What more than repays us for the trouble and pain

A couple of days ago I was looking through  a school text book, ‘Domestic Economy’, published in 1899 as a class book for girls, in The Royal School Series, – ‘for the use of The Commission of National Education in Ireland’, and came across some helpful hints for ironing. The little text book was obviously written to teach girls about household duties as a wife, but also for many of them when they went into service. Even very modest households would have had a maid – you only have to read Agatha Christie’s novels to realise that!

Back to ironing, or ‘irony’ as my husband calls it, here are the remaining five tips from ‘Domestic Economy’ on how to iron:

6. To prevent starched things from sticking together, a small piece of borax, or a piece or two of loaf sugar, should be dissolved in the starch. Some people stir hot starch with a tallow candle for the same purpose

7. The old-fashioned way of heating irons was to put them before the fire on “the hanger.” A great improvement on this plan is to heat them on the ironing stove, with which most cottages are now fitted. These stoves require much less coal than the larger open grate.

8. Irons are of various kinds, – the flat iron, the box iron, and the slipper iron. The box iron is a case into which a red-hot poker is put, so that the surface of the iron can be kept perfectly bright, because it never goes near the fire. The slipper is a kind of case, also kept bright, into which the ordinary flat irons are fastened. Both these inventions are meant to keep clothes clean, where the stove is used they are unnecessary.

9. There are many other machines used in getting up linen, the principal of which are the italian iron, the goffering iron, and the crimping machine.

10. Washing and ironing demand from us much pains and trouble; but the comfort of clean clothes, to ourselves and those we love, more than repays us for the trouble and pain.

I find this last five instructions particularly interesting as they show how completely different ordinary people’s lives were a hundred years ago – particularly in a rural setting where people lived in cottages, and where there would be a fire burning in the kitchen to cook on, to heat water, to heat irons to complete this domestic task. It’s so easy for me, I set up the ironing board, plug in the lightweight iron, adjust the setting for the fabric I’m using (many are easy-iron, many if not most made of synthetic material) and then when it’s finished, the iron cools quickly, the lightweight ironing board folds easily, and the task is done. I don’t need different sorts of irons such as a slipper iron!

To prevent starched things from sticking together, a small piece of borax, or a piece or two of loaf sugar, should be dissolved in the starch. Some people stir hot starch with a tallow candle for the same purpose. The old-fashioned way of heating irons was to put them before the fire on “the hanger.” A great improvement on this plan is to heat them on the ironing stove, with which most cottages are now fitted. These stoves require much less coal than the larger open grate. Irons are of various kinds, – the flat iron, the box iron, and the slipper iron. The box iron is a case into which a red-hot poker is put, so that the surface of the iron can be kept perfectly bright, because it never goes near the fire… There are many other machines used in getting up linen, the principal of which are the italian iron, the goffering iron, and the crimping machine.

The sweetest thing of all, though is the sentiment in the last sentence, the comfort of clean clothes, to ourselves and those we love, more than repays us for the trouble and pain – rather lovely for Mothering Sunday!

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