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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon



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Monday, July 8, 2013

A question for you about clothing care

I bet you wish you came to my place for Sunday dinner. 

We run a regular salon over here once a week, discussing important and serious topics of the day.

Last night it was ironing. With a sidebar on hand washing.

The whole concept of "doing your ironing" made sense to my mother-in-law who is of the coke bottle with the shaker on top for dampening clothes before they were ironed generation - the concept meant nothing to my sister-in-law, daughter, and step-daughter.

The three of them are of the if-it-can't-go-from-the-washer-to-the-dryer I won't wear it school, and they iron nothing.

Myself, sort of in middle, am horrified by this. I think most sewers are. You just can't press as you sew and than forget about ironing after that. And you can't spend good money on good fabric and trust it to jumbling around with Mr. Bounce sheet at high heat.

I mean we know where that leads.

Fades and pills kids, fades and pills.

Myself I iron what I wear, although it tends to be on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis at the ironing board set up in my sewing room. And I admit when I do a tired morning rush out the door, more than a few times I grab a knit or something that doesn't need ironing.

This cheats my wardrobe resources and every once in a while I think I need to "do my ironing" and get ahead, be prepared more for emergencies.

My mother-in-law and my mother were of the school of ironing everything after it was washed, this was a routine and they did it. They both sprinkled clothes and put them in the freezer if they couldn't get it all done (every Canadian household always had a chest freezer downstairs at least 8 feet long) so it wouldn't mildew. I even remember my mother, at some stage we all were wearing her particularly out, had an "ironing lady." 

This involved my dad packing it all up, tablecloths, and shirts and kids clothes even, and driving it off to some poor soul who ironed it up for my mom. My dad was a teacher so this is no indication of our affluence, but of the trauma of being behind in her ironing that got to my mother, never a domestic natural, and I think tears were involved.

Anyway, women did their ironing.

I remember once being sent over to do wild little boy relief for a family friend who had four of them. She was in position when I arrived - ironing board set up on the beige broadloom, in front of her afternoon "shows," drinking a vodka and orange in the afternoon (which I thought was the height of sophistication and something I made a mental note to do when I grew up, as I only ever saw my own mother drink instant coffee).

I watched her iron tea towels and sheets and even her husband's underwear and we both ignored the boys who I am pretty sure were killing themselves somewhere in the backyard.

I understand that vodka and orange now more than I did then.

What I am sure of now is that her clothes were all set in case she had to run out the door early some time, although I realize now she probably didn't go out much.

So maybe it is OK I only half have the ironing situation under control.

Well that was last night over the dinner table and the natural second course was hand washing, something I am a great believer in. My step daughter (who confided the only thing she has to hand wash is a sweater she got from me) wanted to know what you do to get the soap bubbles out of a hand washed sweater. 

This brought on a dissertation from me on the virtues of rinse water.

And everyone went home after that.

Tell me what is your position on ironing and how much hand washing do you do at your house?


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Patty said...

Memories! I learned to iron with the same sprinkling bottle...ironing pillowcases and my Dad's hankies! I'm like you, ironing what I need just before I wear it. But I love to use cloth napkins and my drawer of them is always full...neatly folded & ironed. And yes, I am a press as you go sewist too :-)

Carolyn (Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) said...

I have an entire wardrobe of knit dresses that don't need to be ironed in case it's a no iron morning. Otherwise, honestly I iron everything during the weekend so that I can sleep as long as possible in the morning.

However, things like ironing sheets, underwear etc that use to be done when I was a little girl don't go on in my house. Straight from the dryer to the linen closet or my bed/drawers.

Can I also say thanks for the laughs - I especially love the vodka and orange juice line.

barbaraq said...

I so "get" your post. Since retirement I take great pleasure in ironing (after all, my iron is always set to go in my sewing room.) I even iron my sheets now. I don't know anyone under the age of 40 who irons. Things are pretty much as you describe, in the dryer and out, mostly, it would appear, several hours after the dryer stops, so the wrinkles are there to stay.

By the way, I had the same ambition as you after babysitting as a teenager, but with the addition that I would consume my vodka in a black cocktail dress that I would don promptly at 4:30 before my adoring husband came home.

I handwash sweaters but not much else. Modern washing machines have much gentler settings than in the days of your.

BetsyV said...

My position on ironing is that I do it. I enjoy doing it, but not so much that I iron everything all at once. I am an "iron today's outfit only" kind of ironer. When I was working, it was part of my evening routine for the next day, the other parts being making my lunch and packing up my gym bag.

Handwash? I don't do it as often as I once did. I use the delicate cycle on the washing machine and very mild detergent. I bought a lingerie bag so I could toss the pantyhose in, too. Wool sweaters and the finest delicates get hand washed in Eucalan, which does not require rinsing.

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Maryissewfast said...

I grew up with a Mother who ironed everything and so it was ingrained in me that you don't go out looking all rumpled! I have to iron anything that looks wrinkled and have been known to wrestle the shirt off my husband's back to give it a press, because he will wear anything, no matter how disheveled it looks! That being said...I do love me some knits on those early mornings! I don't think my daughter even owns an iron...

Laura said...

I do no hand washing - if it can't make it in a mesh bag through the delicate washer cycle, it either goes to the dry cleaners (a few things that are special occasion wear) or it doesn't get purchased at all. I do plenty of ironing, though - the needed items usually get piled up on the ironing board after being washed. In the best case I iron once a week, usually in front of the TV. I actually like to iron; I just have to remind myself to do it and not put it off.

Kay said...

My mom ironed our clothes (not underwear or towels), and had a machine called a mangle to press sheets and my father's shirts. I remember getting ironing duty when I was about 10, and whining about why we had to wear so many dresses with ruffles and sashes. It didn't seem fair that I had to wear clothes that I hated AND I had to iron them! I later dated a boy who loved to iron and was his family's ironing expert. Alas, I didn't marry him...

Do I iron now? Occasionally. I'm a press-as-you-go sewist, but not necessarily a press-after-washing person. I've found that I can work miracles with a spray bottle of water once clothes are dry. Just mist, shake and smooth, then let dry on a hanger.It doesn't work on everything, but it does on most natural fibers. Of course, only an iron will restore that smooth sheen and crisp look, so I iron for special occasions.

I hand wash expensive bras and wool sweaters. For most other "hand washables" I use the delicate cycle, sometime to my regret.

holly said...

This made me laugh...not only did we have bags of tablecloths and sheets in our freezer, but I come from a hunting family. Imagine my teenage horror when I reached in a bag to get out a favorite cotton shirt my mom told me was there to grab a handful of fur from the latest hunt! Oh yes, your post brought back memories. And I iron once a week, usually a day after laundry. After constructing the house, the next big chore was putting in a clothesline! We live in the Mojave desert, so sunshine and fresh air is cheaper than the gas bill. Hand washing? Not so much any more...the advent of the new fan-dangled washers proved to me their superior skill. I wash my cashmere sweaters and other specials on the delicate cycle and have been very pleased.

Denise said...

I iron all my cotton/linen dresses and blouses, and anything else that needs it, usually just before it gets worn. More of a summer occupation really.
I have an INCREDIBLE husband who likes ironed table napkins /teatowels/sheets as much as I do, and he does them when he does his 7 business shirts for the week !
I do handwashing every week, only a few underwear things, or things that I've made that I fear won't even take a 'gentle 'cycle.
We don't have a clothes dryer, preferring the au-natural-convert-the-loungeroom-to-a-Chinese-laundry look in winter (in Melbourne, Australia). And I'm as happy as Larry about all that !

Sheila said...

I enjoy ironing and wearing ironed/pressed clothes. I only do it for those who appreciate it-me. When in the mood even iron my panty hose.

wendy said...

I iron anything that has wrinkles, my husband irons his own things (always has, a boarding school upbringing) Even my student son irons his cotton, button up shirts (but nothing else). My little luxury is that I send our bed linen to the laundry so they come back ironed and slightly crisp ( delicious ).
I hand wash anything that requires it.

Unknown said...

I only hand wash items with boning. The rest go in lingerie bags and I wash them on the delicate cycle with wool wash.

Ironing really only happens with button-down shirts and other similar (usually cotton or linen) items. I don't have a clothes dryer, so I hang a lot of items on clothes hangers straight from the washing machine - which minimises wrinkles.

Perhaps I'm a bit lazy with this stuff. But it's the compromise that works for my wardrobe and lifestyle!

Bunny said...

Great funny post!

I grew up in the very deep south before the days of air conditioning, if you can imagine that. After the laundry hung out to dry it was then all sprinkled with the coke bottle and the punched out top , wrung into twists and put in a laundry basket. This laundry basket went in the bottom of the fridge or as it was called then, the ice box. My mom of eight kids had an "ironing lady" who would come pull out the basket and iron away. We had uniforms with little white shirts. My dad wore a white shirt and tie every day to work and there were always those June Cleaver dresses my mom wore back then. Ironing was essential.

Today I iron a lot and it sometimes piles up a lot. I still love crisp white shirts and the type of clothing that needs ironing. Does that make me look dressed like an old lady because I rarely wear knits? I often ponder that. I enjoy ironing. It is a relaxing meditational time for me, although it usually is with a cup of tea, not the vodka and orange. I consider ironing time a luxury I wish I could just have the time to knock out in full but I seem to iron on demand.

My kids? Fugetabotit. They iron NOTHING. What rarely needs ironing comes from the cleaners and that is rare. DD does get her banker suits and blouses done at the cleaners but everything else is knit or not. They literally wait for me to arrive to iron all the great clothes, that they love by the way, for their children. Oy,,,,

prttynpnk said...

I enjoy ironing. Seriously. But the husband is MR washandwear and I end up ironing on an event basis only- my closet is so packed there is no point in ironing in bulk to wedge into it!

thimblegirl said...

I have to admit that I don't iron much, although my mother and grandmother ironed everything, including underwear! My husband is career military and went to Royal Military College (we're Canadian), so he has always done his own uniforms--my skills do not match his in that department! Our son is in the navy (also a RMC grad) and he called me one time when our granddaughter was a newborn to ask how to iron the puffy sleeves of the smocked dress I had just sent her!

SewCraftyChemist said...

I loved reading this!

I used to iron EVERYTHING. Tshirts, jeans, and of course less casual clothing. My kids ironed EVERYTHING. At a young age too (like 7, 8??). Then we just...stopped. I got remarried in 2010 and now my husband does our laundry (as I won't hand wash anything and dry everything). I iron my husbands dress shirts unless he's contracted one of our girls to do it :)

Mary said...

Like you, I iron on an as-needed basis, meaning half the time I am wearing knits. As for hand-washing, DH bought a very high-end washer/dryer which he considers his baby and requires an engineering degree to operate, but it does have a "handwash" cycle in addition to a delicate cycle. Works a treat...when he lets me use the machine.

Sandra said...

Love this topic and all the replies. Yes, but here it was a 7-Up bottle with stopper that had holes in the top. Items were liberally sprinkled, then rolled up so tight that it must have added more wrinkles, then put into a plastic bag and into the frig.

I do enjoy pressing during the garment construction process ( not so much the fabric pressing first). I iron my wovens that need it, sometimes knits, too. But never linens, underwear, etc. My husband irons his casual shirts, sometimes, and sends his dress shirts out to be professionally laundered and pressed; who am I to disagree? I must admit that I have to squint when looking at a casual shirt he's wearing, to get that soft-focus camera filter effect that they used on Cybill Shepherd in the tv series Moonlighting. It's squint or iron his shirts myself. ;)

gwensews said...

I too, remember the sprinkling bottle and clothes in the refrigerator. That was before steam irons. There was a mangle for ironing sheets. I iron outer clothes, but not sheets nor undies. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Debbie Cook said...

I mostly live in knits, but for those clothes that need ironing, I do iron them. Sometimes the night before, but usually right before I put them on.

I handwash tights in the "winter" (being what it is here in Florida, and I hear you laughing from Canada).

We had the Coke (actually it was Pepsi) sprinkle bottle too when I was growing up. I think I was in Kindergarten when we made "decorative" shaker bottles for Mother's Day one year. I wish I still had that bottle for the sewing room.

I remember my mother (and me) ironing, among other things, sheets and my dad's undies. Until Permanent Press came along. Then things, esp. sheets, could be pulled out of the dryer and folded.

My Marine son irons his uniforms. My other son irons nothing.

Martha said...

Thanks for this! What a great story.

I love ironing. I keep a little pile in my sewing room right after doing laundry and *warm up* by ironing a shirt.

One week a year I teach a sewing camp at my church and leave my ironing board there. I miss it soooo much. So now I'm shopping garage sales for another board. I can't go a week without ironing.

LinB said...

I press while I sew. I take clothes off the line relatively wrinkle-free (ditto out of the dryer) and hang/fold them so that they stay that way. To release wrinkles from cotton, wool and linen that persist despite this gentle handling, I spray them with water from a drugstore spray bottle -- I only ever iron anything if wrinkles don't fall out on their own, or if I have to make a super-de-duper impression on someone (usually for someone whom my husband wants to impress). This travel tip makes just as much sense for when you stay at home! Fortunately, I have a job where wrinkles are more a badge of honor than not.

elke said...

I iron DH's dress shirts, and my cotton and linen dresses and shirts. Before he retired, I also ironed the sports shirts he wore teaching; now he can wear them as the dryer finishes them. I press dress pants and my wool dress clothes. Linen tablecloths and napkins, but not tea towels or bed linens. I have a friend who irons jeans, with a crease, yet, AND their gardening clothes. She makes me feel inadequate.

Diana said...

Thanks for starting my day with a laugh. I too believe in ironing and once n a while the ironing basket calls to me that it's full and my conscience makes me go to the sewing room to iron and not sew. Otherwise it's iron as needed for me.
I've never felt the need to iron sheets since 1967 when I worked as a Mother's Help to a family of six and had to change all the beds every week and of course wash and iron all sheets. That cured me for life.

Jodie said...

I think this might be a generational thing....I'm 39 (to give you an idea). I remember my Mom's "ironing basket" which included tablecloths, pillowcases, Dad's handkerchiefs...tea towels, maybe underwear. It was ALWAYS piled high, that I do remember. I do iron as I agree with you that the dryer doesn't do a nice enough job. My husband does his own shirts (with starch!). I'm tempted to get him his own iron/ironing board as we are often at odds with each other (or I have to walk up and down the stairs to iron when I'm sewing). However, I've got many (mostly) knit tops that I don't need to iron. And I only iron clothes (that need it) and tablecloths (when my Mother is visiting ;)). I do all of mine after I wash it because I (like Carolyn) want to sleep longer in the morning.
I do remember it being a big CHORE for my Mom...maybe that's why the need for vodka and orange.
Great story, thanks Barb!

meredithp said...

Ha, thanks for the laugh. NOW I understand why the stuff went in the freezer or fridge--mildew retardant. We were "pioneers" in FL (parents moved there in 1950) and mildew was a real problem.

My mother ironed when she absolutely had to, or she'd get the cleaning lady to do it when available. Mom was someone who shouldn't have been a housewife (or mother for that matter). :-)

I find that the things that need ironing don't get worn. I would never purposely wear anything wrinkled. I just wear something else (love knits).

Hand washing? Maybe a hand knit (by me) sweater, but for everything else, there's a very delicate cycle in the front load washer that takes care of that!

Kay said...

When I read your daughter's comment, Eucalan was the first thing that popped into my mind... Doesn't require to rinse at all. Can be used on knits/wools or anything that needs hand washing. And can be bought at Joann's, with a 40% off coupon as it never goes on sale.

I just bought a gallon sized jug with a 40% off coupon.

As with the ironing, we don't do it as much as we should. :)

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Mary said...

I am traveling this week and am slightly rumpled. This is not my usual appearance, except for my casually rumpled linen tops. I really enjoyed your post-yes, we also had an "ironing lady", and yes, my mom was also a vodka and something enthusiast. Mad Men days.

theresa said...

I used to iron all my cotton shirts, even the work shirts. Now I don't since a spin through the dryer and taking the shirts out while still slightly damp and then immediately to a hangar to finish drying seems to work quite well. Some things must be ironed like the @%*& shirts/blouses with the fusible interfacing that bubbled. And I only hand wash certain bras. But I do remember the sprinkling bottle and the ironing my mother did. She never did sheets, underwear or napkins.

sewingkm said...

As a young girl I well remember ironing my oxford shirts that had been sprinkled. I felt so much pride being able to perfectly iron those shirts in 15 minutes!

Now I continue to enjoy ironing and find it relaxing and a most important part of sewing. I wash many items on the delicate setting of my washer and then either place them on a drying rack or hang them on a "hidden" clothesline between our garage and side door as clotheslines are forbidden in my neighborhood. My mother laughs when I tell her this!


Colleen G said...

My mom is of the same generation; her ironing was part of the laundry chore and she had lots of it. Dad was in the military and she did his shirts to spec. Hand washing is another part of it; my mom has dementia and at the moment likes to tell and retell her stories about certain clothing pieces that she has had forever and claims it is due to handwashing. This is a problem when it comes to lingerie which she would like to do herself but there are no facilities in the long term care home she's in. We are telling a few white lies about the care of it and hope that our lies don't come back to haunt us when she realizes it isn't lasting as long as it used to.

Janet said...

I love ironing, come to think of it....I rarely do it. I only ever iron tablecloths and napkins when company comes. That's it! I love the smell of it. It gets me all nostalgic. My mother hated housework and so it was passed on to me. I try and hand launder bras and delicates garments. But I rarely buy "hand wash only" anymore. My 17 year old does and I have taught her how to hand wash doesn't happen. An extremely extroverted friend of mine reserved an evening to do her hand laundering. I was never sure if it was down time for her or if she was really hand washing!

The Hojnackes said...

I am a failure when it comes to ironing. I press like nobody's business when I sew, but my poor husband always has wrinkled shirts! My children don't have many clothes that require ironing, and this is fine with me. As for hand washing, I don't have these kind of clothes. I have children.

ShirleyC said...

This brought back a lot of memories. I also live in the deep South, and it was hot as you know what when we had to iron clothes. My mom also had the coke bottle with the sprinkler.
As a kid, I loved to do the sprinkling! Mama taught me to iron at a faily young age, and now I see why.
Even though we wear a lot of knits, I still iron most of them if I wear them out in public. Just a quirky thing I have about wrinkles.
I sew and I am an avid "ironer" for sure! I can't stand seeing pictures of projects that have never been touched by an iron. LOL
Thanks for an interesting post!

badmomgoodmom said...

I iron a little bit, but try to minimize it in the name of energy conservation. I love it when being green and being lazy go hand in hand. It makes me feel so smug.

At first, I thought you meant hand washing, like washing your hands. I have CVID so the first thing people do when they enter my house is go wash their hands.

But you mean washing clothing by hand. I read that, if you want to sell your house to an Asian, you need nice deep sinks suitable for handwashing. I fit the stereotype. I hardly ever send stuff out for dry cleaning and hand wash most wools and silks.

I got two words for your stepdaughter.

.Twin. .Sinks.

We have them in the kitchen and the master bath. Use one for the sudsy wash. Then gently squeeze dry and soak in the clear water one. Do this serially for all items (of a similar color) that you are washing.

(Keep a dish pan nearby for things in transition.)

Then, drain the sudsy one, refill with clean water and that becomes your second rinse. Rinse, repeat until all things rinse clear.

Saves water, saves time, saves money. And less irritating chemicals next to your skin and in our groundwater.

Off soapbox now.

Can you tell I'm an environmental scientist? ;-)

CBB said...

Love your story! It brings lots and lots of memories about ironing and USA. Where I come from, everything is ironed. Needless to say, that until I moved to North America I did not either iron or washed my clothes: all was done for me! Great life :)
Eventually I moved to Canada, where I had at least to do my laundry. I had to ask someone how to do it, but there was no problem as I always dealt very well with machines. I think by now you guessed how much hand wash I do until today - I moved to Canada 23 years ago :) Yeahh, I do not hand wash anything. I do soak the whites though(see ... some progress there).
Regarding ironing... I knew how to iron, but only did while sewing. I sew since I was 7-8 years old, because there was a machine involved :)
I noticed however that nobody ironed where I was in Canada (I was in school :) ). So, I decided not to iron either. Then... my Mom came to visit me. Her comment: " Is everything ok with you? You seem so... not caring about yourself.. you do not even IRON your clothes! Well, that hit deep. I started ironing most of my clothes. Got married, moved to USA, and was ironing most everything for everyone in my house. Until, yes there is a until, my ex-husband decided to leave his family. I realized that I should only iron if it was important for my kids. It is not. So, nowadays I iron some of my clothes, and very few of my children clothes... That is my story: told you that ironing brings a lot of memories :)

ClaireOKC said...

Like Bunny, this brought back many memories. It's such a lost art, and so many folks think that was is right out of the dryer ready to wear, actually isn't. I still iron a lot, because I love the look of a crisp cotton or linen shirt that is reeking with freshness after it's been pressed. I never had kids, so didn't have to do laundry for umpteen little ones. But I am a firm believer in this, particularly in my sewing. Loved the memories you brought out in your blog!

Beth said...

AHHH, memories. I too grew up with the pop bottle with the sprinkler head, we would wet Dad's starched white dress shirts, put them in a plastic bag in refrig and hopefully Mom would do the ironing. However, she worked outside the home, so when my twin and I got old enough to iron it became our job to do the ironing. I have always said, if you want me to commit suicide just put me behind an ironing board in front of a soap opera and I will gladly do myself in! One job of house work I cannot stand to do. Bunny, I too had a ML that could teach Martha Stewart about keeping house. Her wash day was Monday, everything on the line outside, come rain, shine, and/or ice. Tuesday you ironed. Nothing was ever left in the basket and I am talking ironing even boxer shorts! Needless to say she was feeling so sorry for her baby boy when I told her my view of ironing. (She just about had to be hospitalized when I told her I couldn't cook) The only thing today I iron are my husband's linen hankies he still carries in his back pocket. Personally, I believe that's why they invented drycleaners that do shirts. Thanks for sharing.

BJ in TX said...

I absolutely love your hair! Never dye it again. As for the glasses - you look great but I happen to like dramatic frames, the bigger and darker the better! A great example of that is Margy - another fine seamstress - of A Fool 4 Fabric. She wears them with style, as would you!