Cutlery for Apparel Sewing

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Last week, when I shared some tool tips for beginners, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the arsenal of cutlery I’ve acquired over the years for various stages of the sewing process. I found that when it comes to the world of scissors, there is something that fits nearly every circumstance. There’s a lot of choices, which is great! Yay for choice!

You might be asking, “Why do I need more than one pair of scissors?” It’s a valid question and one that I asked too. As I’ve sewn more and more garments over the years, I’ve found the value of having lots of different types of scissors that work better than others do in different stages of the construction process. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure, but I’ve cut holes into garments from using the wrong scissors. It’s a cold compress moment. Tears are usually shed. Expletives start flying. It’s not pretty.

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Let’s start with the old standbys. My fabric cutting shears. I have three pairs of these. I have a pair of Kai’s that are great for most everything. They could slice through steel I tell ya! I also have a pair of spring-loaded Gingher’s that I use only on silk fabrics. I end up working a lot with wool and a lot with silk and I’ve found that wool actually dulls my shears a little, so I opted to invest in a pair that was only for silks and/or thin fabrics like lining so that I wouldn’t have to get them sharpened as often. I also have a pair of Gingher serrated shears that are marvelous for those extra, extra tricksy slippery fabrics. The knife edge has tiny micro serrations in it and they grip the fabric and then slice and they are ideal for silk charmeuse or chiffon.

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My next most used pairs of scissors are my nippers. They are a Gingher pair, but I’ve used others with success too. I use nippers for cutting threads and they stay right next to my sewing machine while I sew. I have tried to get used to the thread cutter on my machine, but I like the ritual of using my nippers. It’s a funny little preference as I do love speed, but it’s something I do.

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My tailor points come next (on the right above). These are a little 5 inch pair of Gingher scissors that I use all the time for clipping, trimming and grading. They are probably my favorite pair, I use them so much! The short length helps protect against the dreaded slice into the garment. Mainely Dad also recommends bandage scissors that help protect against that sort of thing even more! I’ve yet to try a pair, but my mister also agrees with as he’s worked in a hospital using these. Look, these ones are serrated! I use these Gingher Applique Scissors (on the left above) for narrow hems, like say on a circle skirt. Surprisingly that’s about the only thing I use these for, but I do find them very useful in that instance. They are handy to have around when you need to get nice and close to an edge.

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Last, but not least, I do have a pair of Gingher pinkers. I’ve seen these used as a seam finish, but I use them for trimming curved seams. You know how you’re supposed to notch or clip curved seams so they lay right? I use pinkers instead and trim the seam to about 1/4″. Granted this is only on enclosed seams, but they are very useful for this purpose.

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Back a few years ago, I made a little peg board especially for my shears (and then from there I added other items to it too). It’s very handy as all my scissors are hanging up and out of the way and they are easy to access when I need them. Took an old picture frame from a thrift shop and had some peg board precut to the right dimensions and voila – instant scissor hanger!

There’s my arsenal of scissors. I don’t use much in the way of a rotary cutter – though I have two for odd jobs. I’m a shears and scissors lover. What about you? Are there special scissors that really help you? Or do you use a rotary cutter? Thoughts on the best ones you’ve tried? We’d all love to know!

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Sewing Secrets: Tools for Beginners

I recently wrapped up teaching a Beginner Sewing Class at my local university and it gave me a ton of ideas on my favorite tools for beginning sewists. It’s nice to know that there are things out there that others have tried and think you should try to (because they are just better and make your sewing experience easier). So here goes – please chime in, in the comments with your tips on your favorite tools:

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Glass head silk pins. My favorites are put out by Clover and red and white heads. Why are these a thing? The heads make life so much easier. You can grab them and jab them into anything without hurting your fingers (hello awful headless pins!). And I say silk pins because as a beginner you may not know that there are many many different types of pins. Silk pins or they are sometimes called sharps, basically pin into anything because they are extra sharp and fine for pinning into silk. The Clover ones aren’t too long, they don’t bend too easily, you can use them in knits (which can be hard to pin sometimes) and when you iron over them, the heads don’t melt. So worth it.

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Magnetic pincushion. I’m a serious Clover crusher and my favorite is again, put out by Clover. It’s the Magnetic Pin Caddy and the magnet is nice and strong. I know it’s incredibly tempting to use a really cute old fashioned stuffed pincushion. The magnetic ones are not as cute, I’ll grant you. But what they lack in aesthetic, they more than make up for in ease of use. Get one of these and you won’t have to worry about your pins being strewn all over your workspace and pushed onto the floor where you might find one stuck in your foot later. Just sayin is all. These make sewing way, way faster.

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A good pair of shears/scissors. Or a good quality rotary cutter – whichever you prefer for cutting. I use a pair of Kai shears that I love to death. But being the sewist that I am, I have several pairs of Ginghers too and both are great scissor options. Invest in a pair and when they get a little dull, go get them sharpened. A good pair of shears will last you the rest of your sewing days – as long as you don’t go and cut rocks with them! Same with a good rotary cutter. I have a Kai for that too and I haven’t needed to change the blade in 3 years – it’s seriously that awesome!

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Good thread. It’s a small thing, but good thread is a must. This is what holds your garment together! You really do get what you pay for and if you buy cheap thread, chances are high that it’s crap thread too. And please – do not use your grandmother’s hand me down thread! Thread has a shelf life because it can rot. My favorite thread is Metrosene all purpose polyester thread, but Gutermann and Coats and Clark also put out great threads and these are all pretty easy to get your hands on at either Joann or Hancock. Don’t do the discount thread. It’s discounted for a reason.

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Invest in a nice set of hand sewing needles. I love these self-threading Clover ones. You hold a piece of thread over the top, click the thread into place and voila! the needle is easily threaded. Seriously, these are marvelous. They come in a handy set of lengths and weights and make easy work of hand sewing. Especially if you’re prone to continually de-threading your needle while you’re sewing.

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Change out your machine needle after every two or three projects, and/or change it out according to the needs of your fabric. There are different sized needles out there for your machine and it’s worth changing out often. My favorites are the microtex or sharps needles put out by Schmetz or a company called Klasse. These guys are extra sharp and work wonderfully on the majority of fabrics.

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Last, but not least, get yourself a good iron. My best tip is to get a vintage steam iron. General Electric ones are grand (got mine off ebay, but etsy is a good place to look too). I work with one of these and have done so for the past 3 years. My guy has never given me fit, is hotter than you can even imagine (oh la la), always has steam for me, does not have auto-off (which is great if you’re a sewer) and is heavy. Good grief, I wish he was my boyfriend! I love my iron!

So what are your favorite tools? Was there a specific tool when you started sewing that was the best thing since sliced bread? Do share!

Sewing Machine Thoughts

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I’ve been a Bernina lover for a long time and I still am. I own a little Bernina Activa 230 and that machine has seen me through thick and thin, literally. Honestly, I didn’t even know how much I loved that machine until I started trying others and working on machines that students would bring to classes I taught. Not trying to bag on any machine, but wow, I noticed a world of difference. Machines that wouldn’t even sew through a certain thickness of fabric (like 2 layers of wool), had crummy, crummy tension problems, made frightful buttonholes, tears started flying when the word “zipper” was mentioned – things I’ve never really dealt with coming from my experience with my Bernina.

Then I decided that I was interested in doing a collaboration with a sewing machine company. There are a lot of reasons why, but let’s just say that I was interested. I did ask Bernina and never got a response. So I looked elsewhere. I had worked on a couple of Pfaffs that students had brought into some of my classes, and I was impressed with their simplicity and ease of use and so I thought I would ask Pfaff if they were interested. And they were. We all got to talking and emailing and we made a deal and by August of this year or so, I had a shiny new Pfaff Performance 5.0 in my possession.

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For what it’s worth, and since I’ve had some time to get used to my new machine I thought I would go ahead and give an honest review of my experience with it and what I think. Coming from my great experience with my Bernina, I thought this might be a helpful review if you’re in the market for something new. There’s more than one fish in the sea, it seems.

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Let’s start with this. Not only do I love Berninas now, but I passionately love Pfaffs. This machine is marvelous to work with. Again, I have the Pfaff Performance 5.0. This machine has a beautiful stitch. Perfect tension. Truly, perfect. And the great part is, it is perfect even when the fabric is really really thick, or if you’ve got a nice heavy topstitch thread plugged in (something my Bernina struggled with, but still did a passable job). I ALWAYS look at this sort of thing first. A big win there. This machine is a computerized machine, but the computer system is surprisingly easy to use. I say that dreading any kind of “getting used to” computer things on anything. The learning curve here is pretty intuitive. There were very few things that I couldn’t just figure out on my own and the simple manual that comes with this machine is helpful (and simplified – did I mention it’s simple?).

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There’s a crazy amount of stitches on this girl. As someone who doesn’t use that many to begin with, I was impressed and then more impressed to find that the stitches are pretty fun to use if and when you get the chance. The triple straight stitch is pretty amazing; my Bernina can’t hold a candle to it. There’s several really, really awesome buttonholes and I love the buttonhole foot that already calculates how big to make your buttonhole just by having a pre-specified size already programmed into the computer interface. I still have to measure the button and do a tester but, it’s a nice change to calculating the right size for my Bernina buttonhole (though my Bernina makes beautiful buttonholes too).

pfaff-love-7I’m loving the control I feel with this machine. The foot pedal is absolutely marvelous. You have so much control – it’s not just a race car right out of the gate. Still getting used to the knee lift (pictured above – no, that is not just some random crap shot of my dirty sewing room! ha ha!), but I’m beginning to love this more and more. It’s nice to have more free hands in various parts of the sewing process. I die over the free arm space. Feel like I could shove a quilt through that free arm. It’s that big! You can take the bed of the machine out and voila, instant sleeve bed. Love that.

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IDT is pretty amazing. I love that you can use it or not. Like when I’m putting in a sleeve, don’t want IDT. But when I’m stitching on a voile, chiffon or other lightweight fabric, this is a dream! No ripples (or lots fewer ripples) and the stitch is even. (IDT is short for Integrated Dual Feed and it’s Pfaff’s built in system for the foot and the feed dogs to feed the fabric evenly – like a walking foot, but without having to change the foot out). In the photo above, the IDT thing-a-ma-jig is that blackish foot at the back of the presser foot.

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My Pfaff came with a plethora of sewing machine feet. They are snap on – not my favorite, but I love the fact that they are more evenly priced and I’m loving the clear feet that I’ve got (how did I ever live without these before!). The invisible zipper foot is marvelous and so is the regular zipper foot – my favorite thus far out of all the machines I have ever used. The bobbin is topside. At first I was turned off by this, but the stitch is so marvelous I can’t complain. I love the old-school storage for feet and bobbins in the bed of the machine. Such a simple thing, but something that ticked for me.

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I think that about wraps it up. This machine is a goodie and I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Pfaff for it. There’s a crew of us over at the Sewing Party that are working with some fun machine brands and contributing to this site. Lots of good stuff going on over there! Really good stuff. Definitely check it out. And hey, if you’re in the market for a new machine, come this holiday season, get yourself over to a Pfaff dealer and give these guys a test run. Worth. every. cent. Just sayin. I’m giving the Pfaff Performance 5.0 a 5-star rating.

Fitting Thoughts on McCall’s 6649

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Since I got you all excited about creating your own patterns – from a pattern that already fits you – in my last post, I thought I would give you some fitting thoughts of what I went through with my versions of McCall’s 6649. I posted an update about the Craftsy class with Sarah Holden in my last post, but I thought I would state it again. This particular class does not offer any help whatsoever for fitting. It focuses on pattern drafting from a pattern that fits you. The fitting process is a whole class unto itself, so that was not covered in a class like this (but see below for more info on my fitting references). Often times fitting, for me, is a really rotten and time consuming process (isn’t it for everyone?). One thing I really really don’t enjoy is that I tend to start second guessing myself at the end of it all. Do I really like the fit of this? Maybe I should make a few more tweaks? Shouldn’t it be more fitted? Hmmm, the sleeve might be an 1/8″ too long? An 1/8″? Isn’t that a little nuts? Are we actually trying to split hairs here? AHHHHH! This process is called overfitting and it happens, I think, to all of us (well I hope it does or I am a bona fide nut job). I usually have to step back from something like this and then come back to it a few days or weeks later.

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With McCall’s 6649, I made an initial muslin. From there I created this flannel shirt that I blogged back in August of last year. That was my first rendition. The sleeves were too short, the collar was too tall and flopped about too much (for my taste). The shoulders needed a forward shoulder adjustment, the sleeve cuff was too big. I also like to sew the button placket in a different way (this is just too lumpy for my taste). These were things that needed fixing even after I had done a muslin and made extensive fitting adjustments before I made up this version! In case you were worried, I didn’t pick this pattern back up and finish the fitting process until December 2014. It did not take me since last August to fit this pattern! Ha ha! Now that would be bad!

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My second round proved better. I measured a sleeve and cuff from a button-up shirt I had and liked the fit of and then adjusted my pattern accordingly. Also compared the collars and made more adjustments to my pattern. The sleeve cuff on this one still ended up being too big for my taste preferences. And yes, I totally added lace to this one! This is a Liberty of London print, just in case you were wondering.

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I adjusted the sleeve cuff for this favorite version (read more about this one here)! The cuff is a  little more fitted and that’s exactly the way I like them. This shirt, I daresay is perfect. Again on this shirt, I opted not to sew in the vertical darts on the front bodice, just to mix it up a little. I like things boxy sometimes and I was curious to see if it still “fit” if I didn’t sew in the darts. It fits just fine, it’s just a different sort of fit which is good because then the wheels start turning and I start seeing possibilities for future hacks!

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And then just to be safe, I made one more version in a most beloved Liberty of London that I had been stashing for some time for just this very purpose. I decided to go whole hog and do all of the things, including front vertical darts and pockets with flaps.

I decided to show you all of these because I feel that sometimes people might think that fitting can be solved after one muslin iteration. While a lot of it can and the garment you make next is usually just fine or at least wearable, you’ll end up wanting to tweak things for an even better fit in the next go around. Why? Because you CAN! Hello fitting ninja! The kinks come out of it pretty well when you’re into your third make from the same pattern – at least this has been my experience. Granted, there are a lot of patterns out there that I don’t make multiples of. Sometimes those patterns are just one hit wonders, but base patterns like these I take a good long time with and really get the fit right on par for what I want.

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I took this class on Craftsy quite some time ago, which I found to be incredibly useful pre-muslin – Fast Track Fitting with Joi Mahon. Her follow-up class is really good too, Fast Track Fitting, in the Details. She’s also got a great book out – Create the Perfect Fit – and all of these resources stick to the same method that she really tries to drill into your brain – measure your body, measure and adjust the pattern. I like her method a lot because you use measurements from your body and then you adjust the pattern before you do your initial muslin. It clears up a lot of the big problems. After the muslin phase, I tweak the fit utilizing the first edition of Fitting & Pattern Alteration. Really, really awesome fitting book.

OK, well I think that’s enough about fitting for one day. Hopefully there’s some good information here for those of you who might be stuck or thinking about overfitting every sewing pattern you’ve ever made! Do you make multiples of patterns to get the fit just right? Do you over fit? I know, it’s totally a thing, right?

Working with a Sloper

Over the course this year so far, you’ve seen my adoration for a certain button up sewing pattern (McCall’s 6649) and then a couple of hacks of things I’ve made from it (here and here). I thought I would take a sec, stop down and say a little more about it. It’s exciting. Well, at least I think so.

Hopefully this post will help clear up some questions I’ve been getting and hopefully it will show you that you can take a pattern and hack it up and not have to re-invent the fitting wheel. This is a skill I’ve cultivated over several years and one that is well worth the time invested and when you get to the pattern drafting part, it’s really quite fun to learn (in like a scrapbooking sort of way!). In my recent hack of my beloved McCall’s 6649, I mentioned a Craftsy class I had taken. One Pattern, Many Looks with Sarah Holden. I enrolled in the class last year sometime and then it sat in my Craftsy cue for many months. One night, I was really tired and decided to watch this Craftsy class as I was sitting in bed. I watched all the episodes right there and then. I was riveted and I was so excited to get up and get started in the morning. Dreamt of pattern hacks all night! Yessssss!

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The class takes you through this pretty fascinating process. First you’re supposed to fit the pattern. This process actually took a few weeks (the longest part of this whole business) because I wanted something that truly, was perfect and that usually means, for me, that I work out any and all kinks in a pattern by making it up at least 3 times. Seriously, 3 times is the charm. I have some more thoughts about the fitting process in my next post, but yeah, I made this shirt up a good 3 times (and then one more time, making that 4 times!!) before I moved on to the rest of the content of the class. Update: Just so you are aware, this Craftsy class does not cover anything about fitting! It’s only about pattern drafting and manipulation.

After a perfect fit, then it was time to reverse engineer the pattern back to sloper form. What is a sloper? In the most basic terms, a sloper is a base pattern, without seam allowances, from which other patterns can be created or hacked from. You can have different types of slopers. For example, you can have bodice, sleeve, dress, pants, etc. From there you can even have varying types of those basic patterns like a button-up shirt sloper or a raglan sleeve sloper. The idea is that you’ll start forming an entire collection of base patterns that are closer in idea to what you want an end pattern to be. More colors in a crayon box if you will.

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Anyway, back to McCall’s 6649. I created a sloper from this pattern and transferred all of the pertinent markings to posterboard. All of the seam allowances have been cut off here and there are holes and notches in specific places. Putting a pattern like this on posterboard is fantastic because then when I’m ready to create a new top from this pattern, I can just trace it off  in a matter of seconds. The posterboard is stiff so you can just trace around it really easily.

In the Craftsy class, Sarah shows you some really great hacks. And these are just starting points. I mean you really do have the entire world at your feet when you start creating your own patterns – from patterns that already fit you! Since you’ve already addressed the fit, that tends to not be a problem anymore. You might run into some issues here and there, but they are minimal by comparison.

All in all, I’m very very pleased with how my hacks have turned out from this process. It took a lot of time, but was well worth the investment. Onward and upward from here. Have you gone through this process before? What kinds of slopers do you have? If you haven’t, I can’t recommend something like this enough. You learn a ton about fitting and about your body and what things you should be looking out for when you go to try a new sewing pattern. Plus then there’s the creative gratification that comes from creating a pattern of your very own. Fun, fun!

Yea or Nay: Iron Teflon Shoe

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When I posted about my vintage iron (which is still kicking a$$ compared to my old Rowenta!!! jealous much?) a commenter mentioned purchasing a teflon shoe for it. I have to be honest, I’ve tried an iron teflon shoe and found it to be really…lame. But maybe I purchased the wrong one. From what I gather there are ones that are pre-made to fit certain iron dimensions (like the photo above) and adjustable ones. The prefit ones look heaps better than the adjustables, but then again, am I going to be able to find one that fits my iron and is it really worth the money? The one I tried previously is here and it was adjustable and hard to use the iron when I was ironing, as opposed to pressing. I also found it to be oddly clunky/junky, not hot enough, not steamy enough and not glide-ee enough (like gliding over the fabric like a swan on water), even with the iron turned up to the highest setting when without the shoe, it does just fine. Plus getting into corners was pretty much impossible because of the adjustable quality of the shoe. Add to all this that when I had had enough of trying the shoe out, I wadded it up and threw it into the garbage and found it had left some wonderfully awesome junk on my iron plate and if there is one thing I do loathe, its a dirty iron sole plate.

A few days ago, I was getting lost in the archives over at Fashion Incubator and she mentioned (in a post, I can’t seem to find now) that instead of using a silk organza press cloth (my go to for adhering fusible interfacing and pressing seams that shine), just use a teflon shoe for your iron. Granted, I’m pretty sure she’s talking about use with a gravity steam iron and not a standard home iron and though my vintage iron is fairly awesome, I’ve tried those gravity steam irons and there is of course, a stark difference. Still, I wouldn’t mind trying a different brand of teflon shoe, so I turn to you to see what you think. I’ll admit, I’m pretty attached to my silk organza press cloth though, but one has to keep an open mind about all things sewing, I think.

So what do you think? Do you use a teflon shoe for your iron? Any brand suggestions? What do you really think about iron teflon shoes? Yea or Nay? Jump in!

Giveaway Winner! & My Vintage GE Iron

Everyone, thank you so much for entering the Sew Better, Sew Faster Giveaway. Lisa G – from notes from a mad housewife won! Yay! Congratulations Lisa. An email is on its way to you.

And now, back to the business of sewing. A little while ago, my iron was on the outs. This is a common problem that seems to creep up about every two years or so. The hand held irons on the market today are pretty much crap. Seriously, crap. I’ve been through too many to be in the dark about this and I’ve been through the gamut of makes and models too. Irons ranging from $10 – $200 and they all give up the ghost at around the two year mark. Its more than inconvenient, its down right ridiculous. But as you know, such is the way of things these days. Everything is made with plastic and only lasts a few years before its time to replace it with more plastic and blah blah blah. Talk about planned obsolescence.

So its no surprise that I’ve been coveting a gravity feed steam iron. When Peter posted about this back in April I was very interested in what his readers had to say. Many were all for him purchasing one for his birthday but then I read a comment from Phyllis (CoudreMode) and knew that I was not yet in a situation where this iron would be the right purchase. I live in an apartment and like most apartments, I barely have room for my current set-up, let alone something that I wouldn’t really be able to take down and move and the whole she bang. So the gravity feed iron will remain on my list of sewing desires for now.

Instead I decided to give a vintage iron a try. When I was younger, I remembered going on a trip with a friend of my mom’s to a cabin in Colorado. Whilst at the cabin, of all things, I found a vintage Black and Decker iron (I think it was a Black and Decker, but I could be wrong) that was simply amazing. The thing still worked like a champ and the steam that it produced was nothing less than miraculous. It was like no other iron I had ever used or have ever used since. So remembering that, I decided to take my search to ebay. I found a refurbished old General Electric iron, from a reputable seller who stated that it was in working order, so I ordered it up.

The day it arrived, I put the thing to the test. The iron worked. More than that, it produces effortless steam and its something that you can always rely on having if you’ve got the button up for the steam and the iron is in the down position. I find this absolutely, without a doubt, amazing, because with irons that I’ve purchased in the past, I don’t always get steam, even if I push those stupid “burst of steam” buttons and even if the iron is in the down position. If the iron is heating up as it does often (you know, when the light is on) the steam is off (with the newer irons). Additionally, I’ve been having problems with my more modern iron not producing steam because its been plugged in for too long – like long after the “auto-off” has shut it down and then you have to shake the iron to get the “auto-off” to turn off and turn the iron back on – AAARRRRGGGHHH! You might have guessed that my vintage GE doesn’t have an auto-off. This is AWESOME! Now, of course, you have to be careful and not leave it plugged in, but at least you don’t have it shutting off every 8 minutes.

What else can I say about this iron? It has a full metal base with, what I’m pretty sure is a bake-lite handle. The cord is wrapped in fabric – the old school way. I really don’t have any idea as to how old it is. I was looking on Etsy at similar irons and several of the ads said that it dates back to the 40s, but I’m fairly certain its not quite that old. Definitely before the 80s. I daresay, it might even be from the 60s – definitely not sure though. The only thing that I would say is kind of a pain is that the iron gets really really really hot. I’ve never used an iron that gets this hot. In fact, the “linen” setting is too hot for linen! So I always do a little patch test on a corner of the fabric before I start really pressing or ironing away. And really, having an iron get too hot is better than not hot enough, which has more or less been my experience with modern day irons. You know that plastic, it just can’t handle too much heat. This vintage GE is also a good weight. It’s got just the right amount of pressure for tailoring, in my opinion. Plus with the steam factor, its a dream, a DREAM to press with.

I plan to give you an update on the iron every now and then, just to see how this old tessie holds up. I’ve been using it for about three weeks now – still running like a champ! What do you think? Do you think she’ll hold up or conk out at the two year mark? Do any of you work with a vintage iron?