Wool pressing mats are made from felted wool. They come in a myriad of sizes, from 4" X 4" square, all the way up to fit your entire ironing board! I started with a smaller one and eventually did get one large enough to fit my ironing board, see the photo below:
This mat is one of my favorite things in my sewing room! You will need to decide what size will work best for you. Consider how you will use it, where you will put it and what size will fit in your budget. Be sure to buy a high quality mat that is made of 100% wool and that is at least 1/2" thick.
Just what will a wool pressing mat do for you? It will give you flatter, crisper seams! I was very skeptical about this claim, but it's absolutely true! Wool has natural heat resistive properties and as you iron, it pushes the heat back into your item. This is why it's said that with a wool pressing mat, you are "pressing both sides of once". The result is a seam/quilt block that lays very flat and crisp. You actually get better results with less effort!
The fuzziness of the wool felt acts as a sort of "grip" for the fabric so whatever you're pressing stays put and doesn't slip as you press. This is a huge benefit when making half square triangles or flying geese!
You can pin projects to the mat with ease using straight pins. This helps in aligning seams and blocking quilt blocks as shown in the photo below:
Portable and Lightweight
Because these mats are lightweight, they are easy to move around! Put one next to your sewing machine when you need a small pressing station (especially useful for paper piecing). You can take one to class, or to a retreat, along with a mini-iron and you are all set.
I have noticed that the heat will go through the mat to some extent, so you do need to place it on a heat resistant surface (or at least put a towel under it). If you are using steam (more on that below), the heat will intensify through the mat, so be aware of that.
Caring for Your Mat
The fastest way to clean the threads from your mat is to use an adhesive roller. I keep one next to my ironing board for this purpose. If you need to wash your mat, hand wash it in a tub or sink and hang to air dry.
I recently found a great little tool from The Gypsy Quilter called the Wool Mat Cleaning Tool shown below:
This clever tool features a cylindrical cleaning blade, which you can simply drag across the surface of your wool mat to remove stray threads, lint, pet hair, and other debris that may have accumulated over time. The tool is made of metal and has a non-slip grip.
To Steam or not to Steam
I have seen that some (not all) manufacturers recommend not using steam when pressing on their mats. This is because the moisture from the steam can build up in the mat and lead to mildew and or an objectionable odor. I do use steam on mine and have never had a problem with either. If you are concerned and want to use steam, simply hang your mat up after use and let it air dry to be sure no moisture is trapped in the mat.
Does it Smell?
The most common complaint I hear from quilters who don't like their wool pressing mats is that they smell. This may vary between manufacturers however, because not everyone has this complaint. Some people say they only notice a smell when the mat gets wet (like when using steam). Some say it smells like wet socks out of the washer or like a "barnyard".
I have not noticed a smell from my mats, but I was raised on a ranch and maybe I'm just used to animal smells! It's important to note that of those who complain of a smell, they also state the smell has never transferred to their fabric and it does dissipate over time.
There are few quilting notions that I would say are indispensable to me. My wool pressing mats are certainly in that category. They make me a better quilter and make my quilting "job" easier. I encourage you to give them a try if you are on the fence, I think you will be happy you did!
Until next time, happy quilting!