The phrase in the title has a metalworking origin. Once the blacksmith heats the iron, it needs to be worked — struck to shape — while still softened by heat. Those of us who press fabric also know that a hot iron works best, though it’s a different kind of iron!
Recently my iron broke. At this point, it still heats. But the steam function has ceased. The failure began when I cleaned it last week. Usually it has a dull thudding noise when reaching the correct temperature. After cleaning, though, the dull thud became a sharp ping. There was no change in function, but I was on notice that something was wrong. It was the beginning of the end.
On Sunday while ironing, a piece of metal fell out of the iron. I assumed it had something to do with the “ping” noise, mostly likely a thermostat for controlling heat. But it kept heating up. What did change was the steam function no longer works.
Some quilters don’t use steam anyway. They prefer dry heat to minimize stretching their fabrics. But I want steam. And I want to feel assured that some other aspect of my iron won’t fail, causing scorching of fabric or safety issues.
So yesterday I bought a new iron. This is the third one I’ve bought since beginning to quilt, more than ten years ago. I bought the first because of the brand name, and the second because I was desperate, and it seemed like the best choice in front of me.
This time I was more aware of what features I wanted. Here are some to consider:
- Automatic shut-off — important to me for energy savings as well as safety
- Retractable cord — makes the iron easier to store or to move, and the cord comes smoothly out the bottom rather than from an appendage
- Weight — heavy enough to press easily, light enough not to strain my shoulder
- Variable steam — adjusts the amount of steam, including no steam
- Variable heat — adjusts the heat setting
- Self-cleaning — convenient for cleaning out mineral build-up
- Sole plate — non-stick or stainless steel; I’ve had non-stick, but stainless is supposed to be smoother
Consumer Reports has a nice video here describing various features.
If you use your iron almost every day, like I do, you want it to be reliable. Part of that is in the manufacturing, but part of it is in how you care for it. Here are some tips for care:
- Use tap water. These days most irons use tap water. Some manufacturers specifically instruct NOT to use distilled water. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for your model.
- Empty the water reservoir after each use. Realistically, I will never do this. I keep my iron out and in use most days. However if you use yours rarely, it is a good idea.
- Clean the iron regularly of mineral build-up. A self-cleaning iron makes that easy, but other irons have instructions for care, too.
- Wipe the soleplate — when cold and unplugged — with a clean cloth dampened with white vinegar. Fabric softeners and starch can leave residue, increasing drag and your effort.
Today I’ll open that box and start using my new iron. With some luck and good care, it will be a partner in my quilting for several years.