Back in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or more recently, June Cleaver, women did their housework on a schedule.
Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Rest on Sunday.
June didn’t have any household help, so she must have accomplished all that in her trademark pearls, heels, and perhaps a pretty apron (nicely ironed, too). And instead of churning butter, I suppose she just went to the market.
I average a couple of loads of laundry every other day. I bake when the mood strikes and I mend a favorite item of clothing once or twice a year. I don’t iron very often–I usually save it for special occasions. My regular attire is jeans and some kind of t-shirt or sweater, nothing that I’d bother ironing. But I do have a whole pile of shirts that I’d like to wear, if only they weren’t wadded up in the ironing basket in the linen closet. Today I decided I’d get a few of those ironed so I have more than three tops to wear, along with a couple of shirts for my suit-and-tie wearing husband. Usually he irons his own shirts, but I try to help out once in a while. You know, in between my soaps and after I’ve polished off the last of the bonbons.
Ironing isn’t a big deal if you know how to do it. Practice makes perfect, as they say. When I was nine or ten, back in the 1980s when 100% cotton was making a comeback after the polyester doubleknit of the 1970s, I desperately wanted this very cute pale yellow Esprit outfit (cotton pants with a matching slouchy jacket and a pink t-shirt–I even had baby blue lace up booties to go with it). My mother consented to buy it on the condition that I learn how to iron it myself. As a teenager I occasionally ironed shirts for my dad, who paid me a quarter per shirt (perhaps that was a one-time deal–I’m pretty sure I abandoned the ironing gig in favor of babysitting). As a live-in nanny one summer, I washed and ironed as part of my duties. And now, though we have to pay to have suits, coats and the occasional dress dry cleaned, we save a small bundle by not taking shirts to the cleaners.
So here’s a little tutorial on ironing a shirt, for those of you who never learned but would like to try. Perfection is not the goal here. If you’re that motivated, go check out YouTube for a slew of how-to videos. Get most of the wrinkles out and don’t scorch the fabric, I say. If you have to wear a dress shirt to work, why fritter away your paycheck getting those shirts cleaned and pressed? Not to mention, you can’t watch HGTV while driving to the cleaners and back.
How to Iron a Shirt
1. Plug in the iron and set it to the appropriate setting. I was ironing cotton and linen, but I like to set it a bit cooler so I don’t scorch anything. (I suspect our iron runs a little hot.) If you’re ironing cotton or linen, definitely crank up the steam. If your shirt has polyester or another synthetic, dial down the heat or you’ll melt the shirt. Really. You can use spray starch or a spray bottle of water, too, but I’ve found that the starch gunks up the iron after a while. Ideally, you’d iron the shirt while it’s still damp from the wash, but let’s get real. Your shirts are probably just like ours, piled in a basket somewhere in the back of the closet.
2. Fill the iron with water. (Some irons require distilled water; we just use tap water in ours and empty it faithfully when we’re finished.)
3. Iron the yoke. What is the yoke, you ask? It’s not part of an egg (that’s a yolk, and maybe you need to review your spelling words), or something to hitch to your team of oxen. Check out the photo below: it’s the part of the shirt that goes across the back of the shoulders, just below the collar. You won’t find one on some casual shirts or women’s blouses, but a standard men’s dress shirt definitely has a yoke. Slide it onto the narrow end of the ironing board and iron half of it. Then flip the shirt around and iron the other half.
4. Iron the collar. First do the wrong side, then the right side. Fold the collar down and lightly iron the fold.
5. Iron the sleeves. Lay the first sleeve flat on the ironing board. Smooth it out with your hands so the seams are flat. Iron first one side, then the other. Repeat for the other sleeve.
This shirt has French cuffs (because my husband is fancy that way). Iron the cuff flat, then fold it over, making sure the buttonholes line up, and lightly iron the fold.
7. Iron the front and back panels. Start on one side and work your way around to the other side. Start at the top of each panel where it meets the collar and sleeves, and work in sections down to the bottom hem of the shirt. Iron in between buttons, not over them.
When you get to the pocket, don’t try to press the whole pocket at once. You’ll probably end up with a crease somewhere. Iron half of it from one side, and then do the other side.
8. Now hang up your freshly ironed shirt and button the top button so it hangs nicely.
But wait! you cry. My shirt looks completely different! Never fear. The technique is the same no matter the shirt: start with the fiddly bits, and work top to bottom. Here’s a linen tunic of mine that doesn’t have a yoke or collar.
This one’s easy. Iron the sleeves first, then the front, then the back. I used the spray button on my iron to sprinkle the stubborn creases with water.
Now I have a freshly ironed top to wear with my pearls and heels. I like to look nice when Wally and the Beaver get home from school. But I’ll have to remember my pretty apron, because we’re having fish tacos for dinner and those things are MESSY.