The Lost Art of Ironing

The lost art of ironing—I say this tongue-in-cheek because I’m glad those days are gone. But does anyone else remember growing up and helping their mom create wonderful, crisp little piles of folded sleeves and collars, and warm linens that draped so beautifully you could hang them in a store window?

And remember how good they smelled, coming in off the clothes line?

I was the only girl in the house, and as soon as I was tall enough to stand behind an ironing board, it was my job to press the tea towels and bed sheets. This usually took place once a week in the evening, in front of our black-and-white TV, watching Carol Burnett.

Tea towels were my favorite because I could easily manage their size. I’d fold one in thirds along the length, press the two seams, then fold it horizontally in thirds again, and press it. Those were the days before automatic steam irons, so I hand-sprinkled water onto the cloth, then lowered the iron to sear them, fully enjoying the sizzling and popping sounds I received as my reward. My mom’s tea towels came in all colors. I admired and appreciated each one, and noticed instantly if she ever bought a new pattern.

I guess it was a girl thing.

We never had a lot growing up, in fact I think we only had one set of sheets for each bed, but they were always freshly laundered and pressed. Today, my mom would cringe at the state of my own linens, if I allowed her to look. But then, she never worked full time as a writer like I do, so it’s not my fault!

On a visit to a pioneer museum, I stopped in the kitchen and marveled at the irons they had on display, resting on the stove where they were heating. There was more than one type? You could have several irons of various sizes and shapes?

How decadent!

I wanted each one!

I’m not sure what I would do with them. Maybe, since I’m a writer, I’d just sit and gaze at the clunky irons and wonder about the mother-daughter stories behind them.

See the one with the ridges? It’s called a rocking style fluting iron and was used to ruffle, crimp, or press little pleats into starched fabric. It also gave the fabric a special sheen. Fluting irons were often used for collars and cuffs to give added distinction—and were in their heyday in the mid to late 1800s. Blacksmiths often forged cast iron stands, called trivets, for the fancier irons.

There were dozens and dozens of different types of irons. Slender ones for hard-to-reach places like sleeves, irons used just for hats, delicate laces, or for pressing flowers, or for billiard tables. And—I would have loved this—small irons made for children. I’ll never take my single iron for granted again!

Times have changed and I’m glad we no longer have to iron everything we wear. I’m in love with poly-cotton blends. My husband, God bless him, irons his own shirts and laundry. Yet, there’s still this little niggling of guilt that I don’t do it for him. It’s not my job, I tell myself, and wonder where the guilt comes from. Probably because growing up in a house full of boys, I was the only girl and the only one assigned to ironing chores.

They turned out to be wonderful memories….

Have you seen the remake of the movie Hairspray, and John Travolta’s character as the mom who is the professional laundress? I would have loved that job!

Do you have happy ironing memories? Do you still love a good crease? Did you ever make your own starch? My mom had a store-bought spray starch she used once in a while, but I was never allowed near it. What chores were you responsible for as a kid, and which ones did you enjoy the most?

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