A Pressing Matter

I have wanted / needed a pressing ham and a seam roll, well since I started sewing and realised FBA (full bust adjustments) were going to be a necessary and regular part of my life.  Princess seams are curvy, FBA’d princess seams are super curvy and don’t like being pressed on a flat board!  In fact it was just plain frustrating and led to me nearly steam-burning my fingers.  Big ouch.

One of Sunni's Beautiful Tailor's Hams. Click on the photo to visit her shop!

I have loved Sunni’s pressing aids for a long time.  Particularly when she did a mix and match option when she had her Etsy shop.  I loved mixing and matching my wool and cotton options and at $40US they were reasonable too.  But $30 shipping to me here in the UK was just ouch.  I can understand the cost, believe me as these are quality goods stuffed with sawdust so there’s some heft to them.  And shipping heavy things costs more than shipping light things.  But it’s still the same result: a little too much to make it a reasonable option.  Sigh.

So I investigated what was available locally and it wasn’t pretty, or of a quality I was willing to accept for the price demanded!  So that left me with two options, continue to have a frustrating curve pressing experience or make them.  Bet you can guess what I chose to do!

If you Google search for a tutorial on how to make a ham or seam roll you’ll get loads of results.  This is what I did though.

First up was a visit to Sewing Princess to get hold of her free tailors ham and seam roll pattern.

I used the green line as my template.  I cut two pieces of calico / muslin, a piece of wool and a piece of cotton for the ham and the same for the seam roll.  I’ve tried to co-ordinate my wool to my cotton, but I didn’t want them to be exactly the same, hence the different prints.

A Ham and A Roll

Now I have to be honest, this has been on the to do list since about April, maybe earlier?  What’s been holding me up is the acquisition of the wool I needed for one side of the roll.  I just couldn’t bring myself to spend a lot of money on a short yardage for this.  And I was concerned about the accuracy of the fibre content description on some eBay listings.  In the end it was Etsy who came good.  Some wool samples were being sold and for less than £5 I got half a dozen almost A4 sized bits of pure wool, or wool and cashmere fabric!

To construct my pressing aids I layered and pinned as follows:

Calico/muslin, Cotton with right side up, twist of ribbon with raw edges towards raw edge of fabric and loop towards the middle, wool right side down, calico/muslin.

I stitched around the edge, using my presser foot as a guide, leaving a gap of 1-2” at the end opposite the ribbon.  This is to turn it all the right side out and so that there’s somewhere to stuff the stuffing in.  I backstitched at the beginning and end of my stitching, as well as over the ribbon.  I then pressed to set the stitches.

Turning them the right side out was, erm, interesting.  If I were to do this again I would leave the gap in the seam roll on one of the long edges, probably somewhere towards the middle.  This was a lot harder to turn out than the ham, and having the ribbon at the opposite end made the process easier as there was something to get hold of and drag through the gap!  I used the blunt end of a knitting needle to help get the corners turned.  Then a bit more pressing!

Next up was stuffing.  Mine are filled with sawdust, provided by a friend who manages a boatyard where they restore old wooden boats.  This means cutting lots of lovely new wood and he provided me with a box of clean (ie no varnish or glue etc on the cut wood) sawdust.  He thought I was mad mind you, asking for a box of sawdust!

My bright and cheerful seam roll

I made a crude funnel out of card and used a wooden spoon to feed the sawdust into the funnel.  The first few were a bit of a challenge as the fabric naturally wanted to lay together.  Once the first few were in though, squeeze and tamped down with the handle end of the spoon, it got a lot easier.  Once it was full and tamped down firmly there was still a bit of a gap, but I couldn’t get any more sawdust in.  Because I wanted a really firm roll I added some pillow stuffing in the last ¼” of the roll before slip stitching the hole shut.

A rather zingy tailor's ham

I repeated the process for the tailor’s ham, and this was easier to fill initially.  Filling the corners at the wide end was more of a challenge and I ended up pressing sawdust into the corners with my fingers.  Some pillow stuffing also went into the end as well before I slip stitched it closed.  I wonder whether having the gap on a long side would have made the filling easier.  It may just be that it’s one of those fiddly jobs that you’re only going to get good at through repetition.  Not something that’s likely to happen here!

So, a bit of research and a little effort and I now have a set of pressing aids for the princely sum of about £5.  Factoring in my time though would make them a lot more expensive, but I had fun making them and learnt a few things.  And that’s one of the reasons I love sewing; I’m always learning.

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4 thoughts on “A Pressing Matter

  1. How awesome! I have been thinking about making the pressing aids as well. I enjoy making things so I’d prefer to do that. Would you happen to know where someone can get sawdust if they don’t have a friend who has some around 🙂 ?

    1. I know the sawmills in my local area where also willing to help. Again thinking I was slightly mad! I think you can also buy it online, but you’re then back into the whole postage saga? I know others have used fabric scraps too, so that my be an alternative… I do love how the sawdust smells though when it’s warm!

    2. Here in the UK I’ve seen sawdust for under £2.00 GBP (so around $.00 US) in pet stores. I’ve seen it in packets (about the size of a small/narrow cardboard shoe box) in the pet supplies aisle in the supermarket, and also at a chain called Wilkinsons, or even at “Poundland” and “99p Stores” :).

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