Iron Woman

IMG_7938I’ve been ironing again.

And you know what I’m going to say—I love it so!

I don’t like ironing just anything. I don’t like ironing clothing so I have blouses I never wear.

And I don’t like ironing great big tablecloths that don’t fit on my ironing board but I do those anyway because I want to sell them. When I sell them, I’ll never have to iron them again!

I like ironing smaller items that fit on the board in front of me. I like them quite wrinkled to begin with so I really see the transformation that heat and pressure bring.

And I like ironing a random stack of linens, where I’m not sure what is going to turn up next. With each new item I press, my thoughts wander. I think about how I will describe it when I list the item on Etsy. What can I say to communicate clearly to a potential buyer—why is this special? What home does it deserve?

I wonder about how the items were made. What was this lace made for? How does any human hand make stitches that small and precise?

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Done by hand–how incredible.

But much of the time ironing allows me to let my mind wander wherever it will go.

And often my mind goes where nostalgia will take it.

These homely placemats made me think of the days, in the early 1960s, I guess, when liquid embroidery was all the rage. Instead of needle and thread the “embroiderer” used little tubes of paint to follow the transfer design on the fabric.

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When I was about 10, my grandmother was my Sunday School teacher and she got all the girls in the Sunday School class together, at the farm, and we “embroidered” aprons for our mothers as Mothers’ Day presents.

I remember aqua fabric, an easy-care blend, no doubt. I remember wondering about the paints—I knew how to embroider with a needle and thread and couldn’t see the improvement. I don’t remember wondering if my mother would like the gift, although I have absolutely no memory of her ever wearing any apron, let alone this one. I was sure she’d love it because I had made it.

These memories—from the farm, of my Mama and my Mom, of working on a project with the other girls—are warmer than the steam coming off my iron.

These hand crocheted placemats take my memories another direction. When I was a teenager, I visited a girlfriend a lot and she lived with her grandmother. Her grandmother was a lot like my grandmother had been . . . but my grandmother was gone by that time.

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I remember her grandmother working on an amazing hand crocheted bedspread, done in natural cotton thread. It was very intricate and very impressive and I remember seeing it, finished, on the bed over a bright underspread. I couldn’t believe anyone would have the patience and ability for such a project. She also made dandelion wine . . .

Another grandmother, another warm house, and warm memories.

Every time I come across a towel or napkin monogrammed with a “W” or an “S,” I think of my grandparents. Printed towels from the 1950s with butter churns and sad irons? Or a funny apron from the ’40s? The farm.

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When I fold pillowcases just so, my mother’s mother is in my ear, telling me how to do it, to minimize wrinkles.

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It’s cold outside now. The warmer lake makes big billows of fog against the frigid air. Close to shore, the ice fishermen take their chances and shiver.

But, oh my, it’s warm at my iron. The steam rises, the memories swirl . . .

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79 thoughts on “Iron Woman

  1. I can see how this kind of ironing brings pleasure. But I don’t have vintage ironing. Just ironing that’s in danger of becoming so because it’s been waiting in a pile for so very long to be ‘done’ 😉

  2. We love ironing too, and we also have a chest in the attic filled with great-great, great- and grandmothers’ hand embroidered table linens. We too, are considering selling them because we never use them and they require too much care.

    but yes, we find ironing meditative, as long as it’s not a giant antique table cloth that does not fit on the board. Great pics, btw!

  3. Every few months, I iron my scarves. I have a large collection accumulated over many years and trips – some date back to when I was in high school (remember tying a 12″ square around your neck to accessorize your sweater set?), some were bought in exotic places (scarves are light-weight, easy to pack one size fits all gifts and souvenirs) some were bought in a rush to cope with an unexpected cold snap away from home, some have been shared back and forth between my Mom and me for years. As you say, lots of memories rise quietly with the steam..

    • How fun–what a great way to build a collection of souvenirs that don’t simply sit on a shelf and gather dust! And, yes, they would also reflect changes in fashion and your tastes, in addition to bringing back great memories!

  4. Such beautiful linens and embroidery! The only thing I really enjoy ironing are the little garments I make for my baby granddaughters. It’s fun to see them take shape and look finished.

  5. I so dislike ironing items that “need” such to be worn but oh the wonder of the ‘reveal’ when wrinkles disappear and the smooth clean personality of the piece appears!!!!! You described it perfectly!!! I grew up pressing tons of handkerchiefs (my grandma lived with us and she had a housekeeping position at the local hospital where wearing a white nurse-type uniform with a fresh frilly handkerchief in the breast pocket, anchored by her name badge, was the style of the day) and pillowcases (and, yes, there absolutely is a “right” way to fold them!!!!). Sprinkling the mounds of linen flowered pieces, rolling them carefully and waiting til they were appropriately wetted to be pressed right side down so as to not flatten the embroidery (pressed on a fluffy bath towel-covered ironing board!). Ah yes, takes me back…………….

    • I can tell you were well trained!! So, how about quilting fabric? Do you wash it and iron it before making the quilt? I seem to remember you don’t . . . I loathe ironing a big plain piece of fabric!

      • Nope….no pre-wash here. Significant number of Shout Color Catchers (if needed) when I wash the finished quilt (even ones that are gifted and then I include a Color Catcher with the quilt). I do touch-up pressing on the backs/tops of the clients’ quilts as needed.

  6. Isn’t wonderful how a love one that has gone on can whisper in the ear , encouragement, words of wisdom or even a “this how you need to do it”. I enjoy ironing whether it’s clothes ,hubby’s good hanky or a quilt block. I like to listen to the iron as it huffs and puffs out steam.

    • I like ironing quilt blocks, too–they look “finished” and so much more like they were worth the time! I use an old steamless iron on the vintage linens, very hot, with a spray bottle. I set it down on its own cord the other day . . . oops. Big mess.

      • Spray bottles or sprinkle bottles, and the little iron…….so many childhood memories of ironing at the kitchen table which was covered with heavy blankets and a white cotton cloth at ironing time. I used to love ironing. Not sure when I stopped loving it.

  7. Sorry, Kerry, I hate ironing! Your mention of aprons did bring me back memories of my grandmother. She would put on one of her handmade aprons first think in the morning and it stayed on her until after the dinner dishes were washed, dried and put away. Does anyone wear aprons anymore? I don’t but I think they could actually add some sense of fashion to my jeans and turtleneck daily uniform.

    • I wear an apron when I make your chocolate! Melted chocolate is really icky if it gets on clothes so i wear one of those aprons that covers the whole front of me. I wear it over turtleneck and jeans . . . and it adds NO sense of fashion, I’m afraid!

  8. I ‘don’t mind’ ironing. It’s not something I excitedly look forward to, but when it needs to be done it get done and I often find my thoughts wondering in a meditative kind of a way while doing it. I always love the finished product and even iron my [1000 tpi] sheets sometimes – so nice to slide into! 🙂 I have a tablecloth the same as the first photo and I adore those hand crochet tablemats too. Are they going in your shop?

  9. Like you I don’t particularly like ironing clothes, but I love ironing my handwovens and table linens. And I believe ironing is a must at every stage of sewing something new. I wish I had known my grandmothers and extended family, but my parents moved us away from England, and I never met any of my grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. When I met and married my husband I adopted his grandparents as my own, and we lived on their farm with them for a short time. I so enjoyed helping grandma with her everyday chores including cooking, cleaning and ironing her aprons and handkerchiefs. Your post brought back good memories of this time.

    • Wow–I never thought of a life without knowing any relatives! I don’t have many and I don’t see most of them often but I do have memories of so many. I’m glad you got such a fine “replacement” grandmother! I am still learning to finish my handwoven satisfactorily–I need a lot more experience.

  10. I may have to look at ironing with a different mindset next time because I’m feeling guilty reading this. Ironing is not one of my favorite jobs, and I think that is because it was my job every summer, all summer, growing up when I stayed with my grandparents. I’m so old I remember the sprinkling of clothes, putting them in the refrigerator in a bag, and then ironing them. And, every piece of clothing had to be ironed in those days along with the linens. No, I think I still don’t like ironing. 🙂

    • I remember the whole production of doing the ironing on the farm but I was never expected to take part which, I’m sure, is why I can enjoy it today! If I’m forced to do anything I develop a terrible attitude!

  11. Goodness, you described what happens when I iron! I don’t mind clothes, but my favorite is tea towels and dinner napkins. And that lovely smell of fresh clean linen, steamed!

  12. What a great post 🙂 It’s always fun to sit and think about all those fond memories. I could sort through a box of old photos for hours and just get lost!

  13. Lovely memories, and yes, I love the transformation, too.

    Some people refuse to prewash quilt fabric because then the fabric must be pressed. They see washing and pressing as part of the transformation process than can be skipped. Yes, you can still make a quilt with unwashed fabric. But are you in such a hurry that you must?

    Thanks.

    • I admit to not enjoying ironing a big piece of quilt fabric, I think because it has no meaning for me yet so I get hung up on wrestling it around. Now, I love ironing quilt blocks as I piece them together! THAT’S a transformation!

  14. What a fun post this is – and how lovely to read all the comments too. You have obviously hit on something here! I have been ironing just this morning, and sat down to catch up on some ‘blogging work’ to have a break – how funny to come across your thoughts at this time. I adore ironing my husband’s handkerchiefs – so satisfyingly small, freshly laundered-smelling and one can get nice crisp edges with the folds! 🙂

    • I like doing hankies, too–they are so manageable and they pile up in a satisfying way. I sell vintage linens so I get my hands on some that have spectacular craftsmanship, too–such fun to focus on the details!

  15. I think ironing may measure up to one of those tasks that allows us to do something practical and useful while pondering. Our hands are busy, but our thoughts can wander and reminisce. I don’t mind ironing….I like the order of it, I like smoothing out rumbled fabric. While ironing each vintage piece of cloth, you can consider the loving hands that stitched them. Very nice!

  16. I, too, don’t like the regular ironing, but, once started on something small and manageable, find it very zen-ful. It’s quiet work, and the rhythm of it is very calming.
    The art of embroidery and crochet still impressed and delights me when I look at the few vintage pieces that I have. Since, as you know, I have ten thumbs, I consider such work remarkable and even mysterious.

  17. I love to iron my quilting fabric. I bring it home and wash it with whatever laundry load color it is and pull it out before it goes into the dryer. When it’s still damp, I press it and admire it and think about what I might make of it. It’s dreamy! Speaking of your liquid embroidery, I remember my mother giving me a printed cross stitch pattern for Christmas. I have no idea how old I was but I was excited as she showed me how to do it. And then I so disliked it because the x’s were printed crookedly on the grain of fabric (didn’t know the terms then but knew it was incorrect!) and the thread didn’t really cover the x’s…. I finished it but never did another until Mom discovered counted cross stitch! I hope girls are still doing handwork with their mothers and grandmothers but I’m not so sure they are…..

    • You’re the first person I’ve ever heard say she LOVES to press quilting fabric! I did a stamped cross stitch sampler, too–do they even make those anymore?! It really was frustrating for the reasons you mention. I think young women are doing things like crochet and embroidery, but I don’t know where they’re learning it–more likely YouTube than their grandmothers, I fear. 😦

  18. beautiful words, beautiful memories. nothing like the smell of freshly ironed, warm linens. I love to iron and put a few drops of lavender water in the iron, my mind wanders off in similar directions.

    • I don’t use fragrance for most of the linens I iron because I’m aiming to sell them and people are funny about fragrance these days. But even just the smell of iron on fabric and the feel of the steam gets me going!

  19. How I love your dreamy writings, how I recognize exactly what you feel and ponder about…but Iron Woman…hahaha, that’s a keeper!! Thank for letting me start the day with a big grin! xo Johanna

  20. For me, the memory of ironing my father’s handkerchiefs and the household’s sheets is like my memory of childbirth. I’ve forgotten the painful bits and recall the process through rose colored glasses. However, I recall that freshly ironed cloth smells lovely.

  21. What a lyrical post. Nicely done. I’ve never enjoyed day to day ironing, and plan most of my wardrobe accordingly. But I do like the the sensation of removing wrinkles from a set of napkins, so can relate to your experiences here.

    I had forgotten all about liquid embroidery till you mentioned it. I think it came and went pretty quickly. Nothing beats the real deal. When I was in high school I used to embroider, cross stitch, hook rugs, knit and sew. You’ve prompted me to pick up one of these activities again. I miss it.

    • When you’re in high school, did you embroider on your jeans? Or maybe you aren’t old enough to have been around for that fad? I SO wish I still had my jeans from back then! And I hope you do pick up some handwork soon! I predict it will make you very happy.

      • I’m 56, which means I went through high school in the late seventies. I remember embroidering a t-shirt but I can’t recall embroidering my jeans. Funny that.

        I fully believe that it will add joy to my life.

  22. I so wish you had been with me yesterday. My sister and I got to investigate the contents of a favourite aunt’s glory box. It was full of beautiful linens, handkerchiefs, napkins etc, all made by her or her own aunts. We have brought some home to wash and iron and ????? It’s exquisite work, but my sister and I would need to change the linens and lace every day to make use of it all.

  23. Pingback: Old Sisters Together |

  24. Beautifully written post that wonderfully describes the joy of ironing. It makes me want to set up my ironing board so I can do little ironing and remembering.

  25. Letting one’s mind wander… one of my favorite tasks… thus, I garden, cut wood, walk the dogs… I do iron, but work clothes. Not much nostalgia there. Thus, I have a hands-free ear-piece for our phone that allows me to talk with family while ironing.
    Oscar

    • I can see why it’s hard to get all sentimental and nostalgic while ironing work clothes–all I feel when I’m doing that is boredom! And you have many other avenues for a wandering mind!

  26. I’m going to add ironing (or pressing, as I sew my quilt blocks) to my list of favorite rainy day activities. Maybe that’s why the quilting bug seems to only hit me in the cooler months.

  27. I’m not really good enough at ironing yet to find it relaxing, I’m always worried the heat is too high and I’m going to melt through the fabric, especially ater that happened to the lining of a dress I had almost finished! I know exactly what you mean about doing something routine and letting your mind wander – this usually happens for me when I’m doing the washing up. I can never be motivated to clean the kitchen but once I get going it’s quite satisfying and I get lost in my thoughts x

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