By HEATHER MALLICK
Saturday, March 19, 2005
They called it "ironing." Now a maligned and neglected activity, it once played a big part in the movies. Think of Dr. Zhivago, with nurse Lara (Julie Christie) ironing hospital linens as lustful Dr. Yuri (Omar Sharif) looks on. Their passionate gaze could, and in fact did, burn holes in sheets.
But a funny cultural shift happened after John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger came out. It started out as a drama about a justifiably angry young man. Then came feminism, and suddenly everyone noticed the bullied wife in the background ironing her husband's shirts.
And just like that, no woman ever ironed a man's shirt again. Oh, there are still limits to how slovenly a woman will allow her husband to look as he goes off to work in the morning. I remember once looking at my boss's shirt (unironed, hole in sleeve) and realizing suddenly that his wife was not in love with him any more. They divorced within the year. Her hatred was expressed through an absence of dry-cleaning.
No one irons anything any more, if I am to judge by the state of the world's T-shirts. Yes, I iron my T-shirts: It turns them from sulky looking things, like fabric with a rash, to crisp garments that would be worn by a Frenchwoman. I believe they award La Légion d'Honneur for ironing in France.
I am a feminist. I iron. This is not a contradiction in terms. Feminists get things done. I stack logs, paint sheds and prune trees. And I iron, thus saving hundreds of dollars. Except I don't call it ironing. I call it "crisping." As for the sport of "extreme ironing," wherein people press clothes on mountaintops and tightropes, I regard it as a male joke at the expense of crispery.
The writer Simon Carr once admiringly explained his wife's perfect housekeeping. "A tidy house created a force field. The plumped cushions, the beds crisp and fresh -- it was like action stations. If you wanted to do something, there was nothing you had to do first." Then she died, and he and his two sons descended into a level of squalor that would embarrass Lynndie England's trailer park.
I like my bed so I buy sheets with absurd thread counts, 1,200 to the inch or something. They must be ironed and I stand there, moving the hot thing, pressing the steamer, activating the sprayer and pouring water and L'Occitane's Bonne Mère Eau de Linge (rose scent) into the little slot. I have an ironing cloth for fabrics that could turn shiny. I have a beige ironing board without whimsy. It's a serious business.
Some have the notion that ironing is a peaceful experience. One drifts away. These people are wrong. One must pay constant attention or risk iron wrinkles in the fabric or, indeed, in the skin of one's hand. It's not relaxing at all. It's like flying a plane. I suppose this is why men and women can no longer be bothered to do it. Plus, you can't iron Spandex, and good for the stretchy mutant fabric that parades our bulges, I say. And don't iron acrylic. It melts. Check the label.
Crisping is nice. The Japanese word for jumbled things is gucho-gucho. The Dutch word for clean, says the Canadian architectural theorist Withold Rybczynski in his book Home, is schoon. Well, of course it is. Wouldn't you rather be schoon than gucho-gucho? But we mustn't get ridiculous. The German word for a daft cleaning frenzy is Putzfimmel.
I like my clothes to be both schoon and crisp. Occasionally in a Putzfimmel, I make the bed and iron the sheets there instead of on the ironing board. This way, you can get the sheet overhanging the blankets looking like a freshly laid highway. Don't let anyone catch you doing this; it looks mad.
You are perfectly entitled to send your shirts to a dry cleaner who doesn't use poisonous chemicals (although only a no-hoper would have his sheets professionally pressed). But doing your own laundering is truly cheap. The one thing that puzzles me about the reluctance to iron is the assumption that ironing is hard. It is not. The cloth is wrinkled. You pass a device over it. The wrinkles disappear. And you look fabulous, dahling.
Cheryl Mendelson, America's deeply troubled but as yet unincarcerated cleaning obsessive, has 10 pages in her hygiene bible Home Comforts devoted to ironing, not including starches and sizing, plus eight pages on folding. "Use moderately paced, steady back-and-forth strokes, with slight downward pressure," she writes. That's not ironing, lady, that's sexual intercourse. The woman's three shots short of a steam clean, I tell you.
There is no need for such details. Just iron, you people. Iron the edges of sheets, at least, iron linen dishcloths, cotton trousers, jeans, even cotton summer hats. I even iron newspapers if I treasure a particular clipping.
There is only one favourable portrayal in literature of a person who irons diligently. It is, of course, Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. She dipped Tom Titmouse's dicky shirt fronts in a basin of starch before she ironed them.
Now that was one ironing hedgehog. We would do well to follow her example.
It's not relaxing. It's like flying a plane
Do you lack ironing skills? There's no needto wear a wrinkled shirt or pay a fortune to a dry cleaner. Here is a guide for naifsand slackers.
These days, the desired effects of ironing may vary from person to person. An office worker may focus on having a neatly pressed front, which shows in a jacket, while a clubber may focus on cuffs. However, most experts agree on certain truths.
1-Unbuttoning the shirt all the way, lay the shirt flat on the ironing board. Start with the back; it's the largest area and sets a base for the
rest of the shirt. Do the face-down side first.
2-Don't keep the surface of the iron on the fabric for more than a few seconds. And never leave an iron lying on its belly.
3-Working quickly but confidently, gradually rotate the shirt so its different constituent parts fall under the heat: the top, the sides and the lapels of the back.
4-To iron the sleeves, lay each one in turn along the length of the board so you can make nice creases; a traditional good ironing job has a sharp line running down the edge (if you're a metrosexual or "au naturel" philosophically,
5-Iron the collar flat on both sides, then fold it so the worn-crease is created and iron that. Also, finish off with cuffs (unbutton, iron them flat on both sides, then do them up when
6-Hang the shirt on a hanger that fits its shoulders: A padded hanger is better than wire, unless you're a dry cleaner with a deft touch.
IRONING TIP: You can also use your iron to make quick and easy toasted sandwiches. Place ketchup and slices of cheese between two pieces of bread. Set the heat to high and grill each side once. Clean iron with baking soda dissolved in water and a soft rag; wipe it with fresh water before heating the iron again.
IRONING TIP: Keep pets out of the room while ironing. The swinging cord will attract the cat while the cat will attract the dog. Both the iron and board will end up knocked over, resulting in burns to your feet, floor and animals.
IRONING TIP: Never answer the phone while ironing. This can lead to a severely burned ear.