Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pressed for (All) Time

I'm sure it all began with wash and wear.  The fact is that very few people iron anything anymore.  When I was a teenager, we still routinely "sprinkled" the items that could not be used in their rumpled state, placed them together in a large plastic bag designed specifically for that purpose and left them for a time until all the items were slightly and uniformly damp.  The actual ironing of the shirts, blouses, handkerchiefs, pillowcases and even men's boxer shorts needed to be timed so that they didn't hang out in their dampened state, forget why they were there and get well involved in the indelicate process of composting that began with little black dots and a pungent mildew smell.

Then came steam irons (they do not work as well to remove wrinkles from cottons as the old-fashioned method described above), spray bottles, aerosol spray fabric starch and finishes and, of course, wash and wear.

Modern day steam iron, just so everyone knows  what one looks like.
Fashion finally lifted ban on "come as you are." Gone was the need to have your clothes pressed neatly: no starched white blouses and shirts, no knife-creased pants.  Rumpled was in.  Hardly even a need to have hangers and a closet.  Pulling clothes from the bottom of the pile insured that they had the worn and seasoned look.  The new "new" was old, well-worn and nearly worn out.  But I digress.

Very few people these days have the opportunity to experience the calming pleasure of smoothing fabric with an iron.  I've done some serious ironing in my life.  For a number of years I had a dress making business creating everything from tailored wool garments to Irish Step-dance solo costumes and, yes, even authentic Scottish-clan-tartan kilts.  One of the lessons  I learned in those years was that you could do a great job sewing, but if you didn't press and iron well, the end result was always obviously "homemade."  And, even it the sewing wasn't totally perfect, your iron and your skill in using it could rescue the situation to make the garment look stunningly smart.

I came to value the process of ironing.  The effect is similar in many respects to soothing--taking an item that is out of shape and out of sorts and gently removing the figurative and literal wrinkles--calming the cloth and calming the soul.

There are few garments in my closet any longer that know the touch of an iron, and we send my husband's shirts to the local cleaners where their bread-and-butter comes from starched, neat clothing.  The only things I usually iron are the place mats on our dining table and sometimes the table cloth itself.  There's a delicious luxury in taking the time to sit with the iron, with plain rectangles of cotton cloth, with a gently-fragranced fabric finish and, without the need for much thought, to create a warm, satin-smooth fabric surface.  It is truly one of the loveliest Things I get to do today.  I'm so fortunate they are not "pressed for (all) time."

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