Judging from the number of ironing boards that are turning up as donations to the Heritage Center Flea Market, apparently not. Much of our clothing is now made of fabrics that do not require ironing, a blessing to the households with no one home to do ironing anymore.
And ironing will soon be on the list as one more art lost to changing technology. There were conventional rituals for ironing each type of clothing or household linens that turned up in the ironing basket after wash day. A long sleeved shirt or blouse, for example, always started with the collar front and back, then sleeve cuffs and sleeves front and back. You progressed on to the two fronts and then the back. Done!
A house dress went much the same way, except that you had the skirt all around to deal with. There would be several table cloths in the ironing basket as every kitchen table had a cotton tablecloth for daily use unless someone was lucky enough to have found a piece of oilcloth. If there had been Sunday company the “other room” table would have been extended and a white linen tablecloth used for the company dinner.
Ironing a long linen tablecloth was a chore. First you folded it length wise and ironed each side full length. Then you folded it in half again full length and ironed each side. Linen required a very hot iron and you would have to frequently change the flatirons kept heating on the wood stove. Ironing very quickly when they were especially hot off the stovetop so as not to scorch the tablecloth. The smaller cotton tablecloths were ironed with the same procedure but cotton ironed more easily than linen.
Then there was the “starched” ironing. A boiled concoction of water and starch would have been cooked up and clothes requiring starch dipped in that after washing and wrung out. They were allowed to dry and then sprinkled with plain water a few hours before ironing. Starching encouraged scorching, so the ironer had to be very fast and efficient. The freshly ironed starched garment looked beautiful when first worn but after an hour or two hung as limp as if it had never seen starch. Nevertheless, starching had to be done. It was part of washing clothes.
The sight of an ironing board brings back childhood memories of coming home from school on a cold winter Tuesday (Monday was wash day and Tuesday you ironed) to find your mother in the kitchen with the warm smell of freshly ironed clothes in the air. It made you feel happy, safe and secure!