Don’t Press Like Jane; Press Better with Pressing Mats

pressing mats

Let’s call this quilter “Jane.” This is Jane’s pressing situation. It’s serviceable, she might say, so why change things?

pressing mats:

This is Jane’s pressing set-up. This simple ironing board has worked just fine for years, she says.

Oh, Jane. Dear, dear Jane.

Inexpensive ironing boards, like this one, are indeed serviceable . . . for a while. But as Jane would ruefully admit, the cheap extra cover scorched and stained quickly, the legs are wobbly, and it’s difficult to evenly drape the completed quilt top for even pressing.

And yes, the thin foam has flattened out, to the point where you can feel the metal grating through the top. Sometimes the lacy pattern of the grating will even come through as a shiny pattern on the quilt block.

pressing mats:

The metal grating on the underside of the ironing board heats up and presses through the thin, worn-out foam to leave a grated pattern, which can be seen on the stained top beneath the cover. The result, as you can imagine, is uneven, terrible pressing.


Made for TV Pressing Tips

“For quilting, you actually want a nice hard surface like this,” Angela Huffman has said on PBS “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting.” The pressing mat on the show is relatively small—18” x 24”—so that it can fit nicely on the sewing center. And being right next to the cutting mat and sewing machine is a lovely arrangement.

pressing mats:

Having a smaller pressing mat, along with a travel-sized iron, on your sewing center is an excellent convenience. Here you can see the arrangement on the set of “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting,” as guest Karla Herrin preps the machine for an upcoming episode.

Would you like to hear a behind-the-scenes secret? This pressing mat is homemade.

pressing mats:

This pressing mat is homemade?! The one we use on television?! Yes.

There’s a stiff, heat-resistant board inside, a thin layer of batting, and then canvas, wrapped around tightly and stapled. While another piece of canvas has been wrapped around to cover the first, the layers are all still thin enough that you can hear the wood when you rap the pressing mat with your knuckles.

pressing mats:

A second cover was added with elastic so that we could remove and wash the top layer. But, yes, that’s our television studio’s pressing surface!

This hard, small surface has worked magically for years on the set of “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting.”

Pressing Mat Meets Ironing Board

The pressing tables in the Quilting Company’s sewing studio in Golden, Colorado, also have homemade modifications. This surface is larger—about 20” x 61” —because it’s built to fit on a standard ironing board.

pressing mats:

This larger, un-tapered surface with a hard interior board and little batting is perfect for pressing long rows and full quilt tops.

These pressing tables are, yes, ironing boards with a homemade pressing mat fitted on top. The mats have ridges or rails underneath, which keep the mat firmly in place on top of the ironing board. One even has some additional hook-and-loop tape to keep it extra secure. When you’re working on these, you would have no idea that it’s a just a mat on top of an ironing board.

pressing mats:

Yes, that heavy board is simply set on top, with some rails and maybe hook-and-loop tape keeping it comfortably in place.

Wool Wishes for Great Pressing

Katie Chicarello, assistant editor with The Quilting Company, recently reviewed Wooly Felted Wonders’ wool pressing mats for Modern Patchwork’s September/October 2018 issue. Everyone was saying how wonderful they were, so Katie decided to test them out at our Maynard, Massachusetts, office.

“And it’s really true,” she says. “They are amazing. The wool heats up from the middle out, so the surface gets hot and stays hot.”

pressing mats:

The felted wool pressing mats receive rave reviews for their ability to retain heat, and for the perfect amount of give.

The heat that is wasted through the thin foam batting in Jane’s situation, leaking out through the bottom, isn’t a problem with wool felted pressing mats. Instead, the heat lingers in the denseness of the wool.

“Because the pressing mat is hot, you’re essentially pressing your quilt block from the top and bottom at the same time,” Katie adds. The result, she swears, is a perfect press.

“They’re about half an inch thick, so it’s a nice dense surface to press on,” she says. “And it’s well made. There’s nothing chintzy or dinky about it.”

Of course, you can also find thick wool felt to cover your ironing board, or even use Army surplus blankets in a pinch, because those pressing mats can get pricey, but the thickness of the Wooly Felted Wonders mats isn’t easy to replicate. Check out more about this highly recommended mat (affiliate link).

Maria McKenzie, quilt designer and guest on the upcoming 3300 series of “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting,” also recommended the felted wool mats while she was with us on set, especially if you work with solids. She works quite a bit with Painter’s Palette Solids from Paintbrush Studios, because of the quality, but even with those, you can get a shine on your seams.

pressing mats:

Maria McKenzie, who joined Sara Gallegos on set for upcoming episode 3303 of “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting,” incorporates lots of solids in her projects, and recommends wool pressing mats (affiliate link) specifically for them.

“On a lot of mats, when you press solids, the seams will get kind of shiny because of all those layers,” Maria says. “With wool mats, it has that give, so the layers sink in just the right amount, which prevents that.”

Quilting is More Than Sewing

When it comes to patchwork, there’s a lot more to it than sewing. Good pressing techniques lead to precise patchwork. I’ve heard more than one quilter say that pressing is equally as important as sewing, so it makes sense to invest in good tools for the job. Whether the pressing tools are homemade or purchased, make sure they work for you.

And, whatever you do, don’t press like Jane.

Happy Quilting!
–Vanessa (aka, “Jane”)

Great technique makes for great quilting!

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