Working in theatre I've long appreciated the value of a good steam. All wardrobe departments will house a big stand steamer for sprucing up costumes which won't stand for pressing and to prolong life between trips to the dry cleaner. Steam can give skirts bounce, give shape to a suit sleeve head and perk up bows. I've actually borrowed a little hand held steamer from work before when I wanted to wear a particular rtw dress to a friend's wedding but it was looking rather crumpled and sorry for itself! The fabric would have stood up to an iron if I used a pressing cloth but there were lots of little details that were too fiddly and intricate to press. Now that I sew I can appreciate the benefits of steaming clothes even more. I love working with silk and also love design features like pleats, twists and tucks which can be tricky to get looking their best under an iron.
So when Tefal asked if I'd like to try their new Access Steam hand held steamer in exchange for a product review I wasn't going to say no! I've taken a bit of time to put it through it's paces on a few different garments and fabrics and have been really pleased with both the results and how easy it is to use. I've found it works best of fabrics with a drape and flow to them; fabrics which you want a nice crisp finish on really need the pressure of an iron to get clean sharp edges but the steamer is still a good option for perking it up if it's been sitting in the wardrobe for a while.
I know most of us home sewers are limited in space (unless your lucky enough to have one of those beautiful big crafting studios I eye up with envy on Pinterest all the time!) so this is a great tool as it can be squirrelled away in a cupboard until you need it; it's a little bigger than an iron and slightly heavier. The water tank is removable so you just take it out, fill it at the tap and click it back into it's slot at the back of the handle.
It has a long 3m cord which is great for manoeuvrability and heats up in just 45 seconds, with a light on the back showing you when it's ready. There are two attachments; one a brush to move the fibres of the cloth and allow the steam to penetrate the fabric and the second is a cover which helps prevent any water drops from leaking onto your cloths. These simply clip on and off over the head of the appliance. I was slightly concerned that the bristles of the brush might be a bit too abrasive for delicate fabrics like silk so I'll stick to the other attachment for any precious garments.
I've actually tried to use my iron as some sort of steamer in the past by holding it up and using blasts of steam but let me tell you that just isn't the same! I had to press the steam blast button over and over on my iron to build up a decent amount of steam. This gadget has a lock which enables you to have a continuous flow of steam. Obviously it's not a replacement for actual cleaning so precious/delicate garments will still need the odd dry clean but it will freshen things up and mean less frequent trips.
My favourite use for it so far has actually been to prepare fabric before cutting. I've finally decided on the wrap dress pattern which I want to use my precious yardage of New Zealand merino wool for and wanted to crack on with cutting it out last night. I'm always a bit nervous about sewing with wool because most wools are not machine washable and even if you do decide to make a dry clean only garment the fabric still needs to be pretreated as it can shrink so much. The Fabric Store advertises their merino wool as being machine washable so I popped it on a gentle machine cycle and hey presto it came out beautifully. However, I was still wary of it not being shrunk to it's full extent. I've seen various techniques for preshrinking wool on sewing blogs including the tumble dryer and wet towel method (I don't have a tumble dryer), dry cleaning (expensive) or pressing it between wet press cloths then leaving it to rest for a few minutes before moving on to the next section (so time consuming!). So my new hand held steamer saved me a bunch of time/hassle/money. I simply hung up my wool and steamed the heck out of it! It still took a fair amount of time as I had a couple of yards to work through but it was so easy and I only needed to refill the tank once.
The tank can take a decent amount of water; obviously you don't want it to hold too much or it will make it too heavy to carry and manoeuvre. In fact the amount of water it holds, and therefore the length of use before you need to refill it is pretty much the only noticeable disadvantages between using this and one of the stand steamers at work which can obviously have a big tank in the base and run for some time. At home I'd only ever need to do a couple of garments rather than a whole show of dresses and suits on a daily basis so this is the perfect size.
One of the things that I love about sewing is trying out new things, new patterns, new techniques and new fabrics. This means that I have a fairly varied wardrobe and not all the garments I've made can be looked after with a quick spin in the washing machine and a press (I'm looking at YOU boned Oscar de la Renta silk chiffon party dress!). Special occasion dresses such as these which only get a trip out once in a blue moon can often look a little sorry for themselves after a few months in the wardrobe and a good steam is a great way to give them a lift.
The steamer was provided for me free of charge by Lexis on behalf of Tefal in exchange for my review. All options are entirely my own!