Wool Pressing Mat Hacks – Two wool blanket DIYs
If you’re a tightwad quilter (like me!) and can’t bear the thought of spending $40+++ on a teeny-weeny piece of fabric for ironing (I mean, it’s ironing, after all), then these DIY wool pressing mat hacks might be just the thing you didn’t know you’re looking for!
Since wool pressing mats became ‘a thing’ a number of years ago, I have to be honest and say I’ve definitely ogled many a quilt-fluencer’s light-filled studio with their stylish grey marle pressing mat sitting stylishly on their perfectly neat and tidy (also, did I mention stylish?) sewing desk. (I’m not jealous, you are!) But I just couldn’t justify spending the money on a square piece of wool, regardless of how much it was supposed to cut down my pressing time.
First things first though. If the idea of a wool pressing mat is totally new to you, let me give you a bit of an overview of their purported (I’ve never actually used one, after all!) benefits.
What is a wool pressing mat?
It’s basically exactly what it sounds like. A piece (usually about 3/4″ thick, so perhaps more like a slab?) of felted and pressed wool that is used as an alternative to an ironing board to press stuff.
They come in a range of sizes, and as you can imagine, there are now many and varied alternatives out there at many and varied price points. From a practical perspective, quilters like them because they are small and can fit on the sewing desk beside you as you work, which reduces time spent moving to an ironing board. (Which also takes up a lot of room, something which many regular hobby quilters don’t have much of. Also me.)
How is a wool pressing mat made?
Pressing mats are made from heavily felted wool. Felting is what occurs when wool fibres are wet and agitated. (Sounds terrible and I can completely understand why it would felt itself. I mean, who likes being wet and agitated??)
Seriously though, when wool is wet and physically agitated, the fibres interlock with each other and bind together. Usually an additive like soap is included which changes the pH of the wool and assists in the process of felting. The binding action also causes the wool to shrink, which then creates the matted, dense fibre we know as felted wool.
Interestingly, this process has been used for a very long time and archaeological findings have shown that animal hair was purposely felted by humans as far back as 6000BC!
What does a wool pressing mat do?
Essentially, a wool pressing mat reduces pressing time. But read on for a bit more information because that’s a bit light on, don’t you reckon?
Wool is fantastic at being a poor conductor of heat.
Sounds weird and wrong, but it’s why all da widdle sheepies can stay out in the cold and wet all Winter without getting sick! (I’m so sorry. That really was terrible, wasn’t it? Let me make it up to you.)
The amazing thing about wool is that each individual fibre of wool has these little hollow spaces inside it (called medulla) which decrease thermal conductivity AKA make it harder for heat to move through it. Put simply, wool is a poor conductor of heat, which sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not if you want to stay warm or press your pieced quilt blocks efficiently!
Here’s how wool works in clothes…
If you think about your favourite wool jumper (that’s sweater for my international friends), it keeps your body warm when it’s cold outside, right? Well, that’s because the wool (which is a poor heat conductor, remember?) doesn’t absorb the heat your body produces to stay warm. Instead it traps all the nice warm air between you and your body and keeps you nice and toasty.
Here’s how wool works in a pressing mat…
So, when you’re using an iron on a wool pressing mat, the heat goes through the item you’re pressing, hits the wool and kinda bounces off it, straight back into the item you’re pressing. The wool stops the heat from moving straight out the bottom of it, which is what a traditional ironing board cover does. This is why one of the features often mentioned about wool pressing mats is that they allow you to iron your fabric on both sides at the same time.
Cool hey! Nature is so clever.
Also, wool is grippy.
So your pressing won’t be slippy! (So much cringe! Apparently that’s what the cool kids say these days, or so they tell me.) All those little woolly fibres will grab ahold of your fabric and make sure it won’t go anywhere you don’t want it to.
On this note, another use for wool pressing mats is squaring up or blocking because you can pin your item to the pressing mat and then press it so that it stays in that exact shape.
But can’t I just buy one of the cheap wool pressing mats?
Believe me, I like to snag a bargain as much as anyone. I’m a committed op-shopper, and I love to shop the sales. But at the same time, I’m a big believer in the correlation between price and quality and I like to think you get what you pay for. When I do intentionally buy something that I know is a cheap alternative, sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, and sometimes I am not and from what I can tell, this is one of those situations. (Like with my $28 Aldi ice-cream maker, for example. There’s a reason it’s $28, people.)
In my research on wool mats, I’ve seen many comments about the downsides of wool pressing mats. A big one being the smell which has absolutely nothing to do with price and everything to do with the fact that it’s made of wool. Sorry folks, but the smell is part of the package.
Good quality pressing mats shouldn’t contain glue or unnatural fibres
However I did come across a couple of comments about staining and what appeared to be glue melting out of it from the heat of the iron. A well-made wool pressing mat should not contain any glue at all.
Another feature of cheap alternatives might be that they include fibre blends as a way of reducing the cost. You don’t want this because it usually means they contain unnatural fibres which will burn and that’s not a good thing.
So my answer to this questions is no, I do not believe in this situation that you should buy one of the cheap wool pressing mats.
So, what’s the next best thing to a new and expensive wool pressing mat that I really can’t afford?
Great question! That’s exactly what I’ve spent the last little while pondering. It’s not hard to make your own DIY wool pressing mat and I’ve come up with two cheap, upcycled wool pressing mat hacks which may cost you a big fat nothing if you’ve already got the components in your cupboard like I did.
Here’s two DIY wool pressing mat hacks to improve your pressing efficiency and be kind on your wallet!
You don’t need access to your own sheep farm to make yourself an alternative to a conventional wool pressing mat. Nor do you need to spend the next 10 days of your life needle-punching an enormous (and pricey!) pile of wool roving into submission. If you’ve got an old wool blanket you’re good to go!
As a preface, I will say this. You know when you think up an idea and you think it’s entirely new and you’re amazing and no one else could possibly have come up with this idea before you? Well, I did a quick google to see if that was the case and turns out it’s not. I’m not the first person to think up this idea. But I did come up with it separate to the other people out there who also had this same idea, so here’s my version.
DIY WOOL PRESSING MAT HACK #1 – Upcycled wool blanket pressing mat
Time to make: 30 mins or less.
What you need:
- An old wool blanket
- Binding fabric
- Cut three squares from the wool blanket whatever size you want. I went with 13″x15″ for no reason other than the piece of blanket I had was already almost this size.
- Lay the squares on top of each other and baste together along the edges.
- Cut 3.5″ strips from the binding fabric and sew together enough to make one long strip that will go around the perimeter of your pressing mat, with about 10″ extra.
- Fold the binding strip in half lengthways and press.
- Open out the end of the binding and fold it down on itself to create a 45 degree angle. Fold the binding in half lengthways again.
- Attach binding to the edge of the pressing mat to bind the raw edges like you would a quilt, mitring the corners.
- When you get back to the start of the binding, trim the free end so that it is square and tuck it inside the triangle at the start of the binding. Stitch to hold.
- Fold the binding to the back of the pressing mat and stitch to hold.
DIY WOOL PRESSING MAT HACK #2 – Upcycled wool blanket ironing board cover
I totally needed a new ironing board cover, so I chopped my old one up, reused some of the batting and other hardware and made this little beauty. Here’s my how-to:
Time to make: 60 mins or less.
What you need:
- An old wool blanket
- Matching fabric
- String, upcycled t-shirt yarn or elastic
- Ironing board hardware
If you already have an ironing board cover with batting and hardware like the little clear snappy thing you can see in the image below, chop it up and reuse all the elements that are still perfectly useful. Waste not, want not!)
- Trim the batting to 1cm larger than your ironing board. If you don’t have any batting you could just use three layers of a wool blanket.
- Cut two pieces from the wool blanket the same size as the batting and serge edges.
- Lay the wool blanket pieces on top of the batting and hold together with large wonder clips.
- Join together enough 3″ wide strips to go around the perimeter of the ironing board. Serge the short raw ends and one of the long sides.
- Fold down one short end and stitch.
- Starting at the middle of the short, flat end of the cover, attach the 3″ strip to the cover, right sides together. When you come back to where you started, trim the fabric to the right length, serge the end, fold over and stitch down.
7. Make a length of 2″ binding the same length as the 3″ fabric strip you just attached to the top of the cover and bind the raw edge as shown.
8. Insert a length of string or yarn using a bodkin or safety pin through the binding.
9. Attach the snappy hardware thingy (Sorry, I don’t know the name of this! It holds the yard tight so when you tighten the cover over the ironing board it stays put.) and knot the yarn ends together.
And you’re all done!