Thursday, July 25, 2013

Perfect Pressing Boards: A DIY Tutorial

Let's talk pressing boards.

The pressing board you choose to use, for your sewing and quilting projects, is very important. Maybe that's an understatement. It's vital.

When most of us start sewing, we often use the traditional ironing board for all of our pressing. Did you know that there's something better out there? Something that will give you better results with your finished sewing projects? There is!! Many years ago, my mom started making her Perfect Pressing Boards, and selling them to her students. Once they tried the board, they immediately saw improvement in their pressing. Today, I'm going to teach you how to make one (although, you may end up making more than just one).

You might be wondering what's "wrong" with the ironing boards that we've all been using for so long. First I want to say, that they're not "wrong", they're just not the best tool to use for our sewing and quilting projects. Most often, they are too soft, and made of polyester products. When your pressing surface is too soft, you risk getting distortion simply from ironing. Have you ever stitched the most accurate half square triangle, then pressed it and it winged out at the points? This is not your fault! It's the pressing surface! And I promise that when you start using a hard pressing surface, your blocks will be more accurate. Have you used, or heard of, a "tailor's ham"? It's a pressing tool for getting accurate darts and curved seams in clothing. These things are hard, with a "grippy" covering, which helps give clothing a more tailored finish, and accurate sizing. This type of pressing board works much like the tailor's ham, but for quilting.

Most store-bought pressing boards are made of polyester products. Polyester doesn't disperse the heat of your iron as evenly as cotton. It actually reflects the heat back, which is good for pressing your everday clothing, but not for quilt blocks and other sewing projects. You'll find that you'll get sharper creases and more accurate pressing when you use a cotton covered surface. This is why we will be using cotton batting and canvas for covering our board.

Making your own pressing board is quite simple, but it does require a few tools. Here's what you'll need:

  • 100% Cotton Canvas (Duck Cloth)
  • 100% Cotton Batting 
  • **Approx. 1/2" OSB or Sound Board, cut to size of your choice (can be found at home improvement stores)
  • Sand Paper, or Sander
  • Felt (this can be polyester; fusible felt is optional) 
  • Staple Gun & Staples (3/8" staples)
  • Hammer
  • Rotary Cutter/Scissors & Ruler
  • Craft Glue
  • Spray Bottle of Water

Tools of the Trade 
Step 1: Getting Prepared
The first step is to cut your OSB or sound board to the size you want your pressing surface to be. The most common sizes that I cut are 14"x19" and 10"x13". Of course, you're not limited to these sizes.

Once cut, round the corners with your sander, or sand paper. Having rounded edges will protect the corners, and prevent them from wearing out.

Cut your canvas 3 or 4 inches larger than your board, all the way around. You'll need plenty of slack for folding it to the back and stapling down.

Cut your cotton batting the same size as your board. It can be a tiny bit bigger, which will give your edges a softer look and feel.

Cut your felt an inch smaller than the size of your board. If your board is 19"x14", cut your felt to 18"x13". You can use fusible felt, if you prefer. If you do, you won't need the craft glue.

Top to Bottom: Felt, Board, Batting, Canvas
Step 2: Layer Upon Layer
Next, let's get our layers ready for stapling.

Place your batting on top of your board. Smooth it out, and get it all the way to the edges, and over the corners. The sound board is quite grippy, and the batting will hold on nicely, without sliding around.

Then, turn it over, batting side down, and center it on your cut piece of canvas.

Now, we're ready for stapling!

Step 3: Yes! Power Tools!
Let's get this thing assembled!

Get your stapler ready, and loaded. I prefer to staple all four corners down first, then the sides. If you've seem my mom's video, you'll notice that she staples the sides, then the corners. There's no wrong way to do this part. Just be sure to pull taught as you go. We want that canvas to be flat and smooth.

Basically, I pull a corner up and over, like wrapping a present. Pull slightly taught, and staple down.

Once all four corners are secure, staple one side at a time, starting in the center and working your way out, to the corner. Keep pulling taught, as you go. Please pay special attention to the corners, and be sure to secure the multiple layers of canvas well.

If you notice any staples popping up a bit, go ahead and give them a little whack with your hammer. (Secretly, this is my favorite part. ;) )

Step 4: Finishing the Back
Once the top of your pressing board is all stapled, you can choose to finish the back with felt. The felt gives your board a finished look, and protects the stapled edges. Also, the felt on the back will provide a bit of grip, to keep it in place when you're using it on top of another table.

If you choose to use fusible felt, simply center on the back, and press it in place (according to the product instructions).

If you choose to use use regular felt, draw a line of craft glue (I used Liquid Stitch) all the way around the edge of the felt, and a few lines in the center.

Turn it over, and place it in the center of the back of the board. Secure it in place by giving it a little rub with your hands. Let dry, with the back facing up.

Step 5: Final Touch
When you take a look at the top of your fabulous new pressing board, you might notice a few wrinkles, or maybe just a tiny bit of slack. Tightening up the canvas will smooth them right out.

To do this, spray the top with some plain ol' water, or spray starch. Get it slightly damp, and rub it around a bit. As it drys, the canvas will shrink a bit, and tighten up. No need to use your iron, here (but if you do, it's okay). This is a great way to give your board a nicely finished look.

Good job!! I hope you enjoy your new Perfect Pressing Board!

Other Uses:
You can also use this method for covering wooden TV trays, and turn them into your own portable Perfect Pressing Board.

These boards are perfect for taking to classes. It's so nice to be able to press and sew, without getting up to walk around a classroom, or having to wait in line.

As I mentioned, you can make these any size you wish. This makes them perfect for design walls. Because the sound board is so light weight, you can easily mount it to a wall.

In the past, we've used OSB board for the main part of the board. Once my mom discovered using sound board, she was hooked. It's light weight, durable, and you can pin right into it. It's wonderful stuff. Being able to pin into it (without bending all my pins) makes using it as a design wall even more wonderful. It also makes a great surface for blocking your quilt blocks. You can block onto the table top board, or even the design wall.

I have covered my entire work table with this pressing surface (I used OSB, because it's an actual table top). This gives me a HUGE amount of pressing space, and when I need to cut, I lay my rotary mat right on top. Since the Perfect Pressing Board surface is hard, I can cut with my mat on top, and get accurate cuts.

If making your own board isn't your preference, I have pre-made boards ready to ship right to you. You can choose from 14"x19" or 10"x13".

Thanks for stopping by! And Happy Quilting!!

**A note about the sound board: It is a light weight drywall product that is fire retardant and safe for use in homes and schools. It is absolutely safe to be used as a pressing surface.

Update: 3-4-15
This tutorial is intended for personal use only. Please do not make and resell these boards without asking first. This is more of an ethical thing, than legal. Asking first shows respect, and is the right thing to do. At this time, I have not been asked by anyone, but I have seen a specific online store selling boards like mine. The owner learned directly from me, and never asked if I was okay with her selling the pressing boards. I see credit to me in the store, which is nice, but asking first is more respectable.


  1. This is fantastic. Thank you. But what about when the top cotton needs to be washed?

    1. Hi Lori,
      I don't wash it. It seems to get better with use and age. If the canvas gets really mucked up, I would put a new piece of canvas on top of the old.

  2. Thank you!! I've been wanting to make a proper pressing board for years, and I never realized it was this simple.

  3. This looks awesome. Can't wait to make one.

    How expensive is the sound board? Is it called something else at Hardware store?

    1. Hi!
      At Lowe's it's called "Sound Board" and is in the drywall section. The 8x4 ft board was about $12.


    2. Found your project - so cool! I ran out to buy my sound board..but it has jumped in price! It was 24.98 a board. Lowes does not carry it anymore..but Home Depot had it. It goes by its official name..homosote 440. Ask for it by that name may get you quicker service at the front desk! I still bought some and I can make a bunch of boards for my friends! If you have a hobbylobby, use the coupon to buy the duck cloth..they have some great printed cloth that fit my sewing room perfectly!
      Thanks again for posting this tutorial!

  4. Hey, Cristy,
    I'm going to make two of these, a big one for pressing and also a small one that I can use to glue blocks together on. I might put some guide marks on the small one, haven't decided yet!
    I have an unrelated question though. I've done my binding a la the elmer glue method, and it looks spot on. Beautifully even and my corners are so crisp I could cry! BUT, and I never thought of this until I had finished, when I put it in the washing machine it will shrink. That in itself is fine, I want the antique look, but is it going to distort my binding? Should I have washed it before I put the binding on? What do you do? :-/

  5. Thank you for your tutorial. I definitely need one of these. Does sound board have another name? I'm in the UK and can't find it.
    Many thanks.

  6. Hi,
    The only thing I would change is using Insul-Bright for the padding. It's designed for hot pads and such. Love your tutorial....can't wait to make my own now. Thank You!

  7. One and only thing We would transform is making use of Insul-Bright to the underlay. It's intended for hot protections in addition to like. Enjoy hologram shows the course.... can't delay to produce my own, personal right now.

  8. Looks great, I just use my wooden cutting board and it works just fine. Now, where do I find an iron like that?!

    1. JoAnn's have the travel size Rowenta. FYI: When you use it, spread your thumb and middle finger over the handle to press onto the center of the iron. Don't press hard on the handle or it will break at the hinge. Otherwise, this iron is wonderful.

  9. I am thinking of doing my entire cutting table with this idea, as you did. Question: do you not need some kind of moisture barrier? If not, should you not use steam? I know this is an old post, but I'm hoping that you see this comment and can answer my question so that I can get going on this WONDERFUL project!

  10. These are so neat. My mom made one when I was a kid and it was misplaced in a move a few years ago. You have reminded me how much better they work! Thanks!

  11. These are so neat. My mom made one when I was a kid and it was misplaced in a move a few years ago. You have reminded me how much better they work! Thanks!

  12. I need to use steam but did not see an answer about the need of a moisture barrier. Doesanyone know if the OSB board will fall apart or separate with the use of steam?

  13. I need to use steam but did not see an answer about the need of a moisture barrier. Doesanyone know if the OSB board will fall apart or separate with the use of steam?

  14. This is such an amazing DIY! How can we ever thank you and your mother enough for all you do for us?!

    I know this thread is old (around 2 years old now), but I wanted to add a little tip that has saved me ages of irritation:
    I found that the felt on the underside was very slippery on my laminate table top (it just wouldn't stay put at all), so I ordered a non-slip rug pad on Amazon, cut it to size, and stapled it to the underside of the board. No more slipping! Hooray!

    Again, many, many thanks for all that you do and document.

  15. My husband made a cutting board that is 1-1/2" thick with rounded corners and beveled edges, which was perfect for my pressing board. I covered with an old but thick blanket, then cotton canvas. I also used the old blanket to cover staples on the back. I am so in love with my pressing board.

  16. Thank you---I will also use insul-bright

  17. Thank you---I will also use insul-bright

  18. I found an old school desk that I'm going to use! Then I can store things inside and use it right next to me ('cuz I'm lazy!)

    Thanks for the detailed info! :)

  19. Looks easy to do. You have taught us well how to keep the canvas taut.

  20. What is Sound Board, I was unable to locate it?

  21. I think in the deep south we call it dry wall. At least what I used several years ago to make pressing board. But alas, thought it was to be padded and soft. So now will do again with less padding. I did use a layer of muslin directly over the dry wall, and used shelf liner on the back.


  23. The first comment in your mom's tutorial (to which you linked above) states that OSB or other particle or pressed board (which I assume includes homasote) should never be used without a moisture barrier, especially when using steam. There are chemicals used in the pressed boards which would be harmful when released by moist heat. He suggests using wood / plywood instead. Your mother responded to the comment to say that he was perfectly correct in his point. Please update your blog post to advise on safer materials. Homasote (sound board) and OSB might be great for a fabric wall but not for a pressing board!

  24. Update: It was not your mother who responded to that first comment on her video tutorial but other posters responded to concur. Please be safe and use wood for the pressing board.

  25. I used the thin ply board for my pressing board. Actually made 3, one actual one, and then 2 from the left over since I had to buy the whole sheet and needed to replace a very cheep drawer bottom of a new sewing table. But what I did was cut out and sand down the shape and size of my ironing board and made it into the Perfect pressing board for me (I am 6') this project was... Perfect ;) ... thank you SO much.

  26. Can you use insulbrite instead of batting?

  27. Thanks so much for the idea!! I was so over using only my ironing board for larger projects. Since my Home Depot only sells the 4' x 8' sheets of the sound board, I decided to try a 2' x 2' sheet of a purple foam called Foamular, and it was under $6. It is an inch thick and the perfect square size for my large craft projects. Other advantages of Foamular is you can easily stick pins into it (I previously made bulletin boards from the other board and it is hard on push pins, so I figured it would bend the pins) and it is as light as a feather. In addition, I was also able to use a regular stapler to attach the fabric, I just had to make sure I angled the staples toward the edge of the board, and now that it is attached, should be good to go.

    Pretty much followed your instructions, except for the glue. I don't like to wait for glue to dry, so I used Stitch Witchery to attach the back to the board and cover up all the staples. Thanks again.

    1. Is the Foamular as stiff s the board. how dies it hold up to pressing?

  28. I made one many years ago and added a ten inch piece of webbing to one end under the felt for a handle so I could carry it to classes, retreats, etc.

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  31. I add a piece of tin foil shiney side up under the batting. Reflect the heat back up where you need it