The Lost Art of Ironing

As man-made fabrics improved and our lives got busier many of us simply don’t find the need to iron anymore. This was wonderful progress, and we all thought polyester would rule and we could pack away those irons for good. The tips our mothers and grandmothers passed down have been lost. Then, along comes the “Natural” movement. All the natural fibres, like cotton, rayon, linen and silk became popular again and we have to learn how to care for them all over again.
This blog is for the mom whose young son points to an iron in the Canadian Tire store and says “Mommy, what’s that for?” It’s also for the single dad trying to figure out how to press the shawl that came with his daughter’s grad dress, and for the young people who suddenly have to look presentable with a crease in their trousers for an interview. I will also include a few tips for the sewers on how to handle specialty fabrics.
Tip number one is to use more steam and less heat for almost any situation. A good steam iron will save more time and fabrics than you would expect. Don’t use tap water on a regular basis or it will build up a residue that might spit out on your clothes (yes, it’s happened to me and made an ugly brown stain that almost didn’t come out!). A bottle of distilled water is handy to have on hand and runs about $2 for 4 litres.
Start with your iron set lower that you think you’re going to need. You can always turn it up, but the burn mark in the middle of your shirt can’t be repaired.
Turn your shirt or dress inside out. This will make it easier to flatten the seams and darts properly AND it prevents a shine forming on the right side of the garment. Press only one layer at a time wherever possible. Press the sleeves last by laying one flat with the seam toward you. Press away from the seam to the opposite side to create a crease from the cuff to the shoulder seam. Do not put a crease in the cuff.
For dress pants, first pick them up by the hems and bring the seams together in the centre. Lay them down on the ironing board and keep the seams matched all the way up the leg to the waist. This will give you a crease that should fall in the centre of your leg. If you are just touching up the crease you will see that the crease is where your pants have folded when you laid them out. I recommend using a press cloth to prevent a shine. Failing that, use steam.
On delicate fabrics like silk and rayon I like to use a Teflon cover on the iron and lots of steam. If you don’t have the cover, keep the heat low. Man-made fibres also require a low heat. This is especially true if you absolutely must press that dance or skating costume.
Natural fibres except wool do well when dampened before ironing. Do you remember seeing your grandmother with a coke bottle full of water and a sprinkler cork in the top? Now we’d use a spray bottle. This method is pretty much the only way to get wrinkles out of linen and heavy cotton.
Wool is another story altogether. ALWAYS use a damp press cloth with wool. A press cloth is typically a fine linen cloth – an old dish towel works well.
And if ironing still sounds like too much work, you can always throw the shirt in the dryer for 10 minutes on low with a damp sheet of fabric softener.
As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

4 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Ironing

    • So true! But so few of us will take the time. I suppose it depends on how you see your clothes – as something to cover your body with and buy as cheaply as possible or as an investment in looking and feeling great. For those in the latter group hand washing is definitely the way to go.

  1. I do agree with all of the concepts you’ve presented in your post. They’re very convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for starters. May just you please lengthen them a little from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

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