Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Wednesday's Workbox - How To Iron A Shirt

Despite the heat today, Little Bear and I have been doing the ironing.  We put on the radio and listened to Andre Rieu as we ironed and it was great fun!  One of us sorted, folded and put away while the other one ironed and then we switched over.  Our work was done in no time, and we were almost sorry when we had finished and had to put the iron away until Friday!

Ironing is one of my favourite chores!  In fact I think I would go so far as to say that I don't actually think of it as a chore, but a pleasure.  It is not just that it is one of the most satisfying household tasks that a homekeeper can work on - you get wonderful results every time, with very little effort or skill required - but also that it is so lovely to work with the clean, sweetly scented clothes (and lavender water, which I put into the iron before I start).  I especially like ironing our bedclothes for this reason - everything is so pretty and fresh, and I love to see it all crisply ironed and folded, ready to be put away!  In an hour or two you can transform into neatness a heap of creased and rumpled garments with really not much trouble at all, and yet somehow it always makes me feel so efficient!  Having my family in nicely ironed clothes is important to me.  Even when we were living in very poor and impoverished accommodation (one room with two small babies), I always made certain to iron everything.  I would be minded of a passage in one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (I think it might be the one most well known of all - "Little House On The Prairie") in which even though the family are travelling in a bow-top wagon with all their possessions piled inside it, Ma still finds a way to launder their clothes - and iron them, using the front seat of the wagon as an ironing board!  That was always an inspiration to me to make sure I found a way to keep our clothes looking nice, too.

One of the garments which I find myself ironing most frequently of all is shirts.  Papa Bear and Cubby Bear wear at least five shirts a week (on the other days they may wear sports shirts that do not need ironing), and frequently Little Bear or I will have worn a blouse too, which needs to be ironed in the same way as a man's shirt.  Therefore over the years, I have ironed a great many shirts indeed, and I am happy to share what I have learned with readers who may not, through age or circumstance, have quite as many years of experience as I do!  Yes, I know that ironing doesn't really come under the same workbox label as creative activities such as knitting or sewing, but for both these skills, it is important that you are also able to iron efficiently, so that your finished garments and other items look professional and neat, and to my mind it is a skill that any crafter, whatever your chosen interest is, may find useful to accomplish - even if you don't have a family to iron for, or you happen to care little for neatly pressed clothes!

I must admit that not all the credit can be given to me!  I learned to iron by watching my mother, and Little Bear has learned through watching me using the same technique that I am sure my grandmother and greatgrandmother probably used too.  It's a bit of a fiddle, I'll agree - I certainly wouldn't advise a beginner in the art of ironing to start with a shirt - but it is a skill worth knowing!  At the very least, you will have a happy husband if you can iron a shirt properly - and a beautiful looking wardrobe, too!  So I must thank my mam, Grandmama Bear for handing down her skills to me - and to my daughter, too, who irons her brother's shirts to perfection now.

Start by making sure that you have the right equipment though.   An iron doesn't need to cost much - ours didn't, and has lasted for years even so - but I would recommend one that has a steam facility.  Most clothes (though not some - silk for example should never be steam ironed) are easier to iron if they are damp, and a steam iron takes out all the bother of having to spray them as you go.  I do sometimes spray items that have got really deep creases in them, if they have hung out on the line too long and got really dry before I brought them in, but some irons also have a spray facility built in with the steam function, so have a look at the different models before you buy.  If you have a large family to iron for, these little extras may well be very handy indeed.

Also make sure that your ironing board is the right height.  Over the years I've ironed on tables, floors, kitchen worktops and even a folded towel on a bed (which was not very successful!) but I must admit I do like my ironing board!  It is height-adjustable, which makes work much easier.  Ironing is less hard work if the ironing board is below waist height, so that you are able to lean over and put more of your own body weight into the work, so unless you have back troubles, you may find that you will get through your ironing quicker if you lower the board a notch or two.  I didn't realise this until recently, quite by accident when I set the ironing board up incorrectly without really watching what I was doing, and then found it was stuck and I couldn't adjust it back up to the right height (which was in fact much too high for me).  Rather than wait for Papa Bear to come home from work and adjust it for me, I got to work anyway, and was amazed by how much eaiser it was using the board set at the much lower setting!  Now I always use it this way and find my work much less tiring.  Try it and see - you will be very surprised, I promise!

Now for your shirt ...

Check in the label of the garment to ensure you will be setting the iron to the correct temperature.  I tend to iron shirts after synthetics, but before jeans or bedding, and use the iron on its hottest, or nearly hottest setting, because most of Papa and Cubby Bear's shirts are made of thick brushed cotton, and not polycotton which needs ironing on a lower setting.  Denim shirts need a hotter setting still.  If unsure, set the iron lower than you want, and if it doesn't make quick work of smoothing out the creases, raise the setting a notch or two and try again.  It is worth being cautious - if you use too high a setting you will scorch the fabric and there is really no way to remedy this apart from sewing a patch over the scorched place if this is possible without spoiling the look of the garment.  We've all done it - but I've learned over the years to proceed with caution!

Ensure the soleplate of your iron is clean (if you've previously scorched a garment, it may not be ... so do look!  You can clean scorches off by very gently scrubbing the soleplate with a scourer (a plastic one is better than a metal one) dipped in a little fabric conditioner.

Start with the shirt inside out, unbuttoned (don't forget cuffs), and iron all the double thickness parts first (apart from the collar).  I like to do the seams down the front and then the cuffs.  It is a bit tricky to navigate around the buttons, but if you look closely at the soleplate of your iron, you will see a small ridge all around the edge which is there especially to make it easier to iron around buttons! 

When ironing cuffs (and collar), iron from the inside edge to the outer, smoothing them so that the fabric isn't rucked at all.  Sometimes it helps just to dab the edges with the tip of the iron.

Turn the shirt the right way around now, and hold it with the back facing you.  Fold it just below where the seam of the yoke is (about 6 inches from the collar on a man's shirt) so that the yoke is uppermost.  Now lay the shirt on the board with the fold at the edge, and iron just the folded part (not to the fold, or you will get a big line beneath the seam of the yoke, which you don't want).

Iron the collar band on both sides next. 

Then iron the collar itself, smoothing the creases inwards towards the collar band, then finally giving one stroke of the iron in the opposite direction.

Now iron the sleeves by stretching it out, smoothing the underarm seam so that the fabric lies evenly on either side (if you don't do this, then you will end up with a line along one side of the sleeve, where the seam didn't quite lie flat).  Iron the sleeve double thickness from shoulder to cuff, then turn over and repeat.  I do iron a crease into the top (upperarm) edge of a sleeve because Papa Bear likes them done this way but some men prefer not to have this so if you are an eager new wife, do check that you are doing it the way your husband likes!  Or ask his mother - Cubby Bear is going to expect a wife who knows how to iron creases into his shirt sleeves!   If the menfolk in your life do not want a crease along the upper arm of their shirts, then bring the iron just within the edge of the fabric to avoid the crease appearing.  Repeat on the other side.

Iron the body of the shirt starting with the back, then both fronts.

Lay the shirt face up on the ironing board so that the pleats or darts in the back lie as they would when it was being worn, then iron these into place.

Repeat on the front of the shirt, if there is tailoring here too (on most labouring work shirts, of the sort Papa Bear wears, there is no extra tailoring on the front as the shirt is designed to be worn over other clothes and therefore is cut big anyway).

Finally button the shirt over a hanger, or if it is going to be stored or put in a case for travelling, fold it by laying it face down on the ironing board, folding the side seams back to the centre back and lying the sleeves along the folded edges.  Then turn up the cuffs into the sleeves, and turn the base of the shirt up into the body about 6 inches or so, then fold again in half.  This will result in a neatly folded shirt that should not need ironing again when unfolded.

I like to think that each and every shirt I have ironed for Papa Bear and Cubby has been infused, along with the beautful lavender water, by a veil of my love that will embrace them all day long when they put the shirt on!  Fanciful maybe, but a lovely thought for me!

Happy ironing everyone!