Today I ironed three shirts and started to think about this ancient art and task. I don’t know that I was ever taught to iron, but I certainly admit that I watched a lot of ironing in my day. My mother ironed everything from t-shirts to bed sheets to shirts to linen kitchen towels. It is safe to say that she ironed at least five out of seven days. Later, of course, my older sister was indentured into this task and still later and with some encouragement all of us took a share of the ironing detail. I can still hear in my mind the sound of the ironing board being put down and taken up, the sound of the puffs of steam.
Ironing is no longer the task that it was, but still, we speak of it as some sort of medieval punishment. These days, either people use and wash and wear clothes, steam clothes as needed, don’t iron at all, send the laundry out or have an iron ready to press something for a more formal occasion. Just the other day while waiting for someone in my apartment lobby, a load of ironed shirts was being delivered. All those shirts looked so nice, their long sleeves and cuffs hanging at attention in wrinkle-free glory. The sight of it made me think about earlier days when I lived in a rectory with other priests and all our shirts were sent out and returned looking immaculate. Many a woman commented about my exacting cuffs, thinking that it would be nice if their husbands had the same. But that dream would require first and foremost ironing their husbands’ shirts! This is where the wrinkle begins.
When I consider the development of the iron, today’s issue, or displeasure with ironing should not even be entertained. Earliest forms of the iron date back to 401 CE China where flat disks with an upper lip were filled with hot coals and smoothed over material. In the Western world and sometime later hot stones or wood would be used be used to combat annoying wrinkles.
And look where ironing is today. We have tried about everything!
And let us not forget that in the 1970s the clothes iron was not just for clothes, as illustrated below.
Ironing has been around a long time and will likely keep reinventing itself as long as clothes hold on to stubborn wrinkles. Ironing for some is a pre-occupation to rid our lives of unsightly crumples while for others an unpressed shirt is perfectly fine. Some find ironing a horrible task while others find satisfaction, even enjoyment, in taming wrinkles in a shirt.
Elizabeth Berg had the right idea about ironing and the little joys of life.
“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.”