How-to: Pressing board edition

Morning you brightly colored koi! Your little cousins, the goldfish, were here yesterday. You guys sure are a lot more flashy! I think it’s super cute that you come when called.

Yesterday’s project was my pressing board! I’ve hemmed and hawed a lot about this project a lot over the last two weeks, and ultimately, what I ended up making was different from what I had my little heart set on. But it’s done, and we love it!


OK, so my planning process was a little whack. I started off on the wrong foot as I was copying the excellent cutting table from Diary of a Renaissance Seamstress and she wrapped her entire cutting top with batting and gingham for a permanent pressing surface. I wanted a REMOVABLE pressing surface so I could use the hard top for rotary cutting, but I had it stuck in my head that I had to have the ENTIRE 36 x 69″ cutting table covered with the pressing board.

I had four main concerns while plotting the pressing board. First, 36″ x 69″ is REALLY big! Whatever board I used had to be light enough for me to lift off and on without Mr. Bug‘s help doing it for me. Second, I wanted the surface to be stable – I had visions of it sliding all over the place! Third, I was worried about protecting the melamine cutting surface from the steam and heat from the iron. Fourth, I wanted to upholster it, and it seemed that the staples that hold the upholstery fabric in place were likely candidates to scratch the heck outta the melamine – not nice.

When we headed out to Home Depot to get supplies my plan was to use 1/8″ thick hardboard as the surface with some 1×2′s to build a frame and some Insul-Brite hot-pad type batting to protect the melamine. After looking at the materials and listening to Mr. Bug’s thoughtful analysis of my plan I realized that it might not work out as brilliantly as it had in my head. The whole shebang would likely break after a use or two AND while I probably could have lifted it, it still was pretty awkward! We considered a bunch of other options – floor underlayment, OSB, pine sheeting… a system of old-school door hooks to make a two part surface that I could lift but wouldn’t fly apart… giving up sewing all together and learning to cook.

After wandering around the lumber section for what seemed like an eternity I realized that one of my initial premises was flawed – I didn’t NEED to cover the entire surface! We ended up buying 3/4″ MDF. It comes in pre-cut pieces of 2′ x 4′, which is pretty large! I decided that if I really loved the boards I could always come back and have the nice Home Depot people cut me two 3′ x 3′ MDF boards from a giant 4′ x 8′ sheet – enough to cover the whole surface, but WAY more pricey! Start small, that’s my new motto. Remind me of that later. Relived to at last make up our minds, we left Home Depot with our piece of MDF and a package of 3/8″ heavy duty staples.

Whew! On to making the #*(&$) thing!

Upholstering the top

Here’s a partial photo of supplies I used.

  • One 2′ x 4′ piece of 1/2″ thick MDF – I liked the MDF because it’s FLAT!! Regular plywood and OSB doesn’t always lay completely flat!
  • Staple gun & 3/8″ staples
  • Wool batting
  • Ticking
  • Scissors
  • NOT pictured! Hammer, pliers for pulling out mis-fired staples, a spray bottle of water, rotary cutter and mat, various rulers
  • NOT used! The little package on top of the ticking is that bottom-of-the-foot grabby material for ‘jammies! I thought it might help on the bottom to keep the board from sliding around, turns out it wasn’t needed

First I laid out my fabric. I started with 2 yards of 32″ wide ticking that after pre-washing had shrunk SIGNIFICANTLY! I like to super pre-wash and dry the fabric for ironing board covers, so I figured I’d do the same here. I wanted enough ticking to wrap about 3″ to the back of the pressing board. For the batting, I just wanted enough to cover the top of the board and wrap a bit around the top edge so it wasn’t sharp and pointy.

We have wool batting at the shop, so I used that as the padding – I’ve seen a lot of recommendations to use wool blankets and I figure this was close enough. ALL recommendations are pretty adamant that the padding and the fabric be all natural – wool or cotton for the padding, 100% cotton for the fabric. This picture is a bit misleading – the batting isn’t really all that fluffy!

I’ve really liked having ticking on my ironing board – I use the lines all the time to make sure hems are straight, etc. I wanted the same for the pressing board, but that did add the extra headache of having to make sure I got it on the board straight! After I laid out my fabric and batting I set the board on top and tugged and straightened, using the lines on the fabric to ensure that the board was sitting nice and straight on the fabric.

Staple time! I stapled slowly and evenly, starting at the center of one side, then stapling the center of the other side, then the ends of each side, etc. I checked with each staple to make sure the stripes on the fabric stayed in line with the edge of the board.

After I got the sides all stapled up I flipped the board to make sure everything looked straight, then I stapled up the ends – I left about 5″ unstapled at the corners so I’d have room to make them tidy.

The first step on the corners was to pull out the excess batting. I wanted the corners padded, but there was a LOT of batting in there from the two sides meeting up!

Next I pulled the center down nice and taut (but not too taut! I didn’t want to poke through the fabric) and secured with a staple.

Next I folded over one corner, starting the miter-type fold. The more fabric you can smooth up towards the edge, the flatter everything gets. I used a ruler to help me get the fabric smooth. Once I got it close enough I secured with a staple in the general vicinity of my thumb.

Do the same with the other side! This looks a bit bulky in the photo, but it’s really nice and flat, so no worries about the board rocking or anything. Also, I (of course) would have been happier with a PERFECTLY MITERED CORNER, but I think I would have had to trim to do that and that seemed as if I’d be asking for trouble!

Once the corners were done I added staples where necessary -every 2 or 3 inches. Then I tapped them in with a hammer.

The ticking had gotten quite rumply from stretching and such!

No worries! I just used my iron to steam it out.

Upholstering the bottom

One of my main concerns was that the pressing board would scratch up the melamine cutting table. Part of the reason I wanted the super pricey MDF versus the cheap OSB is that MDF is so smooth and if the back was left exposed it wouldn’t scratch. BTW, as a price comparison: a 4′ x 8′ sheet of 3/4″ OSB (that’s the board that looks like woodchips all pressed together) is around $12.00 at Home Depot and a sheet of MDF the same size and thickness is around $36.00!!

ANYWAY… I could have left the pressing board as-is. The staples were very tight and smooth against the upholstery fabric, no potential for scratching. But I think you curious koi all know how I feel about finishing the insides of garments… I feel the same about finishing the back sides of pressing boards! I considered using some grosgrain ribbon to finish the edges, but I would have needed two rolls + the adhesive, so that would have added up a bit. In the end, Joann’s had 72″ felt on sale, so I only needed 2/3 of a yard to cover the back. I got that and some heavy duty fusible web to make a felt backing.

Note the continued use of white. It’s all about the hound fur, y’all!

I cut the felt so it covered up all the staples – again, using the stripes on the ticking as a guide.

Then I cut my fusible web. For those of you who don’t know what this stuff is, it’s the same as Steam a Seam, but you can buy off the bolt as well – the brand I see most often is Pellon Wonder Under and I think it comes in two weights. I got the heavy duty since felt is so thick. You can use fusible web to fuse any fabric to a porus surface such as wood (or presumably MDF!) It comes off the bolt textured on one side and paper on the other.

The stuff I used was about 18″ wide – a little more narrow than my piece of felt, so I had to cut into pieces to fully cover the back of the felt. Here it is ready to go.

I placed the fusible web textured side down over the felt, then ran my iron over the paper backing to fuse the felt and web together.

Once all the pieces of web were ironed on to the felt I carefully peeled off the paper backing, leaving the adhesive part behind on the felt. It was all very smooth, although it looks wonky in this photo!

After I peeled off the paper I trimmed the edges with pinking shears, mostly to make it look cute!

Next I flipped over the felt so the side with the fusible web attached was facing the pressing board.

Spritz with water…

…and fuse away!

Done! A nicely backed pressing board. I got a super gold star from Mr. Bug when he got home and snooped around. I think he was surprised by the finished project!

As a final step I flipped upright and DOUSED with water. In theory, this should make the ticking shrink up a bit. In practice, I’m not sure how much it did other than get everything all wet!

Revisiting my concerns… and how much did it cost??

Way up at the beginning I had four major concerns… let’s revisit them, shall we??

#1 – Must be light enough to lift: check! By shifting down to the 2×4′ board I can totally lug this sucker around! It IS heavy, but doable. I already had my first accident though, smashing the pad of my little finger between the board and a pipe. Hello blood blister!!

#2 – Stability (no sliding around) – I was WAY too worried about this! The weight of the MDF is more than enough to keep it in place, even with felt on the bottom. Really. I’m not lying. It’s not moving!

#3 – Must protect melamine from steam! – The thicker board provides adequate protection from steam – no worries there! Since I went with a board that doesn’t cover the whole surface I’ll be careful around the edges and not let the iron hang over too much, but really it’s fine.

#4 – Upholstering (enough thickness to hold a staple/staples scratching the surface of the cutting table) – When I was thinking about using the 1/8″ board, I couldn’t figure out how to upholster without the staples sticking UP through the batting and fabric! Going with the MDF fixed that. Also as I said above, the staples went WAY into the board and sort of ‘nestled’ into the fabric and were very smooth. The felt backing was really an aesthetic thing and not necessary to protect the table!

Obviously, I have a smaller board than my original vision. Unless I get into serious quilting or start taking in washing, I think the 2×4′ pressing board will be quite large enough. I sort of like how there’s extra ‘space’ around it to set my tools and iron while I was working. But I know that I can always go shell out $36 for the giant piece of MDF and get the two squares cut that will cover the entire surface if I get a bee in my bonnet!


(1) 2′ x 4′ MDF board $10

(1) package 3/8″ staples $2

2/3 yard wool batting – 96″ wide $11

2 yards ticking $14

2 yards fusible web $7

2/3 yard felt – 72″ wide $2.50

Total: $46.50

Sources… I searched the webs a bit using things like ‘making a pressing board’ – there are a lot of quilters out there that do this and have made You Tube videos, but I didn’t really pay attention to what I was scanning. The one post I read twice was Beangirl’s excellent duct taped version. Obviously, my pressing board is more, um, permanent. If mine gets too stained, I’ll just recover it. Beangirl’s solution allows you to actually WASH the cover!!

Next challenge: cutting mat. Again, I want one that COVERS THE SURFACE… or as close as possible. Go with the super pricey self healing kind? Or settle for the non-self healing kind that I use at the shop and am perfectly happy with, but it DOES have a groove at the 1 yard mark… Also, is it possible to trim down these mats? The self-healing one from Joann’s is 70″ wide – 1 inch too long!


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  • Carolyn
    August 11, 2011

    This entire process has been so interesting and informative. I’m stalled (as in the body hasn’t moved out of my room yet) on my sewing room but watching you put yours together has given me an entirely new set of ideas! Thanks for the inspiration!
    Carolyn recently posted..I’m not missing it!My Profile

  • Debra
    August 11, 2011

    Great job on the perfectly tailored ironing board cover! I have one of the non pinnable, non sealing Mega mat-cutting mats on my cutting table. It’s 40 x 70. I’ve used it daily since 1985 (eek!) and it now has many grooves on the U.S. measurements side. I’ve spinned it around so that the metric measurements are closest to me and I get more accurate cuts without my rotary cutter falling into one of the age old grooves. It’s a bit annoying but cheaper than a new mat. The non sealing mat, which you probably already know, is harder on rotary blades. I do believe that a self healing mat would not have held up as long, though. My mat did stick over the edge of my cutting table just a bit, which my wonderful husband trimmed off with a Dremel tool not all that long ago. I use large bull nose clamps from the office supply store to hold the mat to the table only at two corners when I’m working with copious yardage..home dec items. The clamps do not get in the way and are handy to hold fabric in place. My table is melamine; plastic on plastic tends to shift with weight and pressure.

  • Kati
    August 10, 2011

    In the Joann’s mailer there is usually a 40% off one full priced item coupon, you could save a ton of money on either cutting mat with one of those.
    Kati recently posted..Finished Garment: KS 3856 for MomMy Profile

    • Patty The Snug Bug
      August 13, 2011

      I know, I know… but it’s STILL a huge price difference! The self-healing, even at 40% off is pricey!
      Patty The Snug Bug recently posted..Tutorial: How to make a simple zippered bagMy Profile

      • Constance Edwards
        December 5, 2011

        I don’t know if this is still in work for you, but when it comes to self-healing mats, look at professional drafting supplies, not those marketed towards seekers. the price is significantly better, with the black version, quarter circle marks can be drawn with silver sharpie or temporarily with chalk.(I prefer their black mats on aesthetic grounds, but I’m not a pastels fan nor fond of junior high locker room green.) I don’t work for this company, am just a happy customer. I bought 2 18×36″ mats (cheaper than one 36″ square with much better shipping rates) from them and glued them to one leaf of my sewing/cutting/ironing table. (I use an IKEA Norden gate leg folding table) The other half has an ironing/pinning pad.

        • Constance Edwards
          December 5, 2011

          Gah. Sew ists not seekers. Stupid autocorrect.

  • LaUra
    August 10, 2011

    Oh it looks lovely! I wouldn’t have even thought of MDF because it’s so heavy, because I have helpless little weak T-Rex arms. I can lift lots of heavy stuff with my ox-strong legs, but I would have been worried. But the idea of it being in several pieces potentially is brilliant.
    LaUra recently posted..The Lonsdale Dress Sew Along!My Profile

  • Laura
    August 10, 2011

    It may not have been what you initially pictured, but it is great! I’m a tad jealous. I would love to have nice cutting and pressing boards. One day, one day.

  • pat
    August 10, 2011

    You are so incredibilty talented ! Keep it all coming , can’t wait to see what is next !!

  • Heather
    August 10, 2011

    Envy…rising. :D Very good job! I’m impressed with the whole project. Thanks for sharing your process, because I’m hoping someday to make myself something similar, and tutorials are always great.
    Heather recently posted..Have you ever been given a sewing tip that changes everything?My Profile

    • Patty The Snug Bug
      August 13, 2011

      I’m so glad some of you enjoyed all the sewing room posts! I felt like I was going on, and on, and on…. but I like seeing other people’s spaces, so I figured there are other potential peeping toms out there as well!
      Patty The Snug Bug recently posted..Tutorial: How to make a simple zippered bagMy Profile

  • Claire (aka Seemane)
    August 10, 2011

    Fabulous work!
    I really like the result – it looks very professional.

    Re: cutting down a cutting mat by 1″ I’m sure I left some thoughts on how to cut a too-big mat down in an older post of yours ( ?) I can’t find it now :(… Anywho, maybe try cutting a small cutting mat as an experiment first (before spending too much $$ on the big one)? Use a craft knife/handsaw and tape a metal ruler to stop it sliding around. I’ve been able to get A4 (nearly same as US ‘Letter’ size paper) and A5 (half the size of A4) cutting mats at the cheap £1.00 shops we have here in the UK before – so some experimenting might be in order hehe :)
    Claire (aka Seemane) recently posted..The Bitch is Back!My Profile

    • Claire (aka Seemane)
      August 10, 2011

      Ahhh, I found my comment (it’s awaiting moderation LOL!) It was a comment in your ‘May I introduce you to my new cutting table’ post. I;ve cut ‘n’ pasted below – because I guess it’s more relevant here :)

      Hi Patty!
      Re: the cutting mat that is too long by 1″ – I wonder if you could cut it down to size? Maybe if the mat was laid on top of some scrap wood – so that the wood cover the full-length of the line to be cut-off, then if you were to put a long metal ruler on it and taped the ruler down so that it doesn’t move, you might be able to cut through it with a craft knife? You wanted to go down that route, then could test that method on a really small cutting-mat cheaply to try it out? I’ve bought A4 (approx. ‘Letter’ size) and sometimes A5 (which is exactly half A4 size) at cheap little £1 stores – maybe there’s an equivalent you could pick up too? (Or the ever present eBay for cheap cutting mats LOL!)

      Or if you decide to wait for your Birthday ;) … then there’s always this store : they make custom sized mats!!
      Claire (aka Seemane) recently posted..The Bitch is Back!My Profile

      • Patty The Snug Bug
        August 13, 2011

        ha! You are too informative! I think I have my settings set to hold comments with 3 or more links as potential spam – but you provide GOOD links.

        I JUST threw away a teeny 5″ x 5″ cutting mat not too long ago! Rats! I’ll check the dollar store!!
        Patty The Snug Bug recently posted..Tutorial: How to make a simple zippered bagMy Profile

  • Karen
    August 10, 2011

    Great job on the sewing “room” and the pressing board. I wish I had room for a cutting table. I have a (very) small bedroom for my sewing room, so cutting is done on the kitchen table. I have both a regular cutting mat and a self healing and I prefer the self healing.

    • Patty The Snug Bug
      August 10, 2011

      oh… i KNOW i’d prefer the self healing, but the self healing in the size I’m looking at is $190 and the other kind is $70! Since I use the non-self healing at the shop and I’m perfectly happy with it, I’m thinking that it would be fine for at home. And since I wouldn’t be cutting yardage at home I wouldn’t get the groove like we have at the shop… but I’m stuck in that ‘must get the best’ mind frame on this purchase! Just think of what I could buy with the $120 I’d save if I go with the cheaper one!!
      Patty The Snug Bug recently posted..How-to: Pressing board editionMy Profile

  • Madelaine
    August 10, 2011

    Great project! I think I need one of these for my studio in progress… And yes, you can cut down self healing mats. I’ve managed to do it a couple times with an Olfa knife while trimming papers for bookbinding. Oops.
    Madelaine recently posted..Plan Part One: Finish My ProjectsMy Profile

    • Patty The Snug Bug
      August 10, 2011

      Ooo… tell me more?? I asked what the ladies at hancock thought and they said that a carpenter could do it with ‘tools’ When pressed, they thought a circular saw which (a) I do not possess and (b) even if I did, seems a nonsensical idea on many levels…
      Patty The Snug Bug recently posted..How-to: Pressing board editionMy Profile

      • Madelaine
        August 10, 2011

        Yeah, I can’t see needing a saw for it. I cut a strip off mine with my Olfa (A super sharp/awesome exacto type knife), a metal ruler, and a bunch of arm power cutting the same line over and over again. I thought I was still cutting through paper at the end. I think it helped that I was cutting lined up with the groove in the table?
        Madelaine recently posted..Plan Part One: Finish My ProjectsMy Profile

  • Heather
    August 10, 2011

    Love it! I especially like that you covered the bottom so your table doesn’t get scratched, and neither do you when moving it around. The one and only time (so far) I made quilt blocks, I found pressing on my cutting board covered with a folded up tea towel worked so much better as it wasn’t springy like the ironing board.

  • elise
    August 10, 2011

    It is quite clear to me, that you are a genius. I love this, did I mention I want one too ? I do.

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