The Poetry of Ironing

June 17, 2014

Iron with stack of cotton napkins

Iron with stack of cotton napkins

Ode to Ironing
by Pablo Neruda, translated by Ilan Stavans

Poetry is white:
it comes from water swathed in drops,
it wrinkles and gathers,
this planet’s skin has to spread out,
the sea’s whiteness has to be ironed out,
and the hands keep moving,
the sacred surfaces get smoothed,
and things are done this way:
the hands make the world every day,
fire conjoins with steel,
linen, canvas and cotton arrive
from the scuffles in the laundries,
and from light a dove is born:
chastity returns out of the foam.

Embroidered pillowcase ready to be smoothed out

Embroidered pillowcase ready to be smoothed out

Ironing a shirt

Ironing a shirt

Hands make the world every day

Hands make the world every day

Iron cooling on the counter

Iron cooling on the counter

Do young people iron these days?  I don’t think my 25-year-old daughter even owns an iron and an ironing board.  I rarely iron because I  wear mostly cotton tee-shirts and jeans — things that I fold right from the dryer before wrinkles set.

So when I do have a few shirts to iron, the task is fraught with nostalgia.  My mother raised us girls to be little Suzie homemakers.  She started our lessons in ironing when we were about 5 years old by giving us the job of ironing the family’s handkerchiefs.  In those “olden” times before Kleenex and paper tissues, we always carried a handkerchief in our purses or pockets.  For everyday Dad and the boys used red and blue bandanas.  On Sundays they carried pristine white handkerchiefs.  The girls’ handkerchiefs were pretty with floral borders, each different.

Eventually we graduated to ironing dish towels and pillowcases.  Then we moved on to the more complex task of ironing Dad’s and the boy’s everyday work shirts.  Mom expected us to follow a strict order when ironing the shirts — first each sleeve and cuff, then the parts around the collar, including the back yolk, next the front panels and the back, and finally the collar.

You knew you were an accomplished ironer when you took on the responsibility of ironing Dad’s dress shirts and our church-wear.

Mom washed clothes twice a week, so we got lots of practice.

Mom thought polyester was a miracle fiber because it resisted wrinkles and made ironing less of a chore.  I prefer 100-percent cotton, which feels good on my skin and doesn’t give off a chemical smell under the hot iron.

I don’t miss those twice-weekly ironing sessions, but they do hold (now) fond memories for me.


Piecing a quilt top on my dining room table

I accomplished one of my goals — piecing a quilt top — during the library’s unpaid furlough week.  I started this project years ago, and finally got 16 Bear Paw blocks pieced.  The pattern, called “Big Bear Lodge” by Country Threads, actually called for 35 Bear Paw blocks, but I decided to make a wall hanging instead of a bed quilt so I could stop after 16 blocks.  And then those 16 blocks sat in a pile for even more months.  It definitely was time to finish this project.

I set up my sewing machine on the dining room table, plugged in the iron nearby, and got out my stash of red and off-white fabric scraps.  Then I sewed for a good part of three days.

First I sewed the 16 blocks together in a square separated by narrow strips of sashing.  Then I sewed 124 Flying Geese blocks, in assorted reds, for a border.  Each Flying Geese block is 1-inch x 2-inches in the final quilt, and it took me one full day to sew all these tiny blocks.  Finally, I sewed the Flying Geese blocks into strips and sewed them, as a border, around the Bear Paw blocks. 

I finished the piecing, but I’m still not quite done.  I still have to find batting and backing and hand quilt it.  That will be a project for this winter.

I think this is one of the prettiest quilt tops I’ve made! 

Sewing the Bear Paw blocks together with sashing

I always press each seam as I go.

Piecing 124 tiny Flying Geese blocks

The dining room floor while I'm working

We can't eat at the dining room table while I'm quilting.

Starting to sew the Flying Geese blocks together, then pressing flat

Assembling 31 Flying Geese blocks into a long strip for the border

And here's the pieced quilt top, called "Big Bear Lodge" by Country Threads