iron talk

iron talk

By Patricia Belyea

WAUCONDA WA  Last week my iron gushed all over a quilt project. The good news—it wasn’t rusty water. The water dried and didn’t leave a stain.

For my workshops and both studios, I’ve bought a bevy of Rowentas—the ones with 400 steam holes and lots of power! I contacted Rowenta Customer Service and asked why my anti-drip Professional model gushed. I learned that the iron was not warmed up to the correct heat. If I had been just a little more patient and waited for the indicator light on the bottom left to go out, my Rowenta wouldn’t have gushed.

This week I called quilter extraordinaire Denyse Schmidt to talk about irons. Denyse said she’s really enjoying her Oliso irons right now. Denyse has a full-size and a travel-size Oliso. Oliso irons are the ones with little legs that push up when not in use.

In our discussion, Denyse and I agreed that pressing seams is really important to our quilt projects. We both love steam. And we also both admitted that we don’t empty the water out of our irons each night. So naughty!

Denyse, an expert seamstress, cares about craftsmanship. Denyse wants her quilt tops to lay flat. Sometimes, with improvised curves and wonky piecing, she gets some quirkiness in her seams—even after pressing. Denyse said that the subtle personality in the seams can typically be flattened with the quilting.

Below: Denyse’s Oliso Tg1600 iron in her quilt studio in Bridgeport CT

Denyse nor I have any patience with flipped seams. They make a mess at four-way intersections and the lumpiness shows on the front. With flipped seams, we both go back, take out a few stitches, re-stitch and re-press.

Denyse presses all her seams to one side. This is no longer necessary as modern battings don’t migrate through open-pressed seams. All the same, Denyse likes the tidy look—with one side of the seam raised up and the other side set in.

Below: Front and back of a quilt top by Denyse with seams pressed to one side

On the other hand, I’ve been pressing my seams open for the last few years. I’m interested in the flat, graphic appearance that comes from open seams.

Below: Quilt top by Patricia with seams pressed open, backside of the same quilt top

I’m a stickler for pressing each seam three times (setting the seam, pressing from the back, and then pressing from the front). I want to ensure my seam allowances stay flat and there are no wee lips on the front side.

We both agreed that good steam irons are crucial to our quilt making.

Here are two reviewers’ top picks of quilting irons for 2020.

  1. This list is topped by an Oliso iron. The post also includes features of what to look for when purchasing an iron. +read more
  2. This list is topped by a Rowenta iron +read more

What about you? Do you have a favorite iron? Or, a rave or pet peeve about your iron?

To visit Denyse’s website to see her quilts, fabrics, patterns, templates and books +click here

Below: Patricia’s Rowenta Professional iron in her quilt studio in Wauconda WA

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  • Susan Mitchell

    I was just tripping through your blog and read your piece on irons. I too previously owned a Rowenta steam iron which periodically spewed water on my work. When it gave out, I read some reviews before purchasing a good old American inexpensive, reliable Black & Decker iron, which NEVER spews water. Who knew? Now I have two Black & Decker steam irons, which have the features I care about at a lower price point. I now think spewing water is primarily a Rowenta design flaw. It’s amazing they don’t fix it. As Rowenta certainly has a remarkably effective program marketing their irons to quilters through quilt shops, perhaps they see no need to improve their product.

    Regarding distilled water, my understanding is that TAP WATER, NOT DISTILLED WATER is recommended. Distilled water, due to lack of minerals, draws minerals out of the iron reservoir material and, over time, damages the iron.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Penny—So kind of you to write. I am so pleased that you are inspired by a lovely snippet. But then, that is who you are! Have fun, P.

  • Penelope Torkington
    Dear Patricia, I hope this finds you well and safe. Victoria mailed my order of new fabrics and they arrived today. She is a dear. I got a special gift of a little extra fabric and I am already at the cutting table making a new wall hanging. Wish we lived close enough to see each other. I have always enjoyed your company.

    Fondly, Penny from Friday Harbor

  • Patricia Belyea
    Colleen—I have a Rowenta Perfect Steam in my Seattle studio and love it. Be sure to unscrew and take out the curved bar on the side (behind the big round button) regularly to clean the machine. Unscrewing that gray handle can be difficult. I put a tea towel over it and gently use a pair of pliers to turn it. I chewed up one of those gray handles by not protecting it with a cloth. (I bought a replacement part on eBay.) I also never tighten it too hard to I can get it untwisted later. But if I don’t twist it enough, it leaks very hot water! PB

  • Colleen
    I purchased a Rowenta Perfect Steam station last year, and it is amazing! Constant steam, huge water reservoir, I LOVE IT! I will happily press seams all day with it.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Nina—Here’s a link for a home repair on a leaky Rowenta: Maybe that would be helpful for repairing your Laura Star. The auto shut-off is of interest to folk in earthquake zones. Obviously not to you! PB

  • Nina Davis
    My iron just started to leak after 15 years. It’s a Laura Star and I keep it on 24/7 when it’s out of the closet. It is the best iron in the universe, with a huge water tank that I only fill once a day, and best of all is that it does not have auto shut off. I’m using a Rowenta while I shop for a new iron and that auto shut off is driving me crazy.

  • Pam Weiss
    I too have a Reliable Velocity and love it!! The tank does not leak. It has an auto shut off that can be bypassed. The steam is always at the ready and has worked consistently for probably 5 years. It does take distilled water and I keep a couple of gallons on hand. I have tried Black and Decker and Rowenta, but feel the Reliable has surpassed the others.


  • LeeAnn
    I had an Oliso, and liked it for a few years. Then the mechanism that raises and lowers the legs gave out. I now have a Reliant Velocity 2001R, and love it. The steam and the temperature are so much better than any iron I’ve used. Good topic for discussion!

  • Patricia Belyea
    LeeAnn—Thanks for your input. I have not heard of the Reliant Velocity but I’ll give it consideration next time I am shopping for an iron. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Sydne—Not good news and not a good recommendation for Black & Decker irons, old or new. I hope you bought a new iron by another maker that gives you confidence. I don’t like that irons burn me when my fingers get too close to the heat. I wouldn’t like to think my iron would burn down my house! Be careful! PB

  • Sydne Bortel
    My Black & Decker digital advantage iron began to burn while I was out of the room for less than a minute, and my friend’s (same iron) actually caught fire several months earlier, melting insides of iron and damaging wall and ceiling. Mine was an 18 yr old iron; hers was a newer one. Now We both unplug irons after each use.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Judith—Yes, you have to be careful! One thing I find that helps is to plug my iron into a power bar. Then when I want to turn it off and on, I just lightly step on the switch. Somehow that makes it easier for me to turn off my iron after a sewing session. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Kit—You are a pro. I think you might be onto something with the gravity feed iron. Let me know how it goes. PB

  • Judith
    I live in earthquake country. My iron turns off after a period of time, but I worry that it may only be “sleeping” and that if it gets a big enough shake to knock it to the ground, it may turn back on, and start fire. I try really hard to remember to unplug it, but occasionally I come back to find it “off” but blinking and it scares me to death.

  • Kit
    My first Rowenta leaked. My second fell on its nose and stopped working. My beloved four year old Oliso just quit last week. I find that a four year life span for a this pricey item was too short, so I’ve ordered a silver star ES300 gravity fed iron. Expecting it next week. Fingers crossed!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Kim—Lucky you!Denyse and I talked about gravity feed irons as she used them in her pro days at costume departments and sewing companies. For pressing big quilt projects, Denyse felt a gravity feed iron in her studio would be too restrictive. I have a Rowenta steam system in my Seattle studio that I like because it has a 1.3l reservoir. So that ironing set-up is a step above a home iron. As for a suction ironing board, I’ll have to look that up. PB

  • Kim
    I gave up on all home irons and bought a gravity feed, professional steam iron. Wonderful! I also have a suction ironing board, which is very nice.

  • arlene
    got it, and how many times have i done that!

    thank you Patricia!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Arlene—A flipped seam is when you press a seam on the back to one side and then when you stitch that piece to another and the first seam gets caught in the stitching going the wrong way. There are two approaches to this. The first: oh well I’ll just press this flat and keep going; the second: darn, I have to take out a few stitches and fix this. PB

  • arlene
    Patricia, im sorry but what is a flipped seam?

  • Patricia Belyea
    Donna—You almost have me convinced to go out and buy a Chi! I have 5 Rowentas in my closet, from my workshops, so not quite yet. PB

  • Donna Prevedell
    Bye bye, Rowenta! Too many costly leaks! Welcome home, Chi! Best iron I have ever owned. Larger water reservoir than any Rowenta, good heat, plenty of steam, and – best of all – no spitting, leaking, flooding, or staining after nearly a year of daily, heavy use! P. S. I also press all seams open and all three times.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Sara—Good for you! I have a Rowenta steam station in my Seattle studio and really like it. And I also replaced the cap with gasket once. I got the part for a great price on eBay. PB

  • Sara J Tarr
    I use the Rowenta steam station. Has lasted five years…I replaced the cap with gasket once and this year replaced the little circular gasket on said screw cap. Still going strong…!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Chris—You are absolutely right. If you press your seams open, you can’t stitch-in-the-ditch because there is no ditch! When I want to stitch-in-the-ditch, I do press my seams to one side. PB

  • Chris Jurd
    If you iron your seams open then quilt in the ditch you’d be only quilting on thread not fabric. With the possibility of this thread being broken by the needle. I also press seams three times.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Mrs. Plum—Lots of quilters use Sunbeam irons. As long as you can get your fabric to do what you want, then you have enough heat and steam. I’m quilt a meanie with my fabric—blasting it with lots of powerful steam. And sometimes I get caught in the middle and get a bad burn! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    MJ—I have had a few Rowentas start dripping from the bottom. That happens when the sealant around the water reservoir fails. For those who have experienced this and haven’t thrown out their irons yet; here are instructions to reseal the iron:

    I have heard great things about CHI irons. So glad it’s working out for you. PB

  • Mary Jo Buckingham
    I grew tired of Rowenta irons (regardless of cost or model) dripping from the bottom after about a year of use. I liked their steam as I am finicky about seams well-pressed. I contacted the manufacturer but they didn’t respond. I read about 20 reviews and bought a CHI, 1800 watts. So far, so good. Great steam and no leaking from the bottom. The sole plate is easily cleaned.

  • Mrs. Plum
    About 10 years ago, I bought a $200 iron at a sewing show. What a mistake! I did not like it, so I’ve vowed never to buy another expensive iron. I’ve used Sunbeam irons since then, at a cost of about $25 – $30. I’m only on my second one, so I think I’m doing okay. The iron’s water tank never gets emptied, either, and I, too, love steam.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Laurie—You are all set. Glad you have the Perfect Steam iron with your vintage iron(s). I didn’t address steam systems in this post but I really do like mine in my Seattle studio. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Peggy—What a challenge to live without steam in your two locations. Perhaps you could try emptying each iron as you leave and wedge in a way that you can leave the iron upside down for six months. Your Dritz sounds like a good travel iron! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Janet—My present Rowenta also uses tap water. Occasionally I go through the steps of cleaning my Rowenta in case any residue is accumulating inside. To learn how to do that, I searched on YouTube for a video. PB

  • Laurie
    I like a hot iron with lots of steam that does not turn off automatically. I have a small 1970’s iron I keep by my sewing table and take with me to retreats. It’s perfect and gets very hot and stays that way. Every time I see one in a thrift store, I buy another because I’m sure that it is going to die at some point. Hasn’t yet and I’m up to 5 of them (lol)! I also love and use the Rowenta Perfect Steam Iron (the one with the tank) like the one you brought to the Joe Retreat. I have not had any issues with it and I like that it never turns off. I know that Rowenta has been getting a bad rap lately with their regular irons. I have one of those too but only use it to iron clothes. I have heard very good things about the Oliso irons, but for now I’m happy with what I have been using.

  • Janet Wright
    All these years and I haven’t emptied out my iron every night . My last Rowenta lasted 10 years. This one said that I didn’t even need to just distilled water.

  • Peggy Johnson
    Thank you for the discussion and tips on irons and ironing. I seldom use steam because I live in 2 places for 6 months at a time and don’t seem able to get the iron dried out leaving a residue after several months. BUT I prefer steam for a good flat look. I love my little Dritz iron for classes, etc. because it actually gets hot.