ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Surviving the Steam a Seam Crisis

My apologies! The text size on my last post was way too small! Here is a revision with larger text.

As many of you know, Steam a Seam fusible web products have not been produced for at least the last 6 months. The paper manufacturer that provided the parchment release paper shut down. The same paper was not available elsewhere, so they were forced to find an alternative. A new Steam a Seam product was released in summer 2013, but there were problems with the new backing paper. The company has announced that it is seeking an alternative and will not release the product again until they are sure the problem is resolved.  You can read updates on the situation at this site: http://warmcompany.com/sas-update.html

I am confident that Steam a Seam products will be back on the market once the problems are solved. The product is an excellent one and the company (The Warm Company) that produces them are not a one-trick pony. They make several products, including Warm and Natural batting.

I have used nothing but Steam a Seam Lite for more than a decade. Lately I've been thrust into chaos trying to teach classes without Steam a Seam products. Over the Easter Weekend I made my SAQA donation quilt using Pellon Lite EZ Steam II instead. I thought I was going to write this blog post with a new found respect for this alternate product, that is until I made the quilt samples for my Northcott fabric line last night. I was enamoured over the Pellon Lite EZ Steam II recently because I built my entire SAQA donation while away from home and not near an iron.  Here is the big difference between Steam a Seam products and Pellon Lite EZ Steam II: NEVER TAKE AN IRON TO YOUR PELLON LITE EZ STEAM II UNTIL YOUR DESIGN IS BUILT. It is so tacky that everything adheres without ironing, and in fact, if you iron on the wrong paper side (matte parchment like side) you will never get the paper off! Tutorial below on how to use it.

Over the years I have been asked many times why my raw-edge applique does not fray. My response has been two-fold:  a) I use a high thread count cotton in my hand-dyes that is similar to the cotton used in commercial batiks, and b) the fusible holds it together. Then last night I tried to make my sample using my Northcott fabrics and I have now discovered what people are talking about. Pellon Lite EZ Steam II is just way too tacky and sticky to work well with commercial fabrics. It actually contributes to fraying. Here is a photo of what happened when I pulled the backing paper off the very sticky fused fabric using Pellon Lite EZ Steam II on such a delicate part of my quilt!

Well no worries, because I still had a bolt of Steam a Seam Lite in my closet from way back when.  Not even enough to supply a class, but enough to supply me for quite some time. That is how I solved the problem. PLEASE NOTE:  I AM USING STEAM A SEAM LITE (THE LIGHT VERSION OF THE STEAM A SEAM PRODUCT THAT ONLY HAS ONE BACKING PAPER). I believe the Steam a Seam 2 products, with the two backing papers, might contribute to fraying as well because of the extreme tackiness. The piece starts to fray as you are pulling the backing paper off. The more tackiness, the more pull on your fabric. Please scroll down below the photos in this blog post to read about the different types of Steam a Seam. There are four, and a lot of confusion out there about them. I have included the information I have been giving students in my classes to explain why these fusibles with pressure-sensitive, re-positionable adhesive are so helpful to building a design with many little parts.  BUT, they may be too much for designs built with commercial fabrics and delicate designs, unless like me, you use the ones with less tackiness (Steam a Seam Lite in my case). In my last blog post I shared photos of the two quilt samples I made last night using Steam a Seam Lite. That worked better because it is far less tacky, but always tacky enough for my needs.

When I use Steam a Seam Lite, I trace my reversed design to the paper side of the fusible web, cut it out roughly, iron to the back of my fabric, then cut out on the line. There is not much stress on the fabric when I pull the backing paper away because the Lite version is not as sticky as the two-sided version.

Here is a tutorial on how to use Pellon Lite EZ Steam II.

The product comes with a paper on each side of the fusible web. One paper is a heavy, waxy, freezer-type paper. The other side has a light, matte, parchment-like paper.

Trace your reversed design to the matte paper side.

Roughly cut out the design and pull off the heavy shiny paper side.
Finger press the fusible to the back side of your fabric. The matte parchment like paper will remain facing you. Never iron on this parchment-like paper. You will never get it off!

Cut our your shape on the line.
Here is the shape cut out. 

Remove the parchment paper and place your sticky backed shape on your quilt top. Watch out, it will be really sticky! You can build your design with no ironing. Once you are happy with the design press to make it permanent.

That fusible (Pellon Lite EZ Steam II) works great on tough, high-thread count cottons and large pieces, but I strongly suggest you find some Steam a Seam Lite for delicate pieces like this:

In fact, if you can, maybe choose a fusible without tackiness for delicate things like this, until Steam a Seam Lite is back on the market. A product like Shades Soft Fuse or Wonder Under Lite.  I want you to be successful with your fusing, so that is why I put this blog post together.

Now here is the information from the hand-out I give to student regarding Fusibles with Pressure-Sensitive, Repositionable Adhesives.

With Pressure Sensitive, Re-positionable Adhesive

What is so special about Steam a Seam fusible web?  It has a re-positionable, pressure-sensitive adhesive that enables your design to stay together while you build it. Each piece is still re-positionable until such time as you make it permanent by fusing it with an iron.

Steam a Seam products have not been produced for at least the last 6 months. The paper manufacturer that provided the parchment release paper shut down. The same paper was not available elsewhere, so they were forced to find an alternative. A new Steam a Seam product was released in summer 2013, but there were problems with the new backing paper. The company has announced that it is seeking an alternative and will not release the product again until they are sure the problem is resolved.  You can read updates on the situation at this site: http://warmcompany.com/sas-update.html

There are four types of Steam a Seam fusible web:
Steam a Seam:  regular weight fusible with one backing paper (not as sticky as Steam a Seam 2, but still has some pressure-sensitive adhesive)
Steam a Seam 2: regular weight fusible with two backing papers (sticky on both sides of the fusible web)
Lite Steam a Seam: light weight fusible with one backing paper (not as sticky as Lite Steam a Seam 2, but still has some pressure-sensitive adhesive). This is the one I prefer. I don’t need two backing papers, and this one is sticky enough for my needs.
Lite Steam a Seam 2: light weight fusible with two backing papers (sticky on both sides of the fusible web)

All of the above come in 12”, 18” and 24” widths. Remember to store your Steam a Seam in an air-tight container.  When it is exposed to air for a long time the backing paper comes away and makes the fusible harder to work with.

In the mean time, the only fusible I am aware of, that also has a repositionable, pressure-sensitive adhesive is made by Pellon. Do I like it as well as Steam a Seam? No, but right now it is the best alternative. EZ Steam only comes in 12” width, and there is no one-sided version of light EZ Steam.

Pellon EZ Steam: Regular weight fusible, one backing paper
Pellon EZ Steam 2: Regular weight fusible, two backing papers (sticky on both sides of web)
Pellon Lite EZ Steam 2: Light weight fusible with two backing papers (sticky on both sides of web)

This product was designed so you would never need to iron it until you press your final design in place. It is so tacky that it adheres to the back of your fabric just by finger pressing. Note that it comes with two backing papers: one is heavy and shiny, much like freezer paper; the other is light and matte, much like parchment paper. You will need to trace your design to the matte (parchment paper side). Cut your design out roughly, leaving a bit around the traced line. Remove the heavy, shiny paper, and position your design to the back of your fabric, press with your fingers, and pull off the parchment paper. Never press the parchment paper and fusible to your fabric because it is almost impossible to remove! Now you can place your design in the appropriate place on your background fabric. It will stay in place until you are finished, but can be re-positioned at any time up until you finalize things with an iron. 


  1. Thank you for this thorough review!! I like Steam-a-Seam 2 LITE as a surface on foundation fabric, on which I can easily position fabrics for my landscapes (these usually go from side to side on a backing fabric, in layers). Alas, with the demise (however temporary) of SAS products altogether, I find my preferred alternative is Wonder Under. This is because I want it for more than the appliqueing of small pieces onto a background. But I will tuck away your information for handy reference!! :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with Steam a Seam 2 Lite Margaret. Yours is a different process than I use at the moment, and I can see how it would work well for you. I wrote this post because many of my blog followers have taken my classes and use the fusible the way that I do, and also because I want people to be successful using the commercial fabrics and my pattern. It was quite a revelation to me as I had not worked with commercial fabrics in a long time. Let's hope SAS products are back SOON!!!

  3. Thank you for the great tutorial! I always seem to have trouble knowing what fusible to use.

  4. Jo, I recall that I tried just about every fusible out there when I was new to fusing. After making several quilts, I discovered Steam a Seam Lite, and haven't used anything else since. That is until it became unavailable and I had to find an alternative for my classes. I think you just have to try them and after a while you will develop a favorite for the types of processes you like to do.

  5. Elaine, I found your comments on Pellon EZ Steam Lite 2 and Steam a Seam very interesting! I have used the Steam a Seam Lite 2 in the past and have had some issues with it, but thought it was the only fusible with tackiness. I have subsequently used the EZ Steam Lite 2 and found it to be OK, but very difficult to get the shiny side of the paper backing off. It also seems to make the fused area stiffer than the Steam a Seam Lite 2. It is more than adequate in the absence of Steam a Seam.

    Now that I know how to use the Steam a Seam 2 (I have a piece left) I will certainly be trying it out. Now waiting anxiously for the new supply!

    On the point of fraying fabrics, I have found it very difficult to not have little fibres poking out. I have always dealt with that problem by having a pair of very fine bladed snips, with slightly curved blades, that I use to clip off most of the stray threads. Tedious! The other factor is how sharp your scissors are. I just picked up the wrong pair and ended up with a very frayed piece. Now that I have cut out a piece of fabric using the Steam a Seam Lite, it appears to be much better. On the piece that I am working on now, I have found the Kona cotton to be the only one without little threads sticking out. So thread count of the fabric, as you stated, is a major factor in getting clean edges.

    Thanks again for your review.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments Valerie. I think those little fibres that stick out and need to be cut off, are more obvious with regular commercial fabrics that are printed on one side. Because the backside is much lighter usually, the threads really show when fraying occurs. Not so much with batiks and hand-dyes, and especially not with high thread count fabrics. I suspect the Kona Cottons are also dyed all the way through (front and back).

      I am sure you are right about the sharp scissors! Makes a lot of sense. When I build my florals on a piece of muslin, and then cut the flower out, I often have a bit of fraying from the muslin, peeking out around the flower. I've used that sharp scissors method too, but I also find a set of textile markers really valuable. I just dot the little bits of fray with colour and they blend in. You have to try this on a scrap first to make sure the colour isn't too overwhelming.

      It seemed to me that the SAS Lite, which is less sticky than the SAS Lite 2, did not fray as much because it didn't take as much pull to get the paper off.

      This was a very interesting experiment for me! At least there has been some advantage to Steam a Seam being off the market. I had a chance to experience what others have asked about.

      I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    2. What to use to clean the iron when you iron the fusible side to the iron by mistake??help

  6. Thank you so much for publishing this! I was unaware of the ongoing issue with the steam-a-seam as like you I had quite a bit stockpiled up. When I ran out recently, I visited a LQS and was offered the Pellon EZ steam 2 as an alternative after they explained the ongoing issue with steam-a-seam. I purchased some on their advice and tried to use it that night as I would normally use the steam-a-seam 2 (i.e. with an iron). As you noted above, the second paper backing will not come off after an iron has been used on it and I was left incredibly frusterated and pissed of as I had a project to be finished urgently. Glad to know it's not just me - I plan on calling the LQS where I bought the Pellon product tomorrow and letting them know of the issues/differences with it.

  7. Glad you found the info helpful Emma. I sure will be glad when Steam a Seam is back on the market!

  8. This was really very helpful! Thank you! I had just used up my supply of Lite Steam a Seam 2. I use it mainly for making t-shirts for my boys. I was frustrated when I saw Joann's didn't carry it anymore. Thank you, thank you!

  9. Excellent Blog. It answered all my questions!!

  10. My Steam A Seam 2 Lite has lost some of its tackiness. Can this be revived by exposing it to steam from an iron about 12 inches away from the Steam A Seam (after the paper has been removed)? Has anyone tried this? If so, does it work? Thx so much!


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