Ode to the Puff Iron

I hope this finds you healthy and COOL!  We have finally gotten to the time of summer when our heat really heats up (August and September).  High 90s for the next week or so is predicted, so staying cool is the goal.  I have my fan at my sewing machine to help, as rolling blackouts are predicted, so I can’t count on the air conditioning 🙁

In this week’s post, I am going to share about the puff iron and some alternatives (both good and bad).

In case you have never heard of a puff iron, it is a wonderful pressing tool that was (key word here being WAS) made by the Vin-Max Company.   You can see in the picture that it screws on to a table, and has a vertical metal bar with what looks like a metal egg at the top.


Originally, it only had an On-Off switch, but they later came out with a model that had a Low/Hi/Off switch.  When I bought mine (around 1995), they were $39 – such a deal!  Over the next 5 years, the price steadily increased to $69, and then……

There was a fire, which destroyed most of the building.  Since the puff iron was not a big seller, Vin-Max decided they would not manufacture the puff iron any more.  It was a sad day for heirloom sewers.

The puff iron is easy to use – other than watching your fingers so they don’t get burnt!  You simply turn the iron on, let it warm up, and then slip the metal egg into the sleeve.  You can spritz with spray starch (or Magic Sizing, Extra Crisp, which is what I prefer), then rub the sleeve around the heated egg.

You can stretch out the fabric to smooth out the wrinkles throughout the sleeve.  Here I am waiting for the iron to heat up and let it do its magic.  If you keep your eye on ebay, every once in a while you can find one for sale. They can get kind of pricey – I think there is one listed now for $350!  And of you don’t want to pay that much and can’t find one elsewhere, there are alternatives!

The first ‘hack’ is a HUGE NO NO!  I only mention this because I know it has been used, but is very dangerous!  Do NOT use a light bulb!  The idea is you can turn on a light bulb, let it heat up, then put the sleeve over the hot light bulb and use it as an iron (although now with LED lights, you don’t get the heat, so they do not work as well).  It is very easy for the iron to shatter, and then you have ruined the dress.  Better to pass on this method.

Next is using small balloons, about the size that kids use for water balloons.  Blow up 2 balloons, spritz the sleeves with Magic Sizing, put a balloon in each sleeve and leave them in the sleeve until the sizing dries.  2 things to remember for this method,  The first is that the sleeves need to be at least damp with starch or sizing, as drying with the balloons in place gives the sleeve its shape.  The 2nd is that while it will give the sleeve shape, it will not remove all of the wrinkles, as you are not going to iron the sleeve with the balloon inside – the heat will pop the balloon.
*****  You can also use small balls, about the size of tennis balls or a bit bigger *****

The last ‘hack’ is a newer idea, and it works fairly well.  I have a picture above of 2 wool dryer balls.  These are a recent item on the market and are used in dryers instead of fabric softener or dryer sheets.

They also work really well to shape and puff sleeves, and you can also iron on them as well.

Spritz the sleeves with Magic Sizing, put a dryer ball in the sleeve, and then you can take your iron and shape and press the sleeve.  Not quite the same as a puff iron, but a workable alternative!  Beats using a plain iron!

*****A note about essential oils and wool dryer balls:  I have several posts to add a few drops of essential oils to your dryer ball for fragrance.  I looked into this a bit, and found a couple articles recommending that you do not put the oil on the dryer balls themselves, but on a cotton ball or cotton pad and then put the cotton ball in a ziploc with the dryer balls.  There is a concern that the essential oils can spark in the heat of a dryer.  It is also not a good idea to have the oils on the wool balls if you are going to use them to press the sleeves, both for the heat and the possibility of the oil transferring to the fabric of the sleeve. *****

This winds up pressing matters for now – on to other things for the next post!

Happy Stitching,


8 thoughts on “Ode to the Puff Iron

  1. Dear Vaune, thanks for the history on the Puff Iron. Occasionally I wondered why they were rarely seen. At the time I saw them for $150 and thought that a bit much for something I rarely used. Overtime I got by with a small hand towel stuffed in the sleeve and pressed around the sleeve. Not perfect but doable. Susan Haenchen gave several of us 5 a number of years ago. Great gift, use them all the time. They seem to be more prevalent now. Worth a purchase to have on hand. Thanks for the ‘ blog’. Love you, Trud

  2. Thank you, Vaune…I have a Puff Iron and do use it a lot. One other trick I use – I put nylon shower puffs into the sleeves of the dress when I take it out of the washing machine. The dress dries with those puffs inside and, depending on the fabric, often does not require ironing! I do not have dryer balls – can’t stand the noise they make rattling around in my dryer!

  3. Very interesting, as are all your posts! Another idea, from bra sewing, is to put a round wood newell post ball from the home improvement store on a base and use the round wood ball as an ironing ham. I think the person who told me about this said she got the idea from Beverly Johnson, aka The Fairy Bra Mmother. Website Bra-Makers Supply.

    1. Hi Margaret, that would would work as well. Always creative ways to figure out how to get things done!

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