In the museum of the Hancock, Massachusetts Shaker community, one can visit the communal ironing room. Pictured above is the ironing room itself and the stove that heated all the irons. While it is hard to see in the left hand picture, each little door could be opened to see the group of irons being reheated on the stove. While you can find irons like this today, they are usually used as doorstops.
When I was a kid, there were two fabrics in clothing: cotton and wool. Cotton wrinkled and wool shrunk, so each required specialized laundry knowledge. Cotton required ironing. I learned to iron when I was about eight, and have done it for the rest of my life, though many clothes I have today are blends that don’t wrinkle(at least enough to warrant my ironing them!) When I married my husband I told him I didn’t know how to iron, wanting to avoid the presumption that I would do his shirts. Of course, he figured out my ploy, but went ahead and did his own ironing.
The first iron I used did not have steam, so the clothing needed to be dampened, then rolled up to evenly distribute the moisture, then stacked with the other items, then ironed. I learned on pillowcases and handkerchiefs before I was “promoted” to my father’s oxford dress shirts. For some reason, my mother thought it was essential that I knew the proper order to iron a man’s dress shirt. As you can tell from the paragraph above, this specialized skill has not been put to use in my adult life.
Today fabrics are a mix of materials and my fancy steam iron has dials to adjust the heat and the steam. Nonetheless, I find myself melting some fabrics after forgetting to adjust the temperature down from linen. I have no idea if anyone irons today. Judging from a recent advertisement I saw, some people count on fabric softener to substitute for the chore. Never worked for me.