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Ironing and Handkerchief Memories

January 26, 2022

A Right of Passage Ironed Out

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                When I was a young girl, being allowed to use an electric iron and the ironing board to press handkerchiefs and pillow cases seemed to be a jump to a higher level of maturity.  Along with other women of the 1950s, my mother took important preparatory steps to ironing –sprinkling or dampening the clothing and other items with lukewarm water, folding each item, rolling up the piece, and then placing each item into a special plastic bag for holding the dampened clothes.  My mother always used a glass Pepsi bottle  with a cork sprinkler head affixed to the top of the soda bottle for this household chore.  Many times, I stood around or sat at the kitchen table to observe my mother sprinkling the clothing with quickness and efficiency. 

                Later, my mother let me know which pieces I could iron; or she placed some “easy pieces” at the squared-off end of the ironing board.  In my youthful ironing days, I so enjoyed carefully pressing the water-sprinkled handkerchiefs that were edged in tatting (expertly crafted by Margaret Marietta, the clerk of my mother’s post office) or crocheted with lace (by a relative).  As I ironed the handkerchief, I folded it until the hanky was in a neat triangle shape.  Next, I ironed my dad’s large handkerchiefs, many of which were embroidered with the letter “M.”  I folded and ironed, folded and ironed until one of my dad’s handkerchiefs was in a pocket-sized shape of a rectangle. 

Although we no longer use handkerchiefs, I still have some pretty ones and a couple of my dad’s saved as family treasures.  What ironed out the handkerchiefs?  Of course, the more prominent use and then virtually exclusive use of facial tissues.  Nevertheless, how often my sister and I received a birthday card or graduation card with a lovely handkerchief edged with lace or tatting tucked inside the card! 

Through the years, I gradually graduated to being able to iron and permitted to iron any piece in the laundry bag.  To me, ironing was rewarding work.  Until I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and then arthritis in my hands, I loved ironing–a relaxing chore.

                Fortunately, wash-and-wear fabrics became popular.  While I was delighted with these new fabrics, I do think they took away the right of passage of ironing.  With so many wash-and-wear articles of clothing in my closets, sometime in the late 1990s, I gave away my ironing board  and then my lightweight iron–quite different from the heavy-duty one used by my grandmothers.

                Yes, I wear my memories on my sleeve–that I no longer iron.

NOTE:  In the comment section of this WORDWALK blog, you are welcome to add your own ironing and/or handkerchief memories.

Have a cozy and safe end of January!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 26, 2022, Wednesday


From → Uncategorized

  1. Carole permalink

    Ironing . . . what a coincidental topic for this week. It is time-consuming, but the outcome is impressive and worth the effort. While recovering from “whatever is going around,” I put my activities on hold and decided to freshen the “non-iron, wrinkle-free” shirts and blouses that were hanging in the closet. I like the crisp creases and smoother look, but do not plan on making this closet makeover a habit.

    As far as handkerchiefs, I love the beautiful pieces of that era; and yes, ironing was on the to-do list for almost everything. Ironically, a friend just told me recently that she still irons her sheets and pillowcases, which I have no plans of ever doing.

    Thanks for the memories, Alice!

    • Good morning, Carole–Thanks for your comment!  What a coincidence! 
      While I recall ironing pillow cases, I do not remember Mother’s ironing
      our sheets although I know some people did iron sheets on a Mangle which
      our mothers and other relatives had.  In a blog of a few years ago, I
      wrote about the Mangle–a fairly large appliance for ironing large pieces.

      Take good care–Alice and Willow

  2. Thank you for the wonderful memories of our ironing routine and of the lovely crocheted handkerchiefs, Alice! I also remember being fascinated by watching Mother’s and Aunt Zita’s “sprinkling” routine using the Pepsi bottle. My ironing list also included Dad’s white undershirts. In one of my drawers, I have a collection of handkerchiefs—some of which belonged to Ric’s mother. In past years, I visited the home of a teacher friend who had lace-trimmed handkerchiefs hanging from a rod above the window in her kitchen. How charming the variety of delicately crocheted pieces looked suspended in a row by one corner across the window! I’m sure there must be many creative ways to use and preserve these treasured pieces from the past.

    Love to you and Willow,

    • Mary–Thanks for adding more memories to this post!  One difference
      between Mother’s ironing routine and that of her older sister–Aunt
      Zita–was that our dear aunt/restauranteur often placed her zippered,
      vinyl plastic laundry bag with all of the dampened clothes to be ironed
      in the refrigerator before she would find the time to iron the garments.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  3. Susan M. McKendry permalink

    Alice, this sure brought back some memories! And recently on FB there was a post about the “sprinkling” and my youngest sister wondered what it was all about. Like you, I started with handkerchiefs. I loved the immediate gratification of seeing a perfectly pressed and folded stack of dad’s hankies. Because my mother hated ironing and I was the oldest, she was more than happy to pass the job down to me bit by bit as I got older and more skillful. By the time I was in seventh grade I was doing the family’s ironing, including the six white non-permanent press shirts my father wore for his work as a teacher 5 days a week and one for Sunday. My mother used your Aunt Zita’s method of keeping the sprinkled clothes in the refrigerator or in the entryway during cold weather to prevent mold. It was a good thing that permanent press was invented because neither of my sisters had any interest in taking over when I left home. Thanks again for reminding me of a chore that I enjoyed.

    • Hi, Sue–I greatly appreciate your adding your family history to this
      post about ironing and handkerchiefs.  Permanent press was a wonderful
      invention–even though we both enjoyed ironing!

      Stay warm and well!  Talk with you soon–Alice and Willow

  4. Hi Alice, I too learned to iron, taught by my mother. By the time I was 14, I was ironing all of the family clothes that needed it including three shirts per day for my salesman stepfather. I also earned money ironing for neighbors at 10 cents apiece. A steam iron accompanied me to college, so no more sprinkling! I still have a small steam iron and a table top miniature ironing board that hangs on a hook in my laundry room. It comes in handy when I am preparing objects for hand-sewing or for hems that refuse to come out flat from the dryer. DQN

    • Good afternoon, DeAnna–Thanks so much for adding your ironing memories
      to this post and for signing up to “follow” my WORDWALK blog!  The
      current stats log you as #72 in following my blog. Also, I appreciate
      your details of recollection; for example, your noting that you received
      ten cents per piece ironed was quite interesting.

      Take care, and enjoy the weekend–Alice and Willow

  5. Thank you Alice, times may have changed but beautiful customs can always stay in our memories. And I’m sure if I look hard enough, I will find a handkerchief lying around here somewhere 🙂
    Hugs, Rebeca and Family

    • Hi, Rebeca–Thanks so much for reading more of my WORDWALK blog today
      and for another nice comment.

      My best to you and your family–Alice and Willow

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