16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Wednesday, May 3, 1911: I did most of the ironing this morning. Ironed my Ma’s fancy collar, but somehow I didn’t iron it right, then I got a lecture for my pains. Sewed this afternoon.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
A hundred years ago, when it was much more difficult to launder and iron clothes than it is today, women’s dresses sometimes had detachable collars.
Also, detachable collars came in different styles which enabled people to vary the look of one dress by changing the collar. If you’d like to see what they looked like, costumes.org has some vintage detachable collar patterns.
Even with modern irons, it can be difficult to iron clothes correctly. A hundred years ago ironing was even more complicated.
During the laundering process prior to ironing, the fancy collar probably needed to be starched to stiffen it to just the right degree of crispness. If the starch was inadvertently made too thin or too thick there was the potential for disaster.
And, when it was time to iron, the collar needed to be damp—but not too damp. Grandma probably was using a flatiron that was heated by placing it on the wood stove. It needed to be hot enough to get the wrinkles out—but not so hot that it would scorch the collar.
A book published in 1909 by Juniata Shepperd called Laundry Work: For Use in Schools and Homes had lots of tips for ironing difficulties:
- Make starch as directed for stiff starching, and use a clean, bare, unpainted table to work on. Things for stiff starching should be thoroughly dried before starching. . . Rub between the hands until the cloth is thoroughly saturated with starch. . . When well wiped, smooth out all wrinkles with the fingers, and hang to dry.
- To dampen collars and cuffs dip a clean white towel in hot water and wring moderately dry. Lay a collar straight on the towel and turn one thickness over it. Put on another collar, and turn the towel over it and so continue until all are in. Keep straight, and, when ready to iron, take out just one at a time. Starched things should not be damp enough to stick to the ironing board. If they blister when ironed, it indicates that they are too wet and the dampening cloth should be wrung a little drier next time.
- When set before a wood fire, irons heat well, but require frequent cleaning on account of the dust and ashes which are constantly coming in contact with them. They heat very well on the top of the kitchen range, but it must be made perfectly clean and free from polish where the irons set.
- Put a goodly pressure on the iron, and do not raise it from the cloth, but move it quickly and evenly over the surface to be smoothed. When a wrinkle is made in ironing, dampen it again in that place with a wet cloth and smooth out.
- Ironing should be done rapidly, otherwise much time is spent in changing the irons.
- To remove scorch stains lay the article in the window where the hot sunshine may act upon it for several hours. If the stain is but slight it may be removed by placing a folded white cloth under it and rubbing it gently with a damp cloth. An obstinate stain may be removed by dampening, soaping well and bleaching in the dew and sunshine.