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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.