On irons, starch, and ironing boards

October 4, 2011 08:07 – 08:07

I wonder how many people under the age of 30 have ever used an iron, let alone used starch. Back in the dark ages—before permanent press—my mother insisted that I use starch when ironing my shirts. Yes, I was doing my own ironing by the time I was 6. All starch did was make shirts uncomfortable, and manage to turn any wear-induced wrinkles into even deeper and more noticeable crevices. If not used properly, starch also can really gunk up an iron and make a really unpleasant smell.

And, whoever thought up using starch on handkerchiefs??? Do this only for display hankies. Do not use starch on your “I have a cold” supply of handkerchiefs.

Somewhere along the way, something called “wash-and-wear” came along. While it never really worked, it gave me an excuse not to iron certain pieces of clothing. Then came permanent press—which was neither permanent nor pressed. Nonetheless, I rejoiced at the invention, and used the nomenclature as an excuse to stop using starch, and ultimately as an excuse to live with wrinkles. Living with wrinkles, as it turns out, is a very handy acceptance skill to have as one makes his way through his second half-century of life.

These days, we still have an iron, but I tend to use it only on extremely rare occasions—maybe once every few years. So, what else are irons good for?

Irons are essential for iron-on patches and this stuff called Stitch Witchery. The latter is a webbed fabric glue and is a good substitute for actual stitches when you need to hem a pair of trousers and don’t feel like dealing with needle and thread. You can also make Halloween costumes using the stuff, as well as for affixing achievement patches onto uniforms. Ultimately, patches should be sewn on, but the iron-on stuff is a great stop-gap. An iron also can be good for accelerating the drying of a “must-wear-this one” shirt.

Through the 1960s and even into the 1970s, irons were great for making grilled cheese (and ham and cheese) sandwiches. You assemble the sandwich, adding a little butter to the outsides of the bread, and then wrap it in aluminum foil. Then, you use a heated iron to press the sandwich. I found that the Cotton setting (no steam) worked best—about 60 seconds on each side. There’s nothing quite as appetizing as leaking butter sizzling on a hot iron, or hot cheese leaking and leaching into an ironing board cover. Yum. I cannot recommend cooking omelets this way. However, if you can find a way to hold the iron in place upside down (a large shoe works), an iron can be used to heat a cast iron skillet. And once you have a hot cast iron skillet, nothing is impossible.

Just about every hotel room seems to come with an iron and ironing board. Do not be fooled—these are not provided for making thrice-worn clothing look fresh (nothing says “professional” like ironed-in sweat stains). Irons are there as a cooking device for rooms that do not have microwave ovens. And ironing boards are there because they can make handy makeshift luggage stands and laptop tables.

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