Tailor’s hams

When I first started sewing, I decided to make a Tailor’s ham and sleeve roll from the Merchant & Mills Sewing book. At the time I wasn’t entirely sure what a Tailor’s ham was used for, but it looked like a simple and achievable sew, so I went for it. I later discovered that it’s really useful! If you have a curved seam it’s rarely possible to press it properly on a flat ironing board, so the Tailor’s ham provides a sturdy curved surface for pressing crotch curves, bust darts, princess seams, and more.

Unfortunately, when I made my original Tailor’s ham I didn’t do a particularly good job. I hadn’t stuffed it very well so it wasn’t as sturdy as I needed it to be. I had also used a polyester fabric which meant that it couldn’t withstand high pressing temperatures. Also, I hadn’t snipped the seam allowance and the seams were puckered. So I made some new hams, and it was so much fun!

The completed Tailor’s hams

1. The fabric

I used an old cream bed sheet for the cotton lining, a charming sewing-themed white and blue printed cotton for the high temperature side, and a navy harris tweed wool for the other side. I re-used the sawdust from my original ham for the stuffing and I decided to make my new hams slightly smaller so that I would have enough sawdust to make an extra ‘boob ham’.

2. The patterns

I made three different types of ham:

  • Traditional Tailor’s ham. For this I used the excellent pattern tutorial video which was part of the 2021 Sewing Weekender from Claire Sews. I can’t put a link to the video because it was part of the sewing weekender which you need to pay for, but the video has loads of excellent tips and tricks for getting a professional finish. The key things I took away from it were:
    • The lining is important because it not only adds an extra layer of fabric to make the surface smoother, it also enables you to re-cover the ham when it becomes worn without needing to restuff it. However, if using a lining then it’s helpful to baste the lining and outer together at the hole where you are stuffing, otherwise the bits of sawdust get in between the layers.
    • It is worth spending a lot of time compacting the sawdust with a wooden spoon and it’s amazing how solid you can make your ham if you do it well. I found I needed to compress it down a lot to make the curved seams smooth at the one end. When you think you’ve stuffed it enough, stuff it some more.
  • Sleeve roll. For this I used the same dimensions as my original sleeve roll, taken from the Merchant & Mills Sewing book. I included a lining and made the opening at the end rather than the side, but otherwise it was the same. 
  • Boob ham. I made this based on the excellent blog guide from Kat Makes. She tells you how to draft the pattern based on your size, but also includes a free pattern that you can download if you want to speed the process up. I decided to draft my own.
Photo of the sleeve roll (left), boob ham (middle) and traditional Tailor’s ham (right).

3. The challenges

I didn’t have too many challenges with this sew, I just found it incredibly satisfying. I suppose it was a bit messy with all the sawdust stuffing, but I don’t mind a bit of mess. I enjoyed hand sewing the holes closed with tidy whipstitches and seeing it all come together. I found the boob ham the most fiddly of the three because I didn’t do a great job of drafting and it took me a while to get the sizing right. Also, to make sure it would sit flat I had used a piece of cardboard for the base (as Kat suggests), but I hadn’t chosen a very stiff piece of cardboard which meant once I’d stuffed it the base was quite distorted. To get around this I sewed a piece of foam to the base, which resolved the issue and it looks fine now. 

4. The final result

I’m delighted with these, and I know I’ll get so much use out of them. My favourite is the Tailor’s ham. I was able to stuff it well so it has some good curvature, and I’m pleased that the seams have turned out neatly.  Here are some close up photographs of it on the different sides:

The sleeve roll is probably my least favourite because I regret not stuffing it more. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it’s the least firm of the three hams I’ve made. This sleeve roll is quite narrow compared to others I’ve seen online, but I prefer to have a narrow roll so that it can be used for children’s clothes as well as adult ones. The roll only needs to be the width of a seam after all. Here are some photos, with a close up of the whipstitching used to close up the ham at the end.

I’m really pleased with the boob ham, but I’m slightly worried that the seams on the surface of the ham will mark the fabric when pressing. So for fabrics which might mark I’ll need to remember to use something to cushion it. But other than that, I think it’s great and I can see myself using it a lot – particularly for princess seams. Here are some photos:

If you don’t have a Tailor’s ham, or any other type of ham, and think you might find it useful then I really recommend making one. It’s far cheaper than buying one, it’s a fun project, really doesn’t take very long to make, and it can make pressing so much easier. A great way to use up scraps of fabric as well.

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