I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.


I couldn’t remember how to iron a shirt this morning.

ironWhen I was maybe 10 years old, my mother taught me how to iron a shirt.  I knew I was getting good at ironing when she promoted me to shirts.

She had a whole ironing sequence.  First, I learned how to iron handkerchiefs.  My father carried handkerchiefs in his pocket (still does, I think) and she would have me iron them.  A square of fabric is a pretty tough thing to mess up.

Then I advanced to pillowcases.  Yes, we ironed the cotton pillowcases.  A double rectangle of fabric was a logical progression.

Third was doilies and table runners.  This meant I had moved from beginner ironing to intermediate.  Ironing lace and eyeleted doilies required the use of press cloth, a piece of fabric that we soaked in water, then wrung out and placed over the object to be ironed.  I think many of our press cloths were old cloth diapers.

Advanced ironing was a men’s dress shirt.  I had arrived when I was shown how to iron a dress shirt.

“First, flatten the yoke of the shirt on the ironing board and press it.  Then the collar.”  My mother demonstrated and watched me do the first several.

Everything had to be done in the exact same order.  I hope I get it right now, because, when I went to iron a shirt this morning, I drew a blank.  It’s either early Alzheimer’s or the fact that permanent press has virtually eradicated the need for most  ironing.

I think this is the order, though:  yoke — collar — sleeves — back panel — front panels.  Then we had to hang it on a hanger, just so.

I’m sure my mother had been taught to iron shirts by her mother.  And I’m sure my grandmother was taught by her mother.  My great-grandmother took in laundry from the wealthy folk on the north shore of Boston.  My great-grandfather was a bushelling tailor.  Between the two of them, ironing was probably an art form.

And now I have dropped the ball.

Have I taught my children how to iron a shirt?  I don’t think so, because I’m having troubling remembering how to myself.

Alzheimer’s question — if I put an ironing board in front of my mother and an iron, would she remember?


9 comments on “Ironing

  1. catterel
    May 1, 2013

    Try it – she might remember! My grandmother used to heat the iron at the fire (no electric ones in her youth) so she had to iron the parts that showed first, while the iron was hottest – that would be front and cuffs. Collars were detachable in her day! I used to think the phrase “strike while the iron is hot” had something to do with ironing …

    • sarahlangdon
      May 1, 2013

      Oh, dear — I forgot the cuffs! They were in the sequence somewhere too.
      We had a number of those old irons around the house — mainly used as bookends. I wonder if they came from my great-grandparents?

  2. Mia
    May 1, 2013

    Dear Sarah
    I used to love ironing and to me it was sort of an art form. To iron my husband’s pants with the pleats 100% in the middle was not easy. Ever since I have fallen ill with Fm/CFS I am no longer able to iron more that one er two things at a time and really miss this good old times.

    • sarahlangdon
      May 5, 2013

      I was never very good at pleats on pants. The worst to iron were pleated skirts though. So much work! And then the fabric would shift just a little and mess the whole thing up.

  3. Irene Mejer
    May 1, 2013

    It was my mother who taught me how to iron clothes too! She would even iron underwear ! And the iron was heavy (the electric ones arrived when I was about 11!).. I became obssessed with ironing my clothes and would not wear one if i see a wrinkle on my shirt (good thing I have dealth with that a few years back – imagine the stress!) … I also use starch on my dress shirts! It is funny now..

    • sarahlangdon
      May 5, 2013

      I forgot about the starch! There were certain things that my mother had me starch too. I loved going heavy on the starch and lifting the fabric like it a piece of cardstock.

  4. Biochemical Alchemy
    May 1, 2013

    Good questions! Let us know what you find out.

  5. pinklightsabre
    May 2, 2013

    We haven’t owned an iron in several years. I pay to have my shirts and slacks dry-cleaned because I don’t have the patience for it. At the same time, I look at many shirts in my closet and wish I could wear them, but they’re wrinkled. I’m hoping over time (many, many years) the gravity will pull the wrinkles out. And the styles will be back in fashion again. Because that’s important, of course.

    • sarahlangdon
      May 5, 2013

      Yes, we use the gravity method these days too. I think I’ve just gotten lazy. Were wrinkles ever in style?

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