Students of history can look back and see the rise and fall of many civilizations, cultures, and crafts. Old ways are swept away by the invention of new ways. The automobile replaced horse and buggy. The computer replaced typewriters, handwriting, spelling, and face-to-face communication. The advent of permanent-press clothing deleted the need for the domestic art of ironing.
It wasn’t always so, you know. Ironing use to be a major skill for the average homemaker. Monday was wash day; Tuesday was for ironing. And back in those days, everything needed ironing. Shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, blouses, underwear, dish towels, hankies, napkins, table clothes, bed sheets and pillow cases.
As a young child, I remember watching my grandmother preparing her clean laundry for ironing. She would lay each item out on a big table in the back room. Then she would take a glass of water, and sprinkle both sides of the item. Then she would carefully roll up each item into a tight, damp log and stack them to await ironing the next day. I was completely mystified by the whole procedure.
I remember the day my mother taught me how to iron, properly. I must have been in 6th or 7th grade. We started out with learning to iron pillow cases, hankies, and napkins. Nice easy flat stuff. I felt so empowered! My mom was entrusting me with ‘big stuff’! (I realized later that I was being set up for a new chore.)
As my ironing skill progressed, Mom taught me how to iron blouses and dress shirts. “Start with the collar, then the shoulder areas. Next iron the sleeves. Finally, starting at the front, iron your way around the main body of the shirt. Hang it up on a hanger immediately.”
At one point, Grandma bestowed upon my Mom the gift of a mangle.
A mangle. Supposedly the next generation in domestic ironing. I was terrified of it. Electric roller, rolling endlessly against a metal hot plate, flattening whatever got caught in it’s grip. Of course, since ironing was part of my weekly chores, I had to learn how to operate the monster. With some things, like pillow cases, it was quite easy. Shirts, pants, and bed sheets were more challenging.
Gradually, the introduction of permanent press cloth made the need for ironing almost obsolete. Who irons bed sheets or underwear anymore? I have met people who don’t even own an iron or ironing board. Times change, and we change with them. I do need however, to find a new use for my ironing board…