a question of irons....

Hey folks.  I just got a great question from a reader.

Maria writes:

Hello Brain,

I am very impressed with your site and now a new follower.

With all the sewing you do, what is your favorite iron?  I am not pleased with the one I have (there have been many). Steam is either messy or not enough, sometimes the irons either get to hot or not hot enough. What are your thoughts?

Thank you,

Hi Maria!

Well I think you're not alone in your quest for the perfect iron.  As people who sew I feel we have different requirements for an iron than the average laundry maid.  My trusty Shark brand iron purchased from Target finally bit the dust last year.  I had used it so much that the paint had been worn through on the handle and it had a few hot glue repairs.

The features that matter to me as someone who sews are as follows:

  • Long cord
    • And forget that retractable business, that just breaks and is bulky.  Plus I never ever put my iron away.
  • No digital controls (just give me a standard dial folks)
    • I almost never change my settings, I always keep the iron set for Wool which allows me to iron everything and not worry about melting my polyester thread.
  • Good burst of steam button
    • This is essential for the sewist.  I need precise control of the steam in order to manipulate the fabric.  I want to be able to give the button micro pushes for little tiny bits of steam.  A perfect burst of steam would only come out the holes at the tip giving absolute control but that's hard to find.
  • Steams successfully at the lower temp of Wool
    • This is HUGE.  If you look at the dial they never say steam is available at the wool setting however some irons will steam at the lower temp anyway.  Like mentioned before I only use the lower temp (unless I'm ironing linen or something) so the steam has to work at the lower temp.
  • Stainless steel plate or very durable non-stick
    • Those early or cheap non-stuck coatings on irons were/are horrific.  Iron over a button and your coating scratches right off.  I like stainless steel but it's not quite as smooth as a coated surface.  Therefore I tend to lean towards the durable non-stick.
  • Advanced auto-off features
    • I never turn my iron off or unplug it unless it's leaving the building.  I want an iron that heats fast and also turns off fast.  Often I leave the iron plate side down on the table and walk away.  Because it's on a low heat setting it's no problem, my iron also senses that it's plate down and not being moved and shuts off within seconds.  I've become accustomed to the iron taking 30 seconds to warm up and feel the trade off is fine over an iron that stays on continually.  I don't want to feel guilty for leaving an iron hot all the time.  They are after all the wattage of a space heater or blow dryer.
  • Not easy to tip over
    • The most detrimental thing for the life of your iron is falling on the floor.  They really don't like it.  Many irons are designed to be rather unsteady when set up on their base.  Pair with the wobbly ironing boards most people have and you need a new iron every six months.  An iron that stays on it's base will last longer.
  • Good for right or left handed use
    • My mom is left handed and often reminds me that she lives in a right handed world. It's no skin off their noses to make an iron work for both with a cord that is in the right spot or swivels back and forth.
  • Easy to fill with water and water stays in
    • Who thinks it's ok to spill water all over your ironing board when you're filling your iron?  Also, what if your ironing aggressively, do you want the water sloshing back out the hole?
Usually I don't promote products here because there are very few that I feel are worthy of my seal of approval.  This one gets me seal:

T-Fal FV4259 Tefal Ultraglide Easy Cord Steam Iron

This iron gets rave reviews and can be had shipped for under $40.  If I had to complain about something it would be that the auto-shutoff is slightly too aggressive.  However since the iron heats fast it's pretty much a non-issue.  I have used irons from all the major brands and even the "high end" names (you know the ones) and they just don't stand up to this one.

So that's my two cents on irons!  Notice we didn't even get into all the steam generators and gravity feeds.  I think those are a whole different thing and would have to be reviewed in their own category.

a question of the collection....


A reader sent me this and I thought I'd answer it here since its a question I get asked from time to time.  He writes,

  "This email is asking your thoughts on a tough   question.  I recently found myself coming under a great deal of criticism for collecting old sewing machines.  I have about nine now, and very few duplicates.   My rule is any addition to the family must be old, and be capable functioning, even if help is needed (which is most of the time)   Today I got blasted from a guy who said 'why?'   Why waste money on junk which all do basically the same thing.  They're waste of money and space.  Well,  it's my money and my space.   Have you ever come across this attitude from people you generally respected?  Their recommendation was to pick one, maybe two of my favorites and dispose of the rest.  I disagree.    Any word of wisdom for when another similar conversation arises?"  

I think of it the same way I would probably collect cars if I was wealthy.  Each individual machine has a slightly different feel and sound.  Each does specific tasks very well and others not so much.  As much as manufacturers try there is no perfect machine that can do everything the way I want it all the time.  Granted they don't have me specifically in mind when designing these machines although they probably should.  Like everything mass produced it is designed to appeal to an audience.  I'd be interested to see exactly what the marketing demographics are as sewing has changed so much in just the past five years.  Companies like Brother that provide excellent products at entry level budgets are probably capturing a good portion of the market.  Features that used to be found only on high end machines have filtered down and it's no longer necessary to spend over grand to get pretty much every feature you want.

Where do vintage machines come in then?  It's interesting watching the market as old stuff becomes more rare and highly sought after models see their prices increase year after year.  I admit that I will often hold back blogging about machines that I wish to own because it drives the prices up.  I actually own a number of machines that you guys don't even know about yet!  

Back to the point.  There's a difference between old treasure and old junk and everyone draws their own line.  At this point to me any black Singer looking machine is junk, I know, sacrilege right?  I'm not saying these machines don't work great and have tons of potential life left in them.  What I'm saying is that they're so common I see no need to keep a bunch of them around collecting dust.  I also don't see the prices going up much except on the "special" ones.  I'm obviously not the only one who feels this way.  That being said I still own at least three of these. (no not special ones)

I collect what I like and what will retain or gain in value.  I'm not using these machines anymore because I have more modern machines I like better.  That being said every so often someone wants to try one and we make a go of it.

In the end I collect what I do because for whatever reason that particular object makes me happy to own or I haven't gotten around to getting rid of it yet.  I've learned that it's easier to leave a boring machine on the side of the road then have to dispose of it later.  I only need so many door stops after all.

Here's my current inventory.  I also have a few machines at home that aren't pictured.  Remember, I have a "legitimate" reason for having all these...   I think?

In no particular order:

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