Freestanding Tailor Ham

I started sewing because I wanted to save money, with a view that I can save £10 for each pair of trousers which I shortened myself. Fast forward 2 years, I have spent way more money than I should on sewing. That said, the money, effort and time spent weren’t wasted because I got a lot of satisfaction throughout. I still think of using my sewing skills to save money from making cat beds to sewing my wedding dress

Tailor ham is not cheap to buy, especially professional ones such as these from Paris. I came across instructions on making tailor ham on Adele Margolis’ vintage sewing book Fashion Sewing for Everyone before but couldn’t find saw dust at the time. Thanks to Chance of Rain’s post I made a medium sized tailor ham and seam roll with soft wood hamster bedding as filling.

Recently my local pet store started stocking sawdust (hooray!). Now I can make an even bigger tailor ham (it probably should be called tailor whale since its so big) for pressing large curved areas such as jacket fronts. I also wanted to make a standard size ham that can stand on its own without using a ham holder, frankly because I can’t find any ham holder to buy in the UK. Here are my freestanding tailor ham and the ‘whale’.


My freestanding tailor ham and the super sized tailor ‘whale’.

Supplies Required:

  • Thick plain cotton as underlining such as twill or drill
  • Home Dec weight cotton for the outer layer, it’s recommended to have one pure wool fabric side. I used some left over Cath Kidston cotton duck fabric on both sides as I’ll be using this for pressing with high heat.
  • Sawdust (I got mine from pet supply shop) or soft wood hamster bedding (don’t get the coloured ones!)
  • Sewing machine
  • Good quality polyester thread
  • Bee wax for waxing the thread before hand sewing
  • Something to shove the filling into the ham (I used a small plastic jug and my hand)
  • A plastic bag or liner to catch the sawdust / bedding

Step 1:
Decide how big you want the ham to be. My tailor ‘whale’ is about 56cm long, 26cm wide in the middle and 10cm wide at the pointy side. My freestanding ham is about 28cm long, 25cm wide in the middle and it’s shaped like an egg with a flat bottom. You can either draw the pattern from scratch using ruler and French curves or download the patterns I drew. Instructions on printing the pattern are on the pdf.

Cutting layout for tailor ham and whale

Step 2:
Steam press the outer fabric and the underlining fabric. Cut out two pieces of the underlining and two pieces of the outer fabric using the paper pattern. Be sure to cut one underlining piece and one outer fabric piece using the elliptical pattern piece if you are going to make the freestanding ham.


Underlining and the outer fabric were cut using the same pattern.

Step 3:
Overlay the outer fabric piece onto the top of the underlining piece making sure that both layers are flat and there are no bubbles. Pin along the perimeter with the pins pointing out. This ensures that the outer fabric is taunt.


Pinning the outer fabric with pins facing out to avoid bubbles.

Step 4:
Baste along the seam about 1/8″ inside the seam allowance. I’ve allowed for 1cm seam allowance (I used 3.5mm long straight stitch. Repeat until all outer fabric pieces are basted.


Underlining is basted to outer fabric.

Step 5:
For the tailor ‘whale’, put the two fabric units right sides together (now the underlining should face the outside), stitch along the perimeter but leave a 10cm (4″) opening for putting in the filling later. For the freestanding ham, stitch the two main fabric units together, leaving the bottom open.


Stitching the two fabric units together.


For the tailor ‘leg’, leave a 10cm opening for shoving in filling later.

Step 6:
Press the seam flat to embed the stitches. Clip into the seam allowance. Clipping should be closer together at tight curves.


Clip all curved seam allowances. Note that the flat bit of the freestanding ham is left open.

Step 7:
Press one side of the seam allowance away from the other. This will make turning easier.


Press seam allowances open.

Step 8:
Turn the ham right side out. Use a point turner or knitting needle to make sure that the shaping is nice. Press.

Step 9:
For the freestanding ham, gently press the bottom piece’s seam allowance to the wrong side. Whipstitch part of this bottom piece to the main fabric pieces forming a lid.


Pin the elliptical piece to the bottom.


Whipstitch along half of the opening to form a lid.


Check to see if the ham can stand up and is balanced.

Step 10:
Now the messy part begins and its the time when the plastic bag or liner becomes useful. Shove the saw dust or hamster bedding into the ham. I did this inside a large plastic bin bag so all the runaway sawdust get caught by the bag. Use a wooden spoon or relevant utensils to pack in the filling. The ham should feel really solid. As there were sawdust everywhere I wasn’t able to take a photo of the process…


Ham must feel solid and full.

Step 11:
Once the ham is really full, stitch the hole or the lid close using double threads which have been waxed and ironed.


Here I’ve whipstitched around the opening once towards one direction. A second row of whipstitch will be done in opposite direction. You don’t want to ham to leak or explode. It would be a disaster.

Step 12:


By this time you’ll need to spend some time hoovering picking up any stray sawdust or bedding…


It really can stand up! Obviously the tailor ‘whale’ can’t.

15 thoughts on “Freestanding Tailor Ham

  1. Pingback: Swing Coat Progress Report No. 2 | sosewlovely

  2. Thank you!!! I am so grateful. I hope I can find some sawdust… hmm we have a builder living across the road, maybe he could help!

    • No problem. Hamster bedding (natural wood shavings) is a good alternative too if you can’t find saw dust. It’ll be a bit lighter (less easy to make it stands up) but still much cheaper than buying one!

  3. Pingback: Chinese Silk Brocade Jacket – Seaming and Collar | sosewlovely

    • Dear Veanne, I love this blog and I am sure there are a lot of bloggers who are looking for the tailor ham ( I was one of them long ago), so I reblogged your post. I hopoe you don’t mind. However if you do not wish to have your posts reblogged please let me know so I could remove it from my blog.
      Usually I do not reblog posts – unless they are very exceptional.
      Looking forward to hearing from you. All the best, Beata

  4. Pingback: Taylor’s Ham project accomplished | Red Point Tailor

  5. Thank you for sharing the pattern… made mine today and share with Sewing for Steampunk and Cosplay(FB) … smg.x

  6. Ahhhh…so glad I perservered in my search. Surprising how many instructions are out there for making pressing tools! But yours is the one for me. Not only is it freestanding, but you supplied the pattern! Thank you so very much!

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