Choosing An Iron


You can spend between $17.00 and upwards of $250 dollars on a steam iron.  Should you buy cheap and replace often? Or buy the best and vow to maintain it?

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Choosing An Iron

The history of irons is no mystery, or so you think! You remember your mother putting clothing in the refrigerator, sprinkling them from a water bottle and trying to get out the wrinkles. But the first record of ironing clothes belongs to the Chinese in the first century BC. They used pans of hot water to smooth their clothes. Irons progressed through slabs of iron heated on a fire to irons heated with ethanol, gas, or whale oil in the 19th century. There were even hollow irons to fill with hot charcoal.

Choosing An Iron


The 5-9 pound cast iron types were called "sad" irons. "Sad" is a middle English word for solid, and solid they were, for the handle was also cast iron. They were heated in a stove, removed by wrapping a rag around your hand, and used before they cooled off. The number of wounds, burns, etc. sustained by the user made "sad" a good term for these irons. Later, detachable wooden handles were invented.



The electric iron was first used in New York between 1882 and 1926. Sources disagree as to the inventor and the date. Irons became a commercial success around 1933 when the Steam-O-Matic sold for around $10.


The first decision to make is dry or steam? A steam iron can be used dry, but a dry iron has no water reservoir, so most quilters would want a steam iron. Things to look for in a steam iron:

  • The number of steam holes in the soleplate
  • A spray or mist function
  • Tank capacity


Other questions to ask yourself include:

  • What is the composition of the soleplate – stainless steel, aluminum, ceramic, or non-stick? One person noted that the non-stick plate does not glide as well as steel or ceramic.
  • What heat settings are available? Of course, quilters need at least cotton and wool.
  • What is the wattage? More wattage produces a hotter iron.
  • Does the iron have an automatic shut-off? Although some quilters find this feature to be a nuisance, it is a safety feature for those inevitable interruptions.
  • Does it have a cord minder? – does the cord swivel? A left handed person would want the swivel.


Lastly, what is the weight of the iron? Some say that a heavier iron will do some of the work for you because it is heavier on the wrinkles. The comfort of the iron in your hand is probably the most important factor of all and a heavier iron may not be easy to use as we age. Those of us with arthritis and other joint problems will struggle with a heavy iron.


This Contessa is of the not-the-most-expensive school. In my house, we have two of the same medium price national brand irons because we both quilt. My secret is because I do mostly small or art quilts, I use my wool mat under my iron. It does a great job of reflecting the heat and I don’t need to use a heavier iron.


So, keep in mind the difference between "ironing" and "pressing" and you are on your way!


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Moving a hot iron while it has contact with fabric. Often ironing can stretch and distort fabrics and seams. A better alternative is to press, where you just lay the hot iron down and lift straight up from the fabric.

See Also: Pressing
Picking a hot iron up off your fabric or quilt top and then putting it down in another place to remove the wrinkles. When you press your fabric, you do not slide the hot iron.

See Also: Ironing
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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