When you read about sewing machinery, the focus is almost always on the sewing machine, however I am finding that the steam iron is just as important as the sewing machine you are using. Initially I didn’t completely understand the purpose of ironing/pressing, but I am starting to get a better idea now. Beyond pressing the wrinkles out of clothes, I can see how it can also make seams sharper.
Anyway, I am now on my fourth steam iron. Really! The first one I started with was the $100 Rowenta Focus. I figured that since it cost a lot, it must be good. WRONG. That one only lasted for a few months until it started leaking water all over the place. I looked online to see if other people were having the same problem with Rowentas, and sure enough, they were. Apparently there is a design flaw in the Rowenta iron that causes this. I took it apart to try to fix the problem. The way it is designed is such that it is made in a few separate pieces and there are seals between the pieces where the water flows. I could tell that the back seal must have been leaking, but I didn’t know how to fix that problem. Also, don’t take the Rowenta Focus apart yourself — it was too hard for me to get it reassembled, so I threw it out. This is definitely not an iron you should try repairing.
Next, I went back to a cheap Black & Decker $20 steam iron. I figured that if a steam iron goes bad, I might as well just use a cheap one so I can just throw it away and buy another. I used that one for a while but found that it produced hardly any steam. It might work for some emergency, but clearly it was not going to cut it for making my own clothing.
Due to my success at buying old things off Ebay, I thought I should next try to find an old iron (this was about the same time I bought my old Singer 66).
I found one, the Sears Jewel steam iron, which looked to have been made in the 1950′s. I figured that should be pretty reliable — people actually used irons back then for sewing. That one cost $20. However, when it arrived, all the steam holes on the bottom were clogged. I researched how to clean it out. First, I tried drain cleaner, then I read online that if you live in an area with “hard water”, the iron can become clogged and you should use vinegar to remove the mineral deposits. Well, I’m on city water, but maybe the previous owner had well water. I filled it with vinegar a few times, and eventually I was able to get it producing steam through the holes in the bottom.
Despite all that effort cleaning it, the 1950′s iron wasn’t very good either. You are supposed to refill it through a hole in the front, but after it spilled boiling water on my ironing board a few times through this hole, I decided not to use it. I didn’t want to burn the flesh off my hands by accident!!!
By this point I was really tired of replacing steam irons, so I just decided to find out what iron DOES NOT leak water, and just buy that one, whatever it costed. Surely professional tailors do not use steam irons bought at Wal-Mart, Joann’s, or antiques from Ebay.
So… below you can see my new setup ironing setup… it has two parts: the steam boiler is on top of the chest and the iron is on the far end of the ironing board.
This is the Hi-Steam SVP-24, made in Italy. I have been using it for about a month and a half and it has been working great. Although you don’t have to set it up like I have – with the boiler placed above you – this is just the most convenient setup for me in the space I have available. The boiler is connected to the steam iron with a rubber hose, which you can route through a long metal rod they give you that attaches to the boiler. I don’t use that part though, because the hose is already out of my way due to the boiler being at head-level.
In the photo above you can see the steam boiler. Basically the way this part works is that you pour water in the black cap at the top and there is a dial to the left of that where you can adjust the amount of steam the iron produces.
One flaw in this design is that the tank is inside the stainless steel box, so you have no way of telling how full it is. For this reason, they include a wooden water gauge (pictured above) that you put in the water filling hole similar to the way you put the dipstick in your car’s engine to check the oil level in your car. There is also a “low water” indicator that will light up, but my main complaint is in filling it – it is easy to overfill it. If you overfill the tank, you can drain the water out again but then you can’t check the water level again because the wooden “dipstick” is already wet above the “max” line. To get around this problem, I found that a wooden stirring spoon handle works just as well for checking the water level.
Another problem is that once you turn on the steam boiler, it takes quite a while to heat up to the level where it is ready to produce steam. There is a “Steam Ready” indicator that lights up at that point. In my testing this morning, it took about 16 1/2 minutes to warm a full tank of lukewarm water to steam temperature. This isn’t really a problem for me though – I just turn it on when I start working and by the time I am ready to iron, the steam is available. However, if you are in a hurry to press a shirt before leaving for work or something like that, it could be a problem.
In the photo above, you can see that the iron looks quite a bit different than a consumer-grade steam iron. Instead of automatically producing steam when it is tilted horizontally, on the SVP-24, the steam is produced when you press the red button. Additionally, although it is possible to set it upright on the iron heel, I don’t think it is a good idea to leave it that way — the back end of the iron gets rather hot and could damage your work surface. Instead, they include the red silicone heat absorption pad, which you can see it is resting on in the photo. Sometimes I move this to another area of the room, like when I need room to press a piece of fabric from selvedge to selvedge, but otherwise it has been working out okay. You just have to pay attention to where you leave the iron sitting.
I also have an “iron shoe” and “steam diffuser” attached to the bottom of the iron. That is the part on the bottom with the spring connected to it. I don’t know if this is strictly necessary, but the iron shoe seems to spread out the steam a bit when it is attached. Otherwise you would just be spraying steam out of the few small holes on the bottom of the iron. These two accessories have to be purchased separately from the iron itself.
The main negative to the Hi-Steam SVP-24 Steam Iron is that it is expensive. The iron, iron shoe, and steam diffuser cost $400 from Wawak.com… which is the about same price as the sewing machine I just bought. At first, I was thinking that I might be spending too much, but after using it for a month and a half I think it was worth it. It is a far better choice than having to keep replacing consumer-grade irons when they leak or dodging boiling water spilling onto the ironing board. Plus, the SVP-24 has a larger tank, so I don’t have to go through the ritual of refilling it every night. So far, I have only had to refill the tank twice.
In conclusion, I recommend you buy one of these if you are serious about making your own clothing or running a professional tailor shop.