Before I married, my knowledge of antiques of any kind was minimal. My husband, Charley, has a variety of family heirlooms and the family stories surrounding them. Over the coming months, I will share about some of these antiques and their historical significance.
Today, I want to focus on the flat irons my husband has collected. Originally named the Sadiron because they weighed between five and ten pounds. I’ve always known them referred to as a Flat iron.
This flatiron is heavy and the handle get hot when heated.
The desire to remove wrinkles from clothing goes back as far as the Chinese thousands of years ago. A variety of “irons” have evolved since then, but I am going to focus on the flat iron. most commonly used in America since the mid-19th century.
Our ancestors considered the Sadiron a timesaving device, if you can believe that. Forerunners of the flatiron had hot coals in the base and were very hazardous to use.
Most homemakers had at least two flatirons, and they heated them on their wood-burning stove. They used one iron while the other was heating, therefore making the task go quicker. Even though taking all day to do ironing doesn’t seem quick to me.
My mother like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before her had a specific day she would do laundry and the next day was usually ironing day. And a day of ironing with a flatiron was more hazardous than the electric irons we use today. The handle was metal too, and it got as hot as the bottom. A thick cloth or quilted pad had to be used to hold the handle. Burned fingers and burn scarring were the unfortunate byproducts of using a flatiron.
The most common way to make sure the flatiron was hot enough was to spit on it. A few ladies magazines encouraged more genteel women to hold the iron close to her cheek to test the temperature. (Not something I would ever do.) Did the suggestion of flicking a bit of water on the surface come up in conversation?
Housewives took great care of their irons to keep the ironing surface clean. The surface was sanded and either a bit of grease or more often beeswax was rubbed on the surface to make sure it glided over the cloth and didn’t scorch material.
Although folding ironing board were available, few households owned one. Instead, a thick cloth would be laid on the kitchen table or on a board laid between two chairs as an ironing surface. The lower surface on the chair made it easy for a child to handle the chore.
As you can see, my husband’s ancestor had the solid metal handle. But a clever housewife invented a removal wooden handle.
Mary Florence Potter was nineteen when she applied for a patented for her removable wooden handled flat iron in 1871. She was one of only a few women issued a patent during the 1800s.
The only way she could successfully sell her invention was by selling the patent to The American Manufacturing Company. They sold Mrs. Potts flat iron as a kit containing two irons and a wooden handle.
The wood did not conduct heat, therefore making ironing far safer.
They sold her flat iron from 1876 to 1951.
Theses fluting irons were used to press ruffles. The one left was my husband's great-great grandmothers. The material was placed between the heated base and iron and rocked to press. The one below rolled over the material. Both photos were taken by Charles Huff.
Pictured above and to the right are two more irons my husband collected. Called fluting or goffering irons. They were designed to iron ruffles, ruches, and pleats. Both had bottoms that were heated. The fabric was placed on the heated surface and the iron carefully rolled to refresh the ruffles. The ruffle was usually starched (made from a very thin flour paste) and would stiffen from the heat of the iron.
During the 19th century, many garments displayed ruffles and other fancy trim that would take even longer to press. These irons were more often found at professional laundresses or homes of the wealthy.
I grew up ironing everything from sheets to my father’s white cotton boxers (The military required even undergarments to be wrinkle free). It would take hours. I can’t imagine how arduous using a flat or fluting iron would be. The flat iron is heavy enough to break one’s toe if drop on it. (I speak from experience.)
I love writing about and reading historical fiction, but I am very grateful to be living in the era of perma-press and wrinkle-free fabrics.
Have any of you ever used a flat iron? And do any of you still iron?
Cindy Ervin Huff is a multi-published writer. She has been featured in numerous periodicals over the last thirty years. Her historical romance Secrets & Charades won the Editor Choice, Maxwell Award, and Serious Writer Medal. Her contemporary romance, New Duet released in 2018 placed second in the 2019 Serious Writer Awards and a finalist in the 2019 Selah Awards. Healing Hearts, her novella is included in The Smitten Romance Collection, The Cowboys.
Cindy is a member of ACFW, Mentor for Word Weavers. founding member of the Aurora, Illinois Chapter of Word Weavers and Christian Writer’s Guild alumni. She loves to encourage new writers on their journey. Cindy and her husband make their home in Aurora, Illinois. Visit her website: www.cindyervinhuff.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/cindyehuff,
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