Overcomplicating The Art of Choosing an Iron

Photo by Sergi Dolcet Escrig on Unsplash

I think that, for most of us, when we first start sewing we don’t put much thought into our irons. I started off using my mums old Phillips iron and when I got tired of lugging my projects around to use the big ironing board, I added a Swan travel iron to do the small bits. It wasn’t actually the genius idea that I thought it would be. It worked in a pinch, but it’s one of those things that you buy to make your life easier and it actually makes it more difficult.

When I had the opportunity to buy a new iron, this time with my sewing needs at the forefront of my mind, I thought it would be easy. I’d just read a few reviews from fellow hobbyists and pick the one that they seemed to like best. There were a couple of issues with that though.

  1. A lot of the people writing reviews were quilters and not dressmakers. Dressmaking makes the bulk of my sewing and whilst there are similarities (such as the need to press seams) there is actually a big difference in iron needs. Quilters tend to work mainly in cotton, whereas dressmakers tend to have more variation in the fabrics that they use. We also use our irons to shape fabrics like wool, so steam is an important feature. Ironing larger bits of fabric, such as lengths for dressmaking or paper patterns also lends itself to a bigger iron than a quilter might need. Finally, our finished garments often need ironing afterwards, especially if you like to use natural fibres like I do.
  2. A lot of the reviewers were American/Canadian or business owners. They tended to have larger spaces that they could fill with beautiful gravity feed irons, or the funds to buy larger steam generator irons. Those options weren’t open to me, I sew in my living room and I don’t want to have an iron around all of the time. A lot of reviews also focused on brands like Oliso which are harder to get in the UK. We’ve got access to some great brands in the UK, like Phillips and Russell Hobbs, which often didn’t get a look in.

I didn’t have a starting point. In fact I didn’t even know how much a reasonable amount would be to spend, so I had to figure out a method that would help me decide. Enter the Iron Matrix. That makes it sound fancier than what it actually is, a spreadsheet.

I picked some categories that were important to me and filled it with the details of all the irons that were available to me. I chose to focus on irons that were available at Argos because I knew I could get nominated day delivery from them which helped to reduce the number of irons in my table. There are a lot of irons on the market, so this was pretty important.

The categories that I focused on were Price, Steam, Water Capacity and Weight.

Price is pretty self explanatory. I didn’t want to over pay for something, but I also didn’t want to go for the cheapest iron available just because it was cheap. The range of prices with irons is wide, the ones that I was looking at were between £16 and £100, which makes it quite difficult to know you’re getting a good price.

Steam is something that’s pretty important to dressmakers. It helps set seams and it’s the difference between a beautiful wool garment and an ugly unwearable one. Most irons have a steam output these days, even mini travel irons, so I chose to use the ‘Steam Output’ in g/min as my comparison point. The higher the better of course.

Water Capacity ties into steam. If you want to make lots and lots of steam, you need lots and lots of water. Gravity feed irons allow for litres of water, which is why they’re so popular in the sewing community, but those of us who can’t get one have to settle for much less.

Weight is an interesting metric. For most people, the lighter the better. For people who sew, it’s actually the opposite. It’s part of the reason that I found it difficult to use people’s reviews as a reference. A weightier iron helps press seams flat, especially on bulkier fabrics and I don’t have any wrist issues so I knew that I wanted to go for the heaviest iron that I could find.

For each of these categories, I gave each iron a number based on how they ranked. I added all of the numbers together and was able to come to my final pick, the Breville VIN401 DiamondXpress Steam Iron. At the time that I bought it, it was around £45 and you can definitely still get it for around that price if you shop around. I’m pretty chuffed with it. I think it’s an ugly iron but it does the job and then some. The steam function is great, and the water capacity is literally the best that I could get so even though I had to fill it up twice when I was steam ironing 5m of fabric, I’m not too annoyed.

Hopefully this iron will last me a while, but if it doesn’t I will be using the iron matrix again. I think it’s a good method for weighing things where there’s a lot of choice and you have specific desires.