Have you noticed how popular wool pressing mats have become with quilters? The description claims to trap heat from the iron to press both sides at once. They are crazy expensive so I would expect it to make a noticeable difference in pressed blocks. Prices are about $54.00 for a 12” x 18” or $75.00 for 14” x 24”. Like I said, crazy expensive, so I put it to the test to see if it’s worth the money.
For this comparison, I pieced three nearly identical blocks. One block had a different fabric in it, otherwise, everything was the same. For the first block, I pressed on the wool pressing mat. The second was pressed on a 100% cotton terry bath towel (my previous pressing surface of choice), and the third was pressed on a standard ironing board cover. My ironing surface is a wooden “big board” and each of the pressing surfaces was placed on top of the board. This particular block has a number of bulky seams which made it a good choice for my test. I always press using full steam. True confession here, I don’t actually press—I iron blocks into submission. I like really flat blocks. A dry iron and light pressing don’t get me there.
This first picture shows the pieced units in the block; some flying geese and half square triangles. I stack press so each unit is ironed more than once. If you don’t know how to stack press, I have a tutorial here. I don’t think there is much difference in the way these look.
This picture shows the small center star. Again, there isn’t a big difference in any of the blocks.
The last picture shows the pieced block. I thought there was a big difference in the block that was pressed on the board only. If you look at the top seam between the center star and the flying geese unit, you can see puffiness. The whole block is distorted and isn’t very flat. This was much more pronounced in this block than either of the other two. I still didn’t see a huge difference between the blocks pressed on the wool pressing mat and the bath towel. My guess is that the cotton bath towel also holds the heat to some degree so both sides are pressed at the same time.
Even though I didn’t see much difference, I still like pressing on the wool mat. It seems more substantial and the blocks are certainly flat and crisp. I’m a little concerned because sometimes I use pressing spray, especially when ironing wrinkles out of yardage. The literature says it’s okay to use pressing spray with the wool mat, but I don’t know if it will build up over time. With the towel, I can just toss it in the washer periodically. Since the wool mat is felted, washing should be okay, but I would probably hand wash it. Overall, I’m vey pleased with the pressing mat and use it every day.
When I was shopping for a pressing mat, I knew I wanted a large one. I thought it would be especially useful for pressing borders and yardage (after all, it presses both sides at once!!!). After a little research, I found that this type of wool pad is used in the automotive industry, where they pay much, much, much less than we do as quilters.
A little more research led me to The Felt Company where I bought a Wool Felt Sheet (F11). It is 1/2” thick and 24” x 72”. This covered my big board with enough left over for the pressing station beside my machine. I cut the mat with a 60mm rotary cutter. The Felt Company is overwhelmed with orders from quilters and unfortunately, the price is about 40% higher than what I paid six months ago. Still, it is a great deal if you are looking for a large mat. If you don’t need one this large, you could also consider going in with friends and cut the mat to size. Still not convinced?Try pressing on a 100% cotton bath towel to see if you like the results. If so, investing in a wool pressing mat may be worth it.