A Pressing Issue

Most Sunday mornings, I take an hour or so do my ironing for the week. As I unfold the ironing board, fill up the little reservoir on my iron with water and wait for it to start its little hissing fit to let me know it’s ready to go, I think to myself, “What the hell am I doing? Why do I have so many natural fabric clothes?  How can clothes that look so good in the shop, look so limp, crinkled and lifeless after one washing? And, “Who am I kidding to think that this is the week I’m actually going to be able to turn that pile of wrinkled fabric into an assortment of lovely crisp garments?”

The entire concept of ironing clothes is some kind of sick joke. Who thought up the idea that it would be really cool to try and make our clothes all nice and smooth, knowing full well that they’d stop being smooth after 5 minutes of wear?

Funny you should ask. Apparently, human beings have been using some form of hot, heavy device to smooth out their garments since forever. A long time ago, though, only rich people could afford to have wrinkle-free clothes because they were the only ones who could afford to have slaves or servants to do all their ironing for them because ironing was a major, major chore back then. (Not the snappy-doodle fun time it is now).


The goffering iron (above) was some crazy-assed instrument  Greek slaves back in 400 BC used to iron pleats into their master and mistresses swanky robes.


The first recognizable clothes iron didn’t appear until the 14th Century in Europe. It was called a flatiron because it was just a flat piece of iron with a metal handle. The flatiron was held in a fire until it was hot and then pressed onto the clothes. flatiron

The main problem with this one was that the clothes would get all sooty form being in the fire, so they had to put another cloth between the iron and the clothes to keep them clean and they had to find something to wrap up their hands so they could grab that hot iron out of the fire and use it while it was still hot.  I imagine they had a lot of trouble keeping servants back then.

 It wasn’t until 100 years later than someone got the bright idea to make an iron that opened up so you could put hot coals inside and to make the handle out of wood (d’uh) so it wouldn’t be so hot. hotbox

Then there was a real lull in ironing technology until the early 19th century when people started having cast iron stoves in the house which could heat their irons.  At the same time they also made their irons out of cast iron which held the heat better but which made them weigh around 15 pounds. It was called the “sad iron”. But I’ll bet most people just called it the “are-you-freakin’-kidding-me”.

sad iron

Then in the late 19th century when gas became all the rage, they came up with gas irons which hooked directly up to the household gas line and had a pilot light that needed to be lit with a match. They were a lot lighter than sad irons, but they got unbearably hot and often leaked gas.

gas iron

To try and cut down on the number of households that blew themselves up whilst ironing, they experimented with some other fuels such as oil, gasoline and paraffin. All of these were deemed really dumb.

paraffin iron

 Then, in 1882,  Henry W. Seely came along and said, “Hellllooooo people…why don’t we just plug the damn things into an electrical outlet?”

This sounded good, and lo, the electric iron was born.electric iron

So now it’s 127 years later and most of us are still using the same basic device to try and smooth out our clothes.

I like the general idea of ironing insofar as I like smooth clothes. But it never works out very well. I get one area nice and smooth and then find out I’ve ironed big wrinkles into another area. Pockets are a pain. Between the buttons on shirts are a pain. The shoulders on shirts are impossible to get smooth. Ironing around or over zippers is pointless. And with some fabrics you end up getting the pattern of our ironing board ironed right into the fabric.

 So now they’ve come up with this device:


This is kind of the “are-you-freakin’-kidding-me’s” 21st century, more colourful cousin.  I’d have to add a wing to my home in order to house this entire contraption. Could they have made it any more cumbersome?

I have seen hand-held garment steamers on the internet, but I haven’t been able to find one in real life. It all sounds like a great idea. Hang up your clothes and run this little gadget over them and no more wrinkles. Too good to be true? We’ll see. My mission these days is to find a conveniently-sized hand-held garment steamer and to get some credible testimonials from people who actually own and use one on a regular basis.

Meanwhile,  have you heard of “Extreme Ironing”? It’s the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt.



31 responses to “A Pressing Issue

  1. “I have seen hand-held garment steamers on the internet, but I haven’t been able to find one in real life.”

    I bought one from the Shopping Channel. It works pretty well. But it’s still just another face of ironing. I’ve decided instead to start buying fabrics that don’t need ironing, and I’m much happier.

    As for extreme ironing, that is absolutely awesome. Bored humans are fun, aren’t they. 🙂

  2. LOL … snappy-doodle fun time … I want to use that in my next post, credit to you XUP. Love it.

    I have an iron somewhere, but I don’t use it … so I look like a slob, oh well … ;~)

  3. My favourite fabric ever is linen. That’s my summer uniform, I typically have three linen pants –black, white, beige, or some variation on that– and I combine them with whatever top, and that’s how I do it all summer long, so I get to iron a lot in the summer. I do like ironing –generally I like mechanic tasks cause they require concentration but not thinking, so it’s ideal to chill out my otherwise naturally all over the place mind–. But I was just thinking reading your post on how now that I live in the endless summer and have the first job in my life ever in which I need to look presentable on a daily basis I’m gonna get to iron equally endlessly, and that might be a bit too much. Hmmm. Let me know how the hand steamer goes if you get one, that might be a solution 🙂

  4. i used a garment steamer when i worked at club monaco. it was awesome, but i can’t imagine having one in my house. just awkward.
    i also hate ironing. i used to do it when i worked at hillary’s dry cleaners from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and now have an aversion to it. i am wrinkly a lot these days.

  5. I used to use a commercial hand steamer when I worked at a Lingerie store. All our stock came folded in boxes (night gowns robes etc) with really bad crease lines and a powerful steamer worked WONDERS on them in no time and little effort. But it was about the size of the one in that photo so I don’t know if a smaller one would work well.

    Another option is to hand all your clothes in the washroom and take a scorching hot shower.

  6. I iron because I mostly wear cotton, but even after it is ironed and you drive to work you are all wrinkled again. At least I don’t feel like I am smothering in mystery fabric.

  7. Louise – Stuff like this I liike to see it and touch it and examine it before I buy it. I’ve bought a number of things off the internet, but I still can’t bring myself to buy things like this sight unseen. As for the shopping channel… well, I don’t have cable…phew…

    Olivia – If you wash your clothes in cold water and shake them out before putting them in the dryer and get them out of the dryer before it stops and hang them up right away, you can get away with not ironing, I guess. As long as you’re comfortable, that’s all that matters.

    Cristina – I love linen. Sometimes I see people in linen and it has no wrinkles at all. I don’t know how they do that. it’s so hard to iron and it never seems to ever get back to how it was when I bought it and as soon as I put it on it’s wrinkly again. But it feels nice — especially linen pants. But you’re right — there’s a lot more ironing to be done in the summer. But I still like it more than winter.I’ll keep you informed about the steamer. I wonder if you feel like you’re in a sauna when you use it?

    Meanie – OOooooh club monaco…. and arrrrgghhhhh… ironging 8 hours a day. I’d never iron again. I’m surprised you even made it through this post. So ya, the garment steamer. It really does look awkward. I see no reason why it can’t be more compact except that you’d have to keep refilling the water thing. Maybe we just need genetically modified fabrics that don’t wrinkle or some sort of feature in the dryer that irons the clothes right after or while it’s drying. Or maybe we all need to have servants.

    Tiana – Hmm, not a big fan of the scorching shower, though I’ve tried hanging stuff in the bathroom while I’m having a shower and mostly it just makes the clothes damp. Then I can’t wear them until they dry and then when they’re dry they’re still wrinkly. Maybe polycotton blends are the answer? (PS: Why is it so complicated to leave a comment on your blog? I try quite often to comment. Sometimes it works well, after all the passwords and cutting and pasting stuff. Sometimes it won’t let me leave the comment)

    Sky – With 2 little kids that would be the last thing on my agenda as well.

    Cedar – I know! I don’t know why I bother. The stuff looks fine when you first put it on — if you put in on really carefully and that’s it. The rest of the day you look like Tennesee Williams.

  8. Ha!

    Here’s the secret to never ironing again: get yourself a mom who had to iron her brothers’ altar boy clothes her entire girlhood.

    She will never iron again, she will never teach you to iron, you will never iron again.

  9. You’re right. When you think of it, the whole concept of ironing is pretty STUPID.

    Imagine being an alien life-form, observing our planet:

    “To attract their mates, the lower primates (Chimps + Orangutangs) will merely throw sticks and rocks, and go “ook ook”.

    While the higher primates will go through great lenghts, to smelt iron ore into steel, form this steel into pieces of flat metal, which they will heat and use to smooth out pieces of cloth, which they’ll then drape over themselves, in order to gain social acceptance with their herd.”

  10. I rarely iron. A piece now and then if I can guilt myself into it, but that’s basically it.

    If it’s really too wrinkled to wear it gets pushed to the back of the closet where once in a while I find a piece that has actually “ironed” itself out enough to be worn.

    I’m lazy like that.

  11. My iron has to be the least used appliance in my household. I reckon even my smoothie maker that I got as an unwanted gift from my gran gets even more action. It’s a hang over from having watched a mother who, for years I didn’t even know had anything below the waist as I never saw her without an ironing board in front of her.

  12. I have one of those massive garment steamer and I must say that, given the bulkiness of an ironing board, the steamer doesn’t seem all that more intrusive (especially when you have to deploy the ironing board). Works well enough for me, especially since I have the attention span of a gnat and it won’t burn through anything. Also, I hate learning any domestic skills from my mother and while the outcome is not as spectacular, I at least didn’t have to learn how to iron from her.

  13. I iron my clothes by pulling them out of the clean laundry pile, moistening them a tad and throwing them in the dryer for about 20 minutes. This is done around 6:00am each weekday morning.

    I’m a fashionable broad.

  14. “I wonder if you feel like you’re in a sauna when you use it?”

    Yes, yes, you do. That thing is HOT and humid. Not bad in the winter, but I’d never use it in the summer if I could avoid it.

    “I see no reason why it can’t be more compact except that you’d have to keep refilling the water thing. ”

    It can be. I included a link to TSC page for it in my first post. If you could bring yourself to buy one off the Internet, I mean. At the very least, it gives you a brand name to look for at your favourite store, doesn’t it? It’s a nice, sturdy little machine. About the size of those little plastic containers for bags of milk but heavier.

    “Maybe polycotton blends are the answer?”

    Absotively. Most of the shirts I’ve bought recently are 65% polyester, 35% cotton blend because of how wrinkle-free they hold up.

  15. Ellie – Too late. I actually don’t ever remember seeing my mom iron. She must have, but I guess she did it secretly in her quiet space.

    Friar – Maybe you could do an entire post on pointless domestic appliances and activities.

    Jazz- The closet is what wrinkles my clothes. How do you get yours to smooth clothes out?

    MisssyM – You have a smoothie maker? Something that’s not a blender??

    Kelvin – You know, you may have a point there. The ironing board IS kind of an awkward thing to stash away all the time. Hmmmm…thanks

    Elaine – Oh THAT’S environmentally friendly — you really run your dryer every morning for 20 minutes? Still, I admire your quest for unwrinkled clothes.

    Louise – Thanks for the info. I imagined the damn steamer would be pretty steamy.

    Darrell – Don’t you have a wife to do your shirts for you? BWAH-HA-HA-HA

  16. XUP sometimes, once in a while they sorta spread themselves out just right and althought there are creases, it’s still vaguely wearable. I have a great crease karma. Plus things like linen are supposed to be scrunched up.

    As for winter woolens… well there a skirt sometimes stays in the closet the whole season before I’ll take it out and iron it. I’m very lazy ironwise.

    I need to clone my brother in law, he irons all his own clothes and also does my sister’s.

    He doesn’t do all the cooking though…

  17. Although I go out of my way to purchase clothing that does not require ironing, I am a quilter, which is a sport heavily centered on ironing. I find it rather therapeutic and soothing to iron meters and meters of quilting cotton nice and flat.

  18. Harumpf… ironing? That’s for the non-informed!
    Showers! Hang yer stuff in them et voila! Instant non-wrinkled stuff!
    And if that isn’t enough – laundering guy’s shirts is damned cheap.. a buck 75 per shirt with starch in the collars and cuffs…
    I pity the fairer sex for paying three times that!

  19. I just bought a shirt that is meant to look – and be – wrinkled. It is so very difficult to not want to iron those wrinkles out. Then again, I hate ironing, so I wouldn’t bother trying anyway. I used to work in a cleaners and used one of those massive steamer things. It was easier when the contraption hung down from the ceiling and the clothes were on a moving rack. But, oh man, was it hot. I used to pass out from the heat. I was a delicate thing at 16.

  20. Elaine – Now you’re starting to sound suspiciously like Lebowski and his tire fires.

    Jazz – Winter is much better. Most of my winter clothes don’t need ironing. They do take up an awful lot of room, though.

    Susan – Ya, I can see ironing meters of cotton could be therapeutic. You don’t have to worry about pleats and darts and buttons and sleeves and zippers and shoulders and all that stuff that makes ironing clothes so annoying.

    Trashee – I don’t like all those chemicals in my clothes, so I’d never send them out to be laundered anyway. And the shower just makes my clothes damp.

    Violetsky – I once ruined a shirt like that. I was meant to be a bit wrinkly, but when I washed it, it got really wrinkly so I thought I’d iron it just a bit, but I ended up ironing all the wrinkled out of it and then it was just a shapeless sack. Sorry to hear about your that horrible job that made delicate little you swoon.

  21. I iron almost every morning (or night, depending upon when I am getting dressed). My ironing board folds down off the back of a door in a bedroom- saves space and works well. I use it for cotton shirts, skirts, and pants. I also have a steamer. It was about 30 bucks (KMart) and hangs off the back of another bedroom door. The water unit sits on the floor. It’s small, so it usually has to be refilled each time (which is the only pain of it), but it works fast on fabrics that can’t be ironed. I bought it on the advice of a friend and I can’t see how I would live without it now. Ironing takes a total of 7 minutes usually— sometimes I use both methods in one day.

  22. I never iron anything. Life is just too short to do ironing. When we moved into our present house, the movers lost one box. It contained my terry dressing gown (which I missed immediately) and my iron. Which it took me three months to notice was missing.

  23. Hi, I’m interested in the photo of the goffer for re-use in a textbook. Can you tell me where you found the image, or, if you took it yourself, can you provide me with a copy of it? Please let me know. And the blog was deeply amusing–thanks for making research fun!
    Sarah M. Anderson
    message at sarahmanderson dot com