The art of ironing clothes

Published 9:00 am Sunday, January 18, 2015

Art Is… by Bev Jackson Cotter

Let’s visit about the art of ironing clothes and the inspiration to do so.

Bev Jackson-Cotter

Bev Jackson-Cotter

My mother ironed every Tuesday. She was born in 1902 to German immigrant parents and was the youngest daughter in a large family. There was lots of ironing to do, and she became an expert. I mention the German ethnic group, because I don’t know of anyone else who was so very particular about this process.

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On Monday, after washing clothes in her Maytag wringer washing machine, hanging each piece on the line — outside in the summertime and on the basement lines in the winter, and then taking the dry clothes down, she would set up the ironing board, fill her sprinkler jar with water, and then dampen each and every item that she had washed. Then on Tuesday mornings, she and the previous day’s washing were ready for ironing.

By every item, I mean her dresses and aprons, Dad’s shirts and pants, my skirts, jeans, blouses and dresses, dish towels, sheets and pillowcases, our underwear (no kidding) and her cleaning rags (they had to be folded into squares to fit in the drawer). I don’t recall her ever teaching me how to iron clothes, but I must have caught on by watching this weekly process.

When Dick and I were first married, her routine became my routine, except for the sheets, pillowcases, underwear and cleaning rags. On Monday mornings, my Maytag churned out clothing for my family of six. This, too, was hung on the line (outside in the summer and inside in the winter), then when dry, removed and sprinkled for Tuesday’s ironing.

I thought that was how everyone lived.

What a difference a few years makes. Now I dash for the dryer as soon as it stops, grab clothing items and hang them on hangers before they are even cool. Tadaa! No wrinkles and almost no ironing! Then why is there a pile of clean and wrinkled clothes waiting on my dryer?

Waiting for what? Maybe next summer when I need the white capris, maybe next fall when Michael will want to wear that shirt, maybe a Tuesday when I don’t have something better to do, maybe …

I’ve decided that the organized, German routine that I used to know has been lost in this freedom called “retirement.” There is always tomorrow …

Or maybe I just need to be inspired, like waiting for inspiration to help me create a watercolor painting or to write a column.

Last week when I looked at that pile of clothing on the dryer, I decided to Google “ironing clothes” to see what I could find. Surely, there would not be anything so mundane as “ironing” on the Internet. Guess what I found. Hundreds of sites — Better Homes & Gardens (step by step process for every item of clothing), Reader’s Digest (“Are You Ironing Wrong?”), and WikiHow (homemade spray starch — one tablespoon cornstarch and two cups of water).

There are lists of clothing descriptions, how to videos, ideas for using tinfoil on the ironing board, and even a suggestion for cleaning your iron’s surface with toothpaste. You can also read your instructions in French, Spanish, German or any of several other languages.

I was curious about a website named “askmen.” It had suggestions like “to remove wrinkles, don’t lay your shirt on the floor and cover it with heavy textbooks,” and you cannot go out wearing a shirt that you’ve just ironed and a pair of pants “that look like they have been stuffed in a suitcase for a week.”

After stepping back into family history and all of this research, am I inspired to tackle that pile of clothes laying on the dryer?

No, but I do have a great idea for a new watercolor painting.


Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center.