Thursday, December 8, 2011


I write these little bits about household chores when I was young and appreciate it was mom’s full time employment.  She went back to work when I was in the 7th grade and her youngest was in school all day.  And, when dad’s shirts went permanent press.  There was a lot of work to running a house. 

Washing laundry for a family of six took up a day or two of each week.  Ironing took up another day or more, between bed making and meal preparation (elementary school walked home for lunch!).  When the clothes came in from the back yard or up from the basement, most had to be ironed. 

Mom spread a plastic tablecloth on the dining room table and the clothes were sprinkled.  No steam irons.  Mom didn't care for those sprinkler corks that went in pop bottles.  Perhaps because there was no pop at our house.  Sprinkled by hand, with water, folded and rolled into a cylinder to dampen properly.  They had to sit while the dampness went through and through, so often sprinkled items were stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator overnight.

Mom ironed e v e r y t h i n g.  Sheets.  Pillowcases. Handkerchiefs.  Dad’s boxer shorts.  Shirts, blouses, dresses.  Everything.  She had a mangle, and I don’t even remember its arrival.  It was just there, in the corner of the kitchen.  The mangle chair was a bentwood ice cream chair, painted red.  My Grandma Rolf had a mangle, too.  Hers was in the basement.  It may not have been an Ironrite.  It was always closed; I never saw it in action, but I slept on ironed sheets at her house.

About the time I was ten or eleven, mom decided I needed to learn to use the ironer.  I didn’t particularly care for ironing on the ironer, but there were fewer choices for children back then.  I acquired a small proficiency.  Then mom decided I could earn some money doing the ironing for working women of the neighborhood whose husbands and sons wore shirts.  I did, and delivered the finished goods on hangers, as I refused to learn to fold a shirt.  I got the coat hangers from a cleaner behind the elementary school.  Rode up there on my bike. 

Mom collected all our earnings at the back door and banked them.  When I started college there was enough ironing, baby sitting and grass mowing money to buy books for a couple of semesters.

Mom never let me iron dad’s shirts, but she didn’t have the same standards for my brothers’ shirts.  I ironed them just as well as I ironed shirts for neighborhood boys, and for no pay, but neither brother was satisfied.  They were teen agers who felt they were not making just the right appearance.  Each complained to my mother about wrinkled yokes or some such.  Not a problem.  She taught each how to set up an ironing board, plug in the iron and iron a shirt.  When I left home, they still had to do their own ironing.
Ironing was still a chore when I went to college.  I had an iron among my possessions and there was an ironing board in the dorm laundry room.  Many of us ironed our boyfriend’s shirts.  Dumb.  Back home, the Ironrite mangle was used less and less and finally sent to the basement.  But, when Jan and I began weaving, it was worth its weight in iron.  Invaluable in the fabric fulling process.  What those medieval weavers might have given for automatic washers, dryers and ironers.  That ironer, born in the 1940’s, lives on.  When we retired, I passed it on to another weaver.


  1. They just don't make stuff like they used to. Somewhere in my collection of posts I have one about laundry day way back when as well.

  2. The Mangle scared me to death. I never went near it. We did all the sprinkling, and them bagged the clothes, and put them in our large freezer. During the summer, ironing was made more pleasant by the frozen clothes.

  3. We never had one of those ironing machines. I guess I'm the permanent press generation! I know I continue to be grateful for modern conveniences. My latest washing machine has a steam function that freshens up clothes, but, frankly, sometimes you just need an old fashioned iron to be really crisp!

  4. Mom ironed everything, too. I loved it when we got to the pillowcases, sheets and handkerchiefs. They were easy. I never saw a mangle until my sister got one in the early 70s. She loved it.
    I remember when perma-press came into being. Mom was ecstatic.
    But she still ironed. Dad's pyjamas. Us girl's slips. The only thing I don't recall ever ironing was socks. Thank you for this little trip today!