My girlfriend was having a baby shower for her daughter-in-law in the midst of COVID, so the party was going to be virtual. My friend had the idea of sending a plain white onesie to each of the invited guests in advance of the party along with some paints and other decorating materials. Willing participants would have the opportunity to create a unique design and show off their artwork as entertainment during the party and then send it as a gift for the new baby.
She told me everything she was going to include in the bag, one item being a decal that would require being ironed on to the onesie. Then it occurred to me: how many friends of the new mom actually own irons?
When David and I moved in together, we had 2 irons. When my daughter and her husband moved in together, they had 0 irons.
Ironing is a part of my past from way back, when men’s dress shirts were worn to work every day and had to look freshly ironed and hard, as stiff as cardboard.
I can remember coming home for lunch when I was in elementary school to the smell of starch, and I’d be so excited. I’d say to myself “Annie is here!” and I’d follow the sound of the water bubbling in the iron as it turned to steam, and there she’d be, sweating over the hot iron.
Annie was my parents’ housekeeper, and she came to our place on Tuesdays. She always greeted me so warmly like she was genuinely happy to see me, and I think she was, because I liked to sit with her, especially when she was ironing. I’d watch every move she made with her big hands as she turned a wrinkly hankie or dress shirt into a crisp beauty. The transformation was incredible!
Now that I think about it, almost everything she ironed was white: my dad’s hankies, his shirts and even the sheets! I always admired the color contrast between her dark hands and the white surfaces.
Annie was very tall and didn’t say much, but when she did talk, her words were meaningful. She told me to pay attention to how she ironed, so I could learn.
Start with the cuffs and collar, she’d say, then go to the buttons, move to the areas below the collar around the front and back, next do the back area, and end with the front panels on either side of the buttons.
There were plenty of don'ts, too: Don't leave the iron in one place on the item for too long, or you could burn the material; don't leave the material in one spot, or you could create creases; don't iron over the buttons but instead use the point of the iron to go around the buttons; don't use too much starch - use just the right amount, and so on.
She would let me practice with my dad’s square hankies, and she critiqued me as I went along, showing me where to place my hands so I didn't get burned, how to fold the hanky if it was monogrammed, how to give a finishing touch to it once it was folded, and many other tricks she had up her sleeve.
Over time, I started to do a pretty respectable job, and then my mom would give me hankies to do on my own. I remember being unhappy when she went from buying all cotton and rather thick ones to some thin fabric mix that didn’t get so crinkly, because they didn’t require the focus or finesse that Annie spent so much time teaching me.
For the most part, my ironing without guidance went well, until I went beyond hankies and took the initiative of gathering all the clean laundry to iron. Included in this collection was one of my sister’s very wrinkly black bodysuits she wore for dance. It had short sleeves, with pink on one sleeve and a blueish-turquoise color on the other. It looked like it’d be a piece of cake to iron, given it didn’t have long sleeves, buttons or a collar. I pictured her being so impressed and pleased that I had ironed it for her.
Of course, if I saw this fabric today, I’d know it wouldn’t need to be and shouldn’t be ironed. It was nylon I think, with a lot of stretch.
Needless to say, the iron stuck to it and burned off the entire iron-shaped area. I remember the horror I felt looking at it in disbelief. It was ruined. I was so scared I’d get into trouble, and I think the joy of ironing was taken away from me right then, forever.
I don’t recall what happened after my mom and sister saw what I had done, so it couldn’t have been catastrophic; however, whenever I iron today, I always have a flashback of that moment in time.
I do wonder whether ironing is yet another one of the skills that will not be passed down to the next generation.