By SALLY COWAN
I do hope all my readers had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year. Now that “the party is over”, it is time to get back to work. And that can mean ironing again. If you sew, you need to iron. Neatly pressed clothes have been a sign of refinement and status throughout human history and in ancient times it was already known that heat or weight could help press creases both in and out of clothes. (for you English teachers, I know that was a very long sentence).
The Greeks employed the first known clothes irons in around 400 B.C., when they used heavy heated rollers, later known as goffering irons, to press pleats into garments. The Romans used flat metal mallets to beat creases into their togas, and the Vikings used mushroom-shaped “smoothing” or “slicken” stones that were rocked back and forth. However, since smoothing wrinkles and pressing sharp pleats involved time and hard labor, only the richest and most powerful could afford to have this done.
The clothes iron as we know it began to take shape in the Far East in the eighth century AD, with the use of the first box or slug irons. A box iron is a metal box with a flat bottom and a handle on top. A heated rock or hot coal or charcoal (the “slug”) is placed inside the box and heats the bottom surface. Box irons were in use in Europe by the 15th century, but by the 1700s the flat- or sad-iron was much more common. A flatiron is essentially a slab of metal with a handle, which is heated over an open fire or on a stovetop. But this was cumbersome and weighed 15 pounds.
We will “iron on” next week.