07 May 2011

NEO: Tailor's Ham Tutorial

Does it make me a nerd that I'd like a bumper sticker that says this: serious seamstresses use a ham.  Don't answer that.  What is a tailor's ham and why should you have one?  A tailor's ham is a pressing tool that helps you get those rounded seams smoothly pressed.  I have made do with rolling up towels for all these years and I decided it was time to get serious ;) and get one.  I even bought the standard plaid tailor's ham from the fabric store, put it on my ironing board and stared at it.  I just can't do it, I thought.  I need an orange one.  So I began to research how to make one.  

The main tutorial that repeatedly popped up was from Burda, but they have you use fabric scraps to stuff it.  Can we say lumpy? I knew I wouldn't be satisfied with a lumpy ham, so I went to the pet store.  Try explaining to pet store employees what you plan on doing.  I even bought a small amount of "small animal bedding".  But it wasn't fine enough.  I also thought about just putting it in the blender until a voice of reason [Ryan] told me that wasn't such a great idea.  So, I went to the home improvement store.  No, they don't sell sawdust [crazy woman], and don't even try explaining to home improvement store employees what you plan to do with it, but I'll tell you the secret.  Find a kind looking, older man.  He is your key.  Back in lumber, where they cut the wood, is a giant vacuum that sucks up all the sawdust.  They just empty it into the dumpster when it's filled, so ask if you can have just a grocery bag's worth of sawdust.  It also helps to have two little cute girls in tow.

  • Wool
  • Cotton
  • Plain Cotton
  • Sawdust
  • Dowel-not pictured
  • Card stock [2 pieces]-not pictured

I did a freehand stencil of the ham, which turned out to be almost the exact same size as a piece of card stock, but it isn't an oval.  It's more like an egg with a flat bottom.  Cut one from wool, one from contrasting cotton and three from the plain cotton.  I didn't have orange wool, so I dyed my piece and then sent it through a wash cycle to make sure any extra dye was washed out, so there wouldn't be any bleeding on my future projects.
Next you need to baste 2 plain cotton and your contrasting cotton sides together, and then baste the wool and 1 plain cotton together, all the way around.  With the right sides of the contrasting cotton and wool together, stitch around the perimeter 1/2" seam allowance [decrease your length to a 2], leaving it open 3" on the flat bottom.  I didn't clip the curves, although maybe I should have for a more smooth ham, because I didn't want to weaken the seams, since you will be putting a fair amount of pressure on them as you stuff it.  Turn right side out.
Next comes the messy part.  Seriously.  Do it somewhere you can easily vacuum.  You'll thank me later.  Make a funnel from the second piece of card stock and begin adding sawdust.  Use a dowel to stuff it in and once it's about half full, press the sawdust into the seams, pushing them out as much as you can.  I was surprised at how much sawdust I could fit in it.  Be patient and keep adding sawdust.
Once you've added as much as you possibly can, packing that sawdust in with a dowel, pin and stitch up the opening with either heavy duty thread or embroidery floss for a strong finish.
Clean up your ham by vacuuming it with the hose attachment, and voila!  Your very own, very personalized tailor's ham!  I am saving my extra sawdust just in case it compresses in the ham, and maybe I'll even make a seam roll [which would be a lot easier, as it's just long and skinny and without curves.]
Why the wool and cotton?  You want fabric that won't melt or scorch.  The wool side is to press your garment items needing lower heat and the cotton to press higher heat items.  The added layers of plain cotton are to keep the sawdust from seeping out.  Now get pressing!  Or, just stare at and admire your highly personalized, cute ham.

Happy Mother's to every single one of you, because even if you have no children of your own, you are a great blessing and help to those who do.


  1. I've actually made one of these with Sabra--and I was totally one of those people who had to google it when she suggested making one. I love the fabric you have on yours!

  2. My sweet sister made me two dressmaker's hams for Christmas: one for children's clothing and one for adult's clothing. She also made a two of the oblong pressing things (I'm drawing a blank on what they're called). She had trouble finding appropriate filling material too. I can't remember what she said she ended up using. I love them and since I sew more children's clothing having the smaller size has been great.

  3. Thanks for the tutorial! I will make one of these. You blog is awesome!!

  4. I was completely content with my plaid tailor's ham until I saw your tutorial. Now I want an orange one, too!

    I linked to your tutorial on Craft Gossip Sewing:


  5. <3 this!!!
    I'm going to have to make me a green one, eventually.
    Can't wait to find out how the sawdust does. :)

  6. Thank you! I could really use one, but I am cheap cheap cheap! There's a flooring place down the road with a giant sawdust truck off to the side so I think this will definately be next on my to do list!

  7. Amazing! I'd forgotten all about tailor's hams. I must make one soon.
    Thanks so much for the tutorial.

  8. Katy, you are such a ham! ;)

    I have always wanted one, too. I guess it's time for me to get serious as well.

  9. @TammyW - I think you're referring to a seam roll. They're handy not only for sleeves but also for seams on clothing for children.

    Another filler that you could get at the pet store is ground walnut hulls. I use them to make pin cushions. Of course, it's not free like the sawdust, but would give a nice weight to the ham and help hold the shape. Ground walnut hulls are used for reptile bedding, so that's the area where you would find them in the pet store.

  10. Wow, Kate. That turned out so great. And free sawdust. You are amazing.

  11. That is awesome. Could you use sand for the filling? (Aquarium sand?)

  12. Awesome tutorial and idea! I am going to have to make one of these :)


  13. Thank you for the tutorial! Love your fabrics!

  14. Tracy-that's a very good question. It's a pretty solid weight with the sawdust, I imagine it would be extremely heavy with the sand, but as far as performance, I think it would be easier to fill and not pack down. Let me know if you try it!

  15. well, you've inspired me to start sewing again...i'm not real sure where i'll squeeze it in but i started a dress for my daughter today :)

    thank you.

  16. I have my grandmother's ham and it's disgusting - the cover is just nasty. I bet I could reuse whatever is inside...
    Also, someone mentioned walnut shells for pin cushion innards: it's not free, but steel wool makes great pin cushion innards because the pins ad needles actually get sharpened as they pass in and out of the steel wool...keeps your pins new!

  17. It looks very cool but i've never seem on before and have no idea how you use them! loving the orange though, my fav colour!

  18. The undomesticated scientist-they are used to press curved seams, such as an armhole or a princess seam around the bust line so you don't press tucks into your seams. You simply lay the curved seam over the ham around the curved portion that fits the best for your particular seam and press right on the ham.

  19. Nice one! If any reader needs a pattern for a tailor's ham and seam roll, hop over to my blog
    I made mine out of scraps and it didn't turn out lumpy at all.

  20. I learned about them when I was 15 and since then I couln´t live without it!!!! It´s amazing what it does for you!!!! I have it on 3 different sizes, for pants (a big one) a medium (for just about anything) and a very small one for the sleeves!!!!! AMAZING Thanks for sharing.

  21. Orange and pork. My favorite things. :)

  22. Your ham is so cute! I do use a ham quite often, especially when making wee baby items that are sooo tiny. Mine is some old vintage plaid/muslin thing that i found at an estate sale years ago. I am happy with it, although I call mine MY PIG.

  23. Hi Katy-
    The part about the blender is too funny - though now my curiosity is sparked about what would happen to a blender if put pet bedding in it...

    I also wanted to give you a heads up that you might want to warn your readers that the sawdust from home improvement stores may contain chemically-treated wood which I'm not sure would be a good thing to work with.

    I found this out when I went to Lowe's in search of some sawdust for a different kind of craft project and the kind gentleman warned me that some of the sawdust was from regular old lumber and some from the treated kind and probably was not advisable to handle. Then, with desperate hope, I asked if they could shred an untreated board. Nope. They referred me to the pet store for the bedding. :)


  24. Andrea-that's a very good point. I wonder if a tree trimming company would be a good place for untreated sawdust, as they have both the lumber and the shredder.

  25. I would love to see a link to this project on my latest Linky Giveaway, http://the4rsRamblings.blogspot.com

  26. I love love love the orange and white print that you used and must know where you got it and who made it??? Thank you so much for the tutorial!!

  27. Merci beaucoup pour ce tuto et cette idée géniale!!!!
    Belle journée Edith

  28. thanks for the tutorial! I'm a lucky one... DH's major hobby is woodworking and he has lots of big woodshop tools (like a table saw) taht produce lots of sawdust. :)

  29. Good golly, I'm happy to find this. I've been hankering for one of these for ages, and it's never occured to me to make one (?!) Can't wait to find a kindly looking man at Home Depot...

  30. That is just fantastic. I REALLY need one of those. I have never herd of them before and omg they would make my life so much easier.

  31. I just came across your tutorial via Pinterest.
    Your ham looks fab, great idea to use the saw dust. The tutorial you mention on Burda is mine i think, i used wool scraps mainly because i wanted to use something i had on hand. I can assure you it's not at all lumpy, it's packed fairly tightly and has a few layers of fabric over the top. It cost me nothing and has worked well for me.

    I also made a sleeve roll using a rolled up newspaper wrapped in wadding then created a sleeve of fabric to cover it. Works a treat!

  32. WOW - i'll be making some of them!!! For my self, my mother and a friend... By the way - my husbond use sawdust (fine) for bedding in the cows beds. Our daughter at 4 years call it for magic dust!! :-)

  33. Thank you so much for sending this to SHECANSEW bc I NEED one desperately, but was too lazy to google it.
    I knew I had read about it(as in a tutorial) somewhere way back when I didn't really need one.


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