. Pick a spray bottle that allows you to control the amount of spray output – amount of mist. This is a cheap solution to those times you find yourself needing a little moisture on the surface of the material.
Is the iron easy clean and/or auto clean?
Many people do not realize that you do need to clean your iron from time to time – both inside and outside.
You need to clean the outside of the iron if you accidentally run it over the iron on adhesive, the fusible side of interfacing, melt your fabric (yes it happens), or over spray your starch.
Some irons come with Teflon coatings and these are nice if you use a lot of fusible materials – adhesives or interfacing. I have used both and I do not have a preference. I do recommend you look for a slick surfaced iron face as opposed to one that is not polished if you opt for a surface other than Teflon. The smoother the surface, the easier it is to clean.
If you live in an area with hard water or if you put water in your iron at all, you will want an easy/auto clean option for your iron. This allows you to quickly and easily clean the inside without a lot of stress. Cleaning the inside of your iron on a regular schedule helps lengthen the lifespan of your iron. This process helps remove mineral deposits from your water thus maintaining the iron’s insides.
What is the iron’s weight?
Irons are available in a variety of weights – super light to super heavy.
When picking an iron, it is important to remember how comfortable it will be to use. Go to the store and physically lift the irons before you purchase. Even if you plan on buying online (I get that it is cheaper sometimes), physically try the iron before buying if at all possible.
Do not feel that you must buy a heavy iron. If you have hand or wrist problems, it is more important that the handle and weight works within your needs. Do not buy a heavy iron if you are uncomfortable lifting it – ironing can cause repetitive stress injuries. Keep this in mind if you suffer from carpel tunnel, arthritis, or the like.
My preference is for a heavier iron. I like the heavier of the MID WEIGHT iron range. That is my preference because the weight of the iron does help assist in pressing techniques.
Additional thoughts on irons
The value you place on irons will be determined by a lot of factors so keep your personal situation in mind when shopping for a new iron. Do not feel that because your best friend has a particular make/model that you will enjoy it as much as she does. It may not be the case.
If you want some suggested irons, please see the post: “Recommended Irons”
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