In Praise Of The Tailor’s Ham

Tailor's Ham

The unassuming tailor’s ham is one piece of sewing equipment that I never have beyond arm’s reach. The more you sew, the more you realise that anything with a curve is your friend – the French curve, the dressmaker’s dummy, the tailor’s ham. After all, the human body is a big mass of curves, orbs, concave and convex surfaces. Flat, we are not!

I’ve found the tailor’s ham particularly useful when it comes to tacking down neckline facings or basting shut pockets. Why work on the flat? My hips aren’t flat and neither are my shoulders. If I do try to work on the flat, I find these details pulling, not sitting straight, or need redoing. So, out comes the tailor’s ham. Below is a picture of a pocket piece that needed basting closed. I draped the section over a tailor’s ham, then pinned and basted.

Pocket Piece

And below are details of a neckline facing I recently tacked down. Same technique: drape it over a tailor’s ham. You’ll note I don’t even attempt to line up facing seam with shoulder seam. Facing Collage.jpgThere are lots of tutorials out there for making your own tailor’s ham. I’m gonna say, if you go down this route you want your ham to be really firm. The best ones are stuffed with sawdust. (For a comprehensive guide to UK sawdust suppliers, look here!) You don’t want a spongey ham, you want something that’s going to stand up to a lot of wear and tear, can deal with pressure, steam and heat. You want an alpha female tailor’s ham!

Any thoughts on this piece of equipment? Suppliers or tutorials you can recommend?

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36 Responses to In Praise Of The Tailor’s Ham

  1. I’m lucky enough to have a big shaped tailor’s ham (the kind with a larger end and a smaller end, I’m not sure what you call them) that belonged to my grandmother, and was actually made by a friend of hers who took a class on how to do it. It is packed with an amazing amount of sawdust, and smells nice when it gets warm and steamy. It has my grandmother’s name written in faded pen near the seam. It definitely has some stains and wear that show its age, but to me, they remind me of the passing of time, the investment of yourself that goes into not just making something, but making the tools to make something—that is a beautiful act. And of course it reminds me of my grandma, whom I loved dearly. Maybe I should mention that, in addition to all these romantic ideas I have about it, it’s very useful, and to me that is a part of its beauty as well!

  2. Sassy T says:

    They sell big blocks of sawdust in pet shops mine was about £1.25 bought wit the intention of making one. Will attempt next week.

    SSB. https://facebook.com/sassysewingbees

  3. Ann says:

    I live in the U.S., and bought my tailor’s ham and sleeve roll at Joann’s. I LOVE them. Each is wool on one side, and cotton on the other. Between the two of them, I can press any curve on any part of a sewing project. I wouldn’t even consider making my own, because, as you say, the firmness is important, and they are available for a modest price.

  4. I cannot sew without one – I have bouth one few years ago and not so long ago I have made one as well – a little bigger – here it is the post with link to a free pattern – http://wp.me/p2yS5n-1ke

  5. I assumed these were for experienced sewers only. I’ll certainly bear it in mind now, thanks!

    • Hey, there’s no hierarchy to equipment! Actually, there’s no hierarchy to sewing. When does one become an Experienced Sewer? That’s definitely still not me!

      • :-) Certainly won’t be me for a while yet! I’ve learnt to slow right down and attempt to get the basics (reasonably…) right to maximise the enjoyment and minimise the frustrations! Looks a useful piece of equipment though so will certainly look out for one. Thanks!

  6. Nakisha says:

    I went for months and months without and now I cannot imagine not having it!!!

    If you are in the US…take a 50% off coupon and buy one.

  7. MarrieB says:

    I made my own, but it’s not firm enough, and I’ve never been happy with it. Thanks for the reminder that I pick one up, I always forget when I’m at the fabric store.

  8. I’ve been making do with rolled up towels but its not ideal, I’ll add one to my birthday list!

  9. Erika says:

    The more I get into sewing, the more I am learning. I never knew that was what a tailor’s ham was for.

    • Well, it’s for lots of things! Once you own one, you’ll find yourself using it for all sorts.

      • LinB says:

        In a pinch, you can use it as a substitute head when styling wigs or hats. You’ll need to roll a fabric doughnut to keep it upright while you work, but it is more cooperative than plonking your work on your toddler’s head and then chasing him/her around the house with a hot-glue gun.

  10. B & the Moon says:

    I am fervently pro tailors ham…although I too have frequently used a rolled up tea towel which works reasonably well…there’s a guest post on the wonderful Tilly’s, of Sewing Bee / General internet fame, blog… http://www.tillyandthebuttons.com/2012/08/how-to-make-tailors-hams-and-sausages.html

  11. Katie M says:

    I didn’t realise they were so useful. They don’t seem very expensive either – £10-13. You can even buy one on Amazon. I might have to add this to my ever growing list of sewing things I must buy!

  12. Emma Jayne says:

    Yep, made both a tailors ham and pressing roll. My tip for the sawdust is to use a spoon and funnel to fill over a large bowl to catch the bits and give it a good bash down with the handle of a wooden spoon to make it firm.

  13. kate0795 says:

    I’ve heard of these but haven’t really known what they were until now! They sound like a brilliant idea…makes perfect sense for the curves! I’ve just bought a French curve which I’ve yet to put to proper use so maybe this needs to be next on my list! Kate @thepolkadotroom

  14. senjiva says:

    I use my ham and sleeve roll constantly. I absolutely cannot press out a suit or princess seams properly without them. Don’t even bother making one. Just spend the $10-15 per and get it ready made. Also can’t live without pressing cloths. I just cut large squares of lightweight white cotton and serge the edges. They go in the wash once they start to get a little dingy.

  15. Kat says:

    Absolutely can’t sew without my tailor’s ham! I wouldn’t bother making one though, too messy for only $15 at my local. What I *would* make is a point presser/tailoring fancy shmancy board thingie out of wood – those things are hell expensive!

    • LinB says:

      Making a cover for an old ham is worth the trouble, though. That’s the only way I’d try to make a ham — it’s too hard to contain the sawdust while stuffing, and you can never get it as fully stuffed as store-bought ones. Recovering one will give it years and years of longer use. Although, as we read in the comments above, they already last for generations.

      I’ve had good luck finding wooden clappers and point pressers at thrift stores recently. Must be the result of spring fever, and the urge to clean out one’s closets each year.

      • Kat says:

        Cover is a great idea – never thought of that. Awesome that you could get those hard to find supplies at thrift shops!

  16. Karen Teel says:

    I finally splurged and got mine from Stitch Nerd. It is very large and I LOVE it!!! They are made to order and you pick the fabric design you want. She has some of the most amazing wools and cottons to choose from. She has so many shapes and sizes. The hams from JA just don’t compare. If you want the best tool this is the place to go. I think she will even repair if needed. I first saw one on the Tilton sisters Craftsy class’s. I can see these being passed down – never thrown away. Not affiliated, just a super happy customer. Stitchnerdcustomshop.com. You will not regret it

  17. Sally says:

    Amen! I almost press everything with my tailors ham! Like you said, we are mostly curves, not flat shapes :) And actually, a while back my dress-form torso broke off it’s stand :( But it’s actually perfect as a giant pressing ham, especially for necklines! I’m not sure what I would do without it now!!!

  18. Anne-Marie says:

    Alpha female’s ham! You made me laugh out loud! I made a tailor’s ham using sawdust from the pet shop, but didn’t fill it firm enough so will redo it this week. I never thought of using it to tack facings down, must try that. Thanks Karen.

  19. Love my ham and will eventually get myself a sleeve sausagey-thing, my favourite piece of equipment is the long end of a wooden chopping board which acts as my clapper!

  20. coco says:

    I love mine, too. and my seam roll. Everyone needs them!! even if they don’t know it yet :-)

  21. helen says:

    I sewed for years without one and finally bought one about 5 years ago. You are right, once you’ve used one you can’t live witout it. For sleeve heads and princess lines it is a must!

  22. I made my own and added a seam roll to the lot. I can confirm sawdust is best. My first attempt was filled with scraps but it does become floppy. I shared the pattern on my blog http://bombardone.com/sewingprincess/2011/01/tailors-ham-and-seam-roll-free-pattern/

  23. Catherine says:

    i am so fascinated that hams all over the world are made with the same tartan fabric! there must be only 1 manufacturer! i love my ham, and i use it when im doing the normal ironing too when i have a dress that has a shapely bust or a collar that needs taming back into place. Oh and i use it as a paper/fabric weight too when i have things sitting on the ironing board!

  24. I have had my Dritz sewing ham for well over 40 years – and it is still going strong. I agree – it is one sewing tool I can’t live without!

  25. MummyManager says:

    I learned the value of a tailor’s ham and a sleeve roll on a day course on shirt/blouse-making at English Couture – brilliant! I was also introduced to the point-presser. Like navybluethreads, I thought such things were just for professionals but now, all three items live by my iron and are in frequent use – not just for dressmaking. I bought them from English Couture – see http://englishcouture.co.uk/product-category/pressing-aids/

  26. Sheree says:

    I finally bought one last year after many, many years of sewing. Until I read about sewing on-line it had never occurred to me to even want one! Or that they existed. Pleased I now have one. Much better to buy one in my opinion. I would much prefer to spend my time making something nice to wear, then stuffing in sawdust. Should imagine that it is a messy job and for the money they cost…….hardly worth it.

  27. I found my tailor hams at an estate sale of a seamstress years ago. At the time I didn’t know what they were but she had many in her sewing room of all shapes and sizes. I figured I probably needed a couple myself at at 25 cents each I thought why not. Once I started using them I wondered why I had never known of them before. What a difference they make! Thank you for pointing out their uses!

  28. I’ve got by without one for years, but know that once I do get one will be saying to myself, what a numpty, why oh why didn’t you get one earlier.

  29. MsTegan says:

    I never thought to use a tailors ham for facings! This is so helpful.

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