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Getting the Wrinkles Out

January 8, 2012

When I was about eleven or twelve years old, the household ironing became my responsibility. I’m not quite sure why – perhaps it was because by that time I was already making most of my own clothes and was, therefore, intimately familiar with the process, or maybe it was because no one else would do it.  60s IroningIn any case, once a week I would open up the ironing board, plug in the heavy iron’s frayed black cord, and wedge myself into the laundry room between the washer and dryer on one side, and the rabbit’s cage on the other, and set about the task of pressing my father’s shirts and handkerchiefs, the linen tablecloths and napkins we used every day, and the various blouses, dresses, and skirts that my sister and I had worn the previous week and left for our mother to wash and dry (‘dry cleaning’ was reserved for only the most delicate items – it was considered far too expensive for everyday clothing, regardless of the ‘laundering instructions’ tags sewn inside).

Leisure SuitIn the sixties, almost all clothing needed ironing.  Cotton and linen were popular (and you not only ironed everything, but you sprayed items with starch first so it would ‘hold’!) I suppose there were some mixed blends during that time, too, but pretty much everything that came out of our washer/dryer needed to be smoothed out using lots of heat, steam, and a great deal of downward (not to mention back and forth) force. NOTE: no-iron polyester didn’t hit the scene until the seventies (who doesn’t fondly recall polyester pantsuits and blouses for women, and leisure suits paired with psychedelic patterned shirts for men? Or, heaven help us, the reverse in the 80s with no-matter-how-much-you-iron-it-you’ll-never-get-all-the-wrinkles-out rayon)? 

Ironing a Man's ShirtMy grandmother (my Dad’s mother) was an accomplished seamstress and she took it upon herself to teach me the ‘proper’ way to iron pleats and darts, ruffles and frills, hems and cuffs (vertically, NEVER horizontally).  I have to admit that later in life, I’d occasionally ‘cheat’ when I was in a hurry and simply go back and forth or up and down without considering the implications of ‘doing it wrong’ (I always felt just a little bit guilty, though – as if I knew my grandmother was watching me and tsk-tsking the whole time). Ironing was hot, tiresome, boring, and felt like some sort of punishment (I recall my Sunday school teacher once describing what Hell was like, and I pictured it as a place where everyone was forced to do ironing all day long!)

60s Pattern‘Creative’ ironing was a little different.  Since I made most of my own clothes when I was growing up (including a white velvet gown for my first wedding) and a lot of my kids’ clothes when they were little, I didn’t mind flattening out newly sewn seams, finishing cuffs and hems, or pressing in a neat crease.  There was pride, I suppose, in producing that end result and so it didn’t seem like such a chore (it was also done in smaller doses).  An added bonus was that fabric blends were improving and so very few of those items would ever need ironing again!

My love-hate relationship with ironing continued for many years.  Once the boys got past being okay with going out in public in ‘mom-made’ clothing, and fabric and patterns became more expensive than buying ready-made items, I sewed less and less often (in the past ten years I’ve made some curtains and bedspreads, and done the odd fix or repair job, but that’s about it).  Do Not IronAt the same time, fewer and fewer off-the-rack items require more than the odd touch up after a quick tumble in the dryer (especially if you hang then up while they’re still damp).  I bought myself a sleek, new Teflon-coated iron on sale a while ago, but I haven’t taken it out more than a half dozen times in as many years.  And I won’t say that I deliberately steer clear of items that have the ‘Iron’ symbol on their care tags, but I far prefer the ones that clearly say ‘Do Not Iron’.  I mean, why do the extra work when you really don’t have to, right?

Last summer I gave my living room a minor ‘lift’ by changing up the colours.  I added a few purple touches to the (boring) black and beige scheme – a new throw and some pillows for the couch, assorted matchy-matchy knick-knacks on the bookshelves, a new leather ottoman, purple sheers at the windows.  Christmas OrnamentsAt Christmastime, I take down the drapes and hang ornaments from the curtain clips (this year I went out and bought purple and silver ones to match my new decor).  Deciding this was a good time to rid the sheers of six months of accumulated dust, I tossed them in the dryer (on low heat, with an anti-static sheet), for ten minutes.  When I took them out, they were one big wrinkled mess (note to self: read care instructions BEFORE tossing things into the dryer!)  It turns out these particular drapes were NOT dryer friendly AND required ironing after washing (I’d ironed the bottoms gently after hemming them, but hadn’t bothered to study the laundering instructions).  So I put them aside until after the Christmas decorations came down (a few days ago) and then dragged out the ironing board and the iron and set about attempting to get the wrinkles out.

Curtains After IroningThis wasn’t as easy as it seemed at first glance. I had to be careful not to turn the iron up too high (or it would melt whatever synthetic material the drapes were made from); too low and nothing happened.  The steam feature on the iron didn’t seem to be working (probably because I honestly can’t remember the last time I used it and the vents were clogged with lime from our hard water) so I had to gently spray (with the barbeque sprayer) each panel before ironing (and ironing, and ironing) to attempt to remove the wrinkles.  By the time one end was done and I turned my attention to the other end, the first was on the floor getting wrinkled all over again!  It was a long and tedious process (four panels = 2 hours).  When each was done, I immediately hung it up – but it was obvious that I hadn’t exactly gotten rid of ALL the wrinkles (but at least I tried, right!?!?!?)  The best I can say about the day was that it took me back to a time when EVERYTHING needed ironing, and made me realize (and appreciate) just how fortunate we are today that technology has given us primarily ‘no iron’ fabrics!

Memories are funny things – they can be triggered by any number of incidents and can flood you with images and sensations you thought you’d forgotten.  For a little while one day this week, I was twelve years old again, down in my parents’ basement, listening to my grandmother telling me how to iron, and wondering when I’d ever reach the bottom of the laundry basket. 

Maybe I never will – I’m still trying to get the wrinkles out here on … the other side of 55.

Getting The Wrinkles Out

  1. January 9, 2012 7:48 am

    I too, was delegated the ironing at around age 10 or so. Since there were four of us I did so willingly because I could see my mother needed help getting to the bottom of the laundry hamper. Since the washer/dryer were downstairs in the garage of a split level home, I watched her climb up and down stairs. I didn’t mind ironing knowing she did that multiple times. Way back then we had a wonderful ironing board built into the kitchen wall, like a murphy bed. I liked it so much, I asked my husband to install one in our laundry room so it wouldn’t take up space.
    I am altar guild coordinator for our church. Saturday I spent hours ironing a drape for the altar until I was finally satisfied it was wrinkle free. That was a job.
    In Mexico we had an ironing board they call “el burro” (thought you might enjoy knowing that). I gave it up after my husband installed the “murphy” ironing board but miss it for sentimental reasons. Loved this post!!

    • January 9, 2012 10:46 am

      I love the ‘el burro’ reference – THANKS. We had one of those drop down boards in the first house my family lived in (until I was 10); my father removed the board and made it into a narrow ‘pantry’ for cans of soup and spices when my mother insisted it made more sense to iron downstairs (next to the washer/dryer). I hate having to drag the board out (from behind the furnace) and find a clear space to set it up (that’s near an outlet to plug in the iron); sometimes I ‘cheat’ and just toss a towel over the big counter we have downstairs and iron that way (on those few occasional when I actually do it)!


  2. Yvonne Harris permalink
    January 8, 2012 6:04 pm

    A-remember your wedding dress-it was beautiful
    B-all curtains in my house get washed and hung up wet – wrinkles are pretty much gone with the drying process-I do NOT enjoy ironing either!

    • January 8, 2012 6:12 pm

      You’ve got a good memory (that was a LOT of years ago); I ‘repurposed’ the wedding gown as a ‘fairy costume’ one year for Hallowe’en (the second time around, I bought my wedding dress). I tried ‘misting’ the sheers and hanging them up, but the wrinkles didn’t come out. Boo! Hiss!


  3. Cathy permalink
    January 8, 2012 4:03 pm

    How times have changed! When I was working, my ironing board was a permanent piece of furniture in my bedroom. It always seemed something I was going to wear each day needed to be ‘touched up’, or so I thought. I was actually surprised a few years ago, sitting around the lunch table in the staff room, to hear that a number of my colleagues had actually thrown out their iron! I still find this a little drastic.. And I did notice after that that some of them came to work with slightly wrinkled trousers on occasion. Although my one friend always looks absolutely spot-on. (And she was the first to say she’d thrown out her iron). Personally, I think she must stand by the dryer ,waiting for it to stop, haul everything out immediately and fold it all. I don’t always get around to emptying the dryer until the next day! Myself, I still find the need to iron my linen tablecloth when the family’s coming for dinner and, even though I’m careful when folding away my sweaters, they still seem to get wrinkled in spots, so a quick once-over makes me feel presentable. My daughter thinks nothing of going around with wrinkled clothes. Ahh well, to iron or not to iron, that is the question!

    • January 8, 2012 4:13 pm

      I do recall when most of my ‘work clothes’ needed ironing, but I quickly got past that! I don’t think either of my kids (or their girlfriends) owns an iron (or would know how to use one) and half the time they walk around looking like they’ve slept in their clothes. SIGH!


  4. January 8, 2012 2:44 pm

    Boy, does this bring back memories. I started ironing my father’s heavy work clothes (plus the same things as you) when I was nine years old, before spray irons. We had a sprinkler gizmo we’d put into the top of a pop bottle filled with water and would sprinkle the clothes to dampen them slightly. They would be rolled up to stay damp while I worked through the pile. Sometimes, however, I wouldn’t finish and would forget the damp ones, only to find them a few days later…stinky and mildew. I must be weird, though, because I still iron and don’t mind it at all.

    • January 8, 2012 4:10 pm

      I remember those sprinkler things, too! I’m sure glad we don’t need to use them anymore (or the spray starch). Some things have definately changed for the better.


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