Pressing Matters: A Few Good Irons and One Amazing Collectible

Special thanks to Melvinia Smith of Designer Fresh Custom Tailoring for sharing the story of her fantastic vintage Simplicity B888 iron. You can find her Instagram page here.

Melvinia’s amazing Iron is no longer available for purchase but you might get lucky and find one at an estate sale or on eBay.

Irons used/mentioned in podcast. If you buy from these links, I get a tiny bit of coin.

My teeny tiny craft iron

My ride-or-die sidekick iron

My gravity feed iron

My new Oliso iron

My dearly departed Rowenta Steam Generator

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Read Full Transcript

Speaker 1: (00:03)

Lisa: (00:14)
hello stitchers. Welcome to stitch please be official podcast of black women's stitch, the sewing group where black lives matter. I'm your host Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax and get ready to get your stitch together.

Lisa: (00:48)
[inaudible] today's episode is part of our pressing matters series. This is important because of course sewing and ironing and pressing all go hand in hand in hand. That was three different hands. I love the pressing matters because I find that name very clever. I made it up, which is why I think it's clever and it gives me an excuse to use the recording of the pressing sound that I created, that swooshing sound that the steam iron that you hear, that's the sound of my roll into iron that is now deceased. Um, and um, but I have a memory of that beloved sound of that huge steam generator iron, making that gorgeous swooshing steam sound. And so I like to use it in the podcast. So today, and I know we've talked before about the relationship between presses pressing versus ironing, but today we're going to talk about irons themselves. And this is just a small bonus episode, so I won't go into lots and lots of depth. But what I did want to do was to talk a little bit about the irons that I keep most handy in nearby small irons, medium and large. So I anticipate that a larger full episode on ironing and pressing could be done. Again, I talked about that if a month ago or so about pressing versus ironing. But today I want it to look at the actual equipment itself, um, and move on from that. So, um, sit back and um, we'll come back with a little bit of talking about little tiny irons. Stay tuned.

Lisa: (02:27)
One of the littlest tiniest irons that I've ever used was a Clover applicate iron. This iron is so small, the head of the iron, it's about the size of a U S quarter. It is really small. It is designed for fusible applicant [inaudible], um, bias binding. So, um, there was a V there was a trend in quilting, uh, years ago that involved stained glass quilting and you would create the led, um, those lit, I forgot what it's called. When you do stain glass, whatever the solid lines are anyway, you could replicate that look with very thin, maybe quarter inch wide bias strips that were sold with fusible already attached. There was also a tool that you could use and you could make your own narrow bias and then attach a very narrow, a scant quarter inch wide bias to it at the bottom. And so this created this really beautiful effect, especially if you use batik fabrics or other like bright glowing fabrics or subtle fabrics, you can make something really beautiful.

Lisa: (03:38)
I remember doing one for um, which had a pregnant woman and she was in hijab and it was just, it was like an in a silhouette and it was just really beautiful. Take those really bold bright colors and then to have them shine with the solid black lines of that kind of made it resemble stained glass. So this was something that I really enjoy making. And the Clover applique iron was really useful for that. I did also have an incident with the Clover ion. I have had incidents with a lot of irons. Um, one of them was with the Clover iron. It came with this heat resistant bag. And so this meant that you could, um, if it was hot you could unplug the iron, put it in there and um, then as if it was, you know, once it cooled down you could put it in the bag and you could transport it without burning yourself or burning any of your other projects.

Lisa: (04:34)
Well, I didn't realize this, so I had my iron on and plugged in and in the bag, which properly burnt a hole through the bag and melted it. And I was working and I was like, what is that smell? Some kind of chemically smell, what could it be? And I was in like a quilting class and people were looking around going, what is that smell? It was me. It was me burning a hole in my ironing bag, which was pretty funny at the time. And also in retrospect, because while the bag might've been designed to hold a hot iron, it did not do anything for a continually heating iron. The next small iron that I really enjoyed using was a custom sealing iron. And this iron is used in by hobbyists and it's sold for people who do model airplanes and boats and stuff. I'm not exactly sure what they do with the custom ceiling iron, but this iron gets incredibly hot and it has no steam.

Lisa: (05:32)
And I know some quilt makers who really like this iron because it's small, it's about the size of the Palm of your hand and maybe half the fingers. So, um, and it's totally dry. And so I know some quilters don't really like steam because they think that it distorts the seat, the seams, and it distorts the fabrics. But, um, this one has no steam at all, has those team holes and it has this wooden handle that keeps the heat from the iron, from getting on your hands. And so I remember, I have one of those and I used the one that was doing a lot more quilting than I'm doing right now, which is not very much quilting at all. But my favorite little tiny iron right now is a um, steam fast iron and it has this cute little cartoon elephant on it. This iron is so small y'all, it's like three by five inches.

Speaker 4: (06:24)
It's like three inches across and five inches tall. And that's how big the sole plate is. It's really little. And at the same time it has like maybe five steam holes in it. And that thing steams like a house afire. It steams so well. And I remember I was at a retreat and I was there for like a week and I ended up making like eight outfits, two twin size quilt tops, um, some underwear, all kinds of stuff with only this iron as the iron from me to so with, um, and so that I got all my pressing done. It was, you know, it's because it's so small it can go, you can use it with the steam roller, the seam roller really well. It works great on a ham. It was just perfect. It was perfect for quilting as well as for apparel. And so I, that's what I keep like right next to my sewing machine when I don't want to get up. And um, and so that's what I've been using and I really do enjoy that. A little baby iron. So we're going to take a quick break and then come back and talk about some of the full size products that I've been using as well as something new that I have going on. And so stay tuned.

Speaker 3: (08:01)
[inaudible] I wanted to talk briefly about the irons that I'm using right now. These are full size ions. The can I use for sewing when I'm at home, not when I'm traveling, but when I'm at home in the song room for the major part of the pressing required to do garment construction. I recently, sadly laid to rest. Well I didn't lay it to rest. I gave it to a neighbor using our neighborhood by nothing group. So the buy nothing group is kind of like a free cycle and it's based in neighborhoods. And so I had my iron that I loved. There was a ROWENTA steam generator. I had had it for a while. I had it repaired when the, um, when the one of the triggers broke and I really loved this iron. It shot out what seemed a two foot Dragon's breath of steam. It was amazing. I just loved it.

Speaker 4: (09:00)
But it got clogged and I'm not sure if it was the water I was using. I don't know what happened to it, but I told her in full disclosure that I loved this iron except that it was making white like, you know, watermarks, all my clothes, which is not something you can have when you're pressing, especially if the water or you're earning boarders a little dirty and then you get these rusty looking stains on the clothes. It's just bad. So I told her that she could use it however she wanted, but that it was very reliable when there was no water in it. But when there was water in it, it got kinda spitty. And so, um, that was the iron that I used most recently. And um, so I had to replace it and I replaced it with a silver star, E S 85 dash AF.

Speaker 4: (09:47)
now anyone who knows me knows that I really love the phrase "AF" and so the idea that I now have an iron that actually has the phrase a F written on it from the manufacturer makes me all kinds of happy. But this is a gravity feed iron. And I did quite a bit of research about it before I decided to get one. And it was surprisingly not expensive. It was far less than half of what I paid for the, um, put my Rowenta Steam generator. Like I couldn't believe it. I think it was maybe a hundred dollars, I think. And it came with the resin. I've seen it on Amazon, I've seen it on, um, WAWAK has it. A lot of other places have this steam generator iron. But one of the advantages of it is that it does team well, but it's also really heavy. I think it's about four pounds, um, for the to hold the iron.

Lisa: (10:41)
And um, and so that weight itself is a valuable thing to have when you're pressing is that the pressing weight gives you this, um, this a bit of structure and severity for your garments that you wouldn't get from a, an iron that is lighter. And so that is something I'm really, really enjoying. Um, I'm gonna come back and have a conversation about cordless irons and travel irons coming up, um, sometime either at the end of the year in the new year, but since it's just a bonus episode and it's not meant to be long, I didn't want to go on and on about it, but I did want to talk about my gravity feed iron and to let you know that I have a new acquisition people, I am the proud owner of an Oliso TG 1600 pro iron. I am looking forward to trying it and mine is yellow. It has an auto shutoff, which I don't love, but that auto shutoff is made, especially for quilters and soloists because it gives you 30 minutes before it automatically shuts off.

Lisa: (11:54)
And so I think that that's a really good addition. Also, it has little feet and it like hops up. And so I was at an event once and I was using this Oliso, so on and it, the thing popped up and nearly scared me to death. But I'm really excited to spend more time with that iron and give it a try because I've heard great things about it. I think it has a nice way it steams well and the idea that you can keep it face down, which is actually the same position you're supposed to keep your gravity iron in as well, um, is something that'll help me be more consistently about my practice when I'm using my iron and ironing board. Making sure you have a good rest in those kinds of things. Well the gravity feed iron needs a rest. The Oliso doesn't need a rest because the rest is built in. So that's something I'm pretty excited about. We're going to take a quick break, um, just to give you all a bit of announcements that we'd like to do at this halfway point. And when we come back we get to talk with um, moving, um, of designer fresh custom tailoring and this really cool iron that she has. So stay tuned and I'll be back

Lisa: (13:00)
stitch please. The black women's stitch podcast talks a lot about sewing, but if you'd like to see some of what we're discussing, we invite you to follow us on the socials on Facebook. You can find us at stitch please. And on Instagram you can find us at black women's stitch on Instagram. You'll find a lot of great pictures and compelling social commentary. In addition, you can participate in a weekly live Instagram chat at 3:00 PM on Thursdays at Eastern standard time. So follow us on the socials, Facebook, it's ditch pleas and Instagram at black women's ditch and get your stitched together. Hello stitchers

Lisa: (13:56)
thanks so much for coming back and listening to us. I'm joined now by Melvinia who's going to talk with us about this fantastic iron that she's had for quite a while. I connected with Melvinia doing an IG live chat that I was doing about irons and she told me about this, um, iron that she's had for quite some years, but I had never heard of anything like it, so I wanted to share it here. So here comes our conversation. Stay tuned. Okay everybody, we are back and I have the privilege of speaking with Melvinia from designer fresh custom tailoring and Melvinia came to my attention or brought herself to my attention when we were on an IG live chat that that black women's dish hosts every Thursday at 3:00 PM Eastern standard time. And that was talking about the difference between pressing versus irony. And we were talking about different kind of irons we have.

Lisa: (14:50)
And this is, this led to actually this episode which has been about irons, which might be a boring topic for, you know, folks who don't. So, but for people who do, so we know that that irons are as critical to sewing as thread. So in the same way that some folks could be bored by thread, other folks are excited by that. And that's what you know, and that's what the podcast is about. It's about, you know, the things that's, so it's like we'll talk about, so Melvinia pulled out some pictures or with telling me about this iron that she has and has had for quite awhile. That was one of the most amazing things I think I have ever seen. Um, and so she told me the model number, it's a simplicity B as in boy, eight eight, eight and Melvinia tell us a bit about your iron.

Melvinia: (15:42)
This iron is so amazing because when you're designing clothes, you have four different plates with this iron and the, the regular plate on it is just really very nice. It burn, it has Teflon on it, but inside is this, you could use it as a steam iron or just a regular iron. You could put water inside. It's a little compact iron. But these plates, one plate is used actually for when you have velvet because you don't want to burn your velvet and you can clip this plate onto the bottom of your iron and you could use it for velvet. Then there's another plate. You know how you have those rough rough spots where you can't get around your buttons your buttons and stuff? Yes. It has a groove on there where you can go in there and press around those buttons. Okay.

Lisa: (16:35)
That's amazing.

Melvinia: (16:37)
Isn't that amazing? And then we have another plate that has a point to it that you can get into. You could go up into pointed areas or more curve areas with this and it has a little like about five holes in it where you can press the steam and get in those areas real well. Then it has one more plate and it has holes in it. And I haven't used this plate honesty a lot, but I think this plate would be awesome for silk because you don't want to put your iron directly on that silk. So this plate, it heaves up a little bit and you can press it. Press your silk.

Lisa: (17:18)
Wow. So you're saying this is incredible. I just want to just reiterate that Melvinia's iron has four interchangeable sole plates. Yes, you can. You can pop off one sole plate and put on another sole plate and it will do velvet. Um, that group one sounds the most interesting to me, the one to [inaudible] to press around buttons because sometimes you have buttons that might not stand up well to heat, so need to get around them but then you don't want to really touch them. So the idea of having like a button shank or the groove of a button shank carved out.

Melvinia: (18:00)

Lisa: (18:00)
around the plate that is genius. That is genius. And then the, the pointed one to go around the um, the curved areas and then the silk plate. That sounds also really cool because it lets you like hover above the fabric without actually thinking about it too much. That is really, that's really cool. So you said you've had this iron for quite a while. Do you remember like where you acquired it and um, how it came to your attention? You said you've been in your collection for some time?

Melvinia: (18:32)
Yes, actually I acquired it in West Virginia. There was a store there that was called peace goods. I don't, the I think is only in those areas like West Virginia, Virginia. And they had this iron there and I thought, wow, this is unique. This was over 30 years ago. And I thought, wow, this is unique. Look, let me buy that. Cause I, I just love to buy little irons and things that are unique and I was so glad that I purchased it. And like I said, it was over 30 years ago. And was this sold as a travel iron? Because you said it's kind of compact? No, it was actually sold as I am for doing tailoring, designing for clothes.

Lisa: (19:18)
Which makes sense because it's, I guess, I guess I'm thinking it's like a travel iron because it's small that you're saying no, of course it wouldn't be, I guess you could travel with it if you felt like it, but the reason that the way that they have created four separate plates for all these different types of fabric that's in one product that really does extend your options so well that's amazing.

Melvinia: (19:41)
Yes it is. And it's really amazing because you could see why wouldn't be a traveling art because someone who travels, they wouldn't know what to do with these different places. But someone who designs clothes or is a regular sower, they would know, okay, I can use this plate for this. I could use that plate for that. You know? Yeah,

Lisa: (20:01)
that's an excellent point. It's also true that like if you're traveling with an iron, you want something small that can get the job done. You don't want to take four plates with you. That's really something that's good for the studio, for the sewing room and you're so in space. Um, and I just love that it's, so you said that, I mean I had never seen anything like this before. Do you said that you saw one recently on eBay? Had you seen them? Since?

Melvinia: (20:26)
No, I stay in one on eBay and they didn't even have the plates with it. It was just the iron itself. No plates. I have not seen one sense and I did a good search and I haven't seen one around.

Lisa: (20:39)
That's incredible. Well you've got a, like a real powerful piece of sewing history right there. I love that. I think we should do an episode on vintage notions. I have, I have this thing called a Tack It and it is this long piece of metal, curved like a really long U and it has like a pointing in and you tap it down and basically it's, it's to Mark. Um, you put double face wax paper or mocking chocolate paper in the middle between your fabric and you tap it down and it makes a Mark in chalk on the inside of your fabrics.

Melvinia: (21:17)
I had that same thing.

Lisa: (21:19)
Yes, I have the same, I have not seen one of those ever. I bought it at an estate sale maybe 10 years ago and have not seen another one ever.

Melvinia: (21:29)
And that's where I got mine from an estate sale.

Lisa: (21:34)
Well thank you again. Thank you so much for coming on and talking with us about your iron. I really do appreciate it. Um, this has been, um, Melvinia of designer fresh tailoring. How can they find you on the socials? Melvinia give a shout out so we can follow your on Instagram and you're in your website.

Melvinia: (21:53)
All right. You could go to Instagram and this designer fresh underscore, custom tailoring and you can find me on the Melvinia Smith and just hit that and you'll be on there.

Lisa: (22:05)
That's great. Thank you so much for taking the time. All right, talk soon. Thank you. Bye bye now. Bye.

Speaker 1: (22:27)

Lisa: (22:28)
and those are the sounds of my irons.

Lisa: (22:30)
Thank you so much for tuning in. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Mel Venia Smith about her amazing simplicity iron. Um, as much as I did, I really learned a lot and I'm going to be on the hunt for that. Um, that iron on eBay and maybe some estate sales in my community. Um, this is sound, it's a really cool notion. And the S I mean like, I wonder why like they aren't still doing that. Like why are they not still making irons with changeable sole plates like that? But then you think about it, it's like, well, she has had it for, uh, more than a couple decades and so maybe because it doesn't have the builtin obsolescence, maybe, I don't know. But it sounds really cool and I would love to find one.

Lisa: (23:13)
Thank you for joining us for today's episode of stitch please the black women's ditch podcast. Let's continue the conversation. Come find us on the socials. We're at black women's stitch on Instagram where we have a very active page and you can also find us on stitch please on Facebook. We also would love to hear from you, so feel free to email us at black women's there are three big ways you can support this project and one of them you're doing already by listening to the podcast, you're really helping us, so thank you for doing that. In addition, if you rate review, subscribe and share the podcast with other folks, that helps the podcast to grow and it also gives the algorithm that managed podcast information that will also help our podcast thrive. The third way to help the podcast is for those of you all who happen to have a little extra change, burning a hole in your pocket and if you don't have any plans to use it to buy your 20th or in my case 378th big four pattern, that's how many I have in my top pattern drawer, about 378 patterns.

Lisa: (24:20)
You can take that money that you would spend at the pattern sale and give it to us. We are accepting donations at our Patrion site where you can donate as little as $2 a month or you could buy us a coffee at K O. Dot. F I and if small donations are greatly accepted and appreciated. So thank you for considering that. If you would like a transcript of the episode, you can find and we also ask that you check the show notes where we have lots of additional information, supplemental information for what we discussed in the podcast. You can find affiliate links there for the products that we like. You can find web links to the black women and we've been talking about here on the show to elevate and center their work and you can also find the info we mentioned about donations as well as our email link. All of that is thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to seeing you next time. Come back and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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