Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting the Wrinkles Out

I ran into something interesting the other day that got me to thinking, which of the various slab irons or clothes presses would have been period for my persona?  Not that I generally prefer doing this particular kind of housework, but I know that during period, they had to have had something (uh oh, assumptions alert!).  Keeping wrinkles out of clothing, no matter how good of a housewife you are, doesn't happen on its own.  So I did some digging and this is what I've come up with so far.

My first stop was at a site called the History of Ironing (go figure), which had a lot of information on various names (linen smoothers, mangle boards, screw presses, etc.) and types (glass, wood, iron, marble, soapstone, etc.) of items used for ironing, but they centered mostly on the British Isles.  A link on their site had me looking at various Italian irons, such as this one from the 15th century.

Then I found a site that showed English linen smoothers made of glass, which was very interesting and from approximately the 16th century.  This PDF file also had me going a bit further back in history and traveling to the North.  There I found Norse ironing boards from the Viking era made of whalebone [Glass Smoother and Whalebone Ironing Board held in the University of Bergen Museum].  So glass smoothers had been available during the Viking era, then presumably the next time we see them is in the 16th century.  To me that is quite a historical gap.  Was the knowledge lost and re-found?  Have there been glass pieces found in archaeological digs which were misclassified?  In any case, I haven't found much else to explain the gap, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

Next, I found a lady's site on Clothing Care, which states:
Many people consider the iron to be a modern invention but versions of tools used to flatten and de-crumple clothes have been around for centuries. Vikings from Scandinavia had early irons made of glass and roughly mushroom-shaped by about the tenth century. These were also called linen smoothers. The smoother was warmed in steam before it was rubbed across the clothing.

According to historians of domestic household appliances, it was during the 1300s that the tool we recognise as an iron first appeared in Europe. It was comprised of a flat piece of iron with a metal handle attached.
The flatiron was held over or in a fire until it was heated, when it was picked up by the handle with a padded holder. A thin cloth was placed between the iron and the garment in order not to dirty the clothing whilst the ironing process took place.

In the fifteenth century, an improvement to the flatiron was introduced in the form of a box which could hold coals to retain radiant heat for longer than the old method of placing the flat iron in the fire. The hot box, also known as the slug or box iron, was constructed from a hollow metal box with a handle. Heating elements such as coals or hot metal inserts were placed inside. Both the flatiron and hot box were used for several hundred years.
Unfortunately, this didn't quite give me much to go on to help my Germanic research.  Then I went at this from another angle... the mangling board and roller.  According to An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology by Ian McNeil, 1990, pg 932:
During the sixteenth century the mangling board and roller came into general use.  The idea spread from Holland, Denmark and northern Germany; the word mangle derives from the Dutch and Middle High German mangelen, which itself stemmed from the ancient Greek word for an 'engine of war': indeed, the later box mangle resembled a might weapon.  The material was wrapped round the roller (itself about 50cm (1ft 8in) long), which was placed upon a flat table.  The mangling board (a flat piece of wood about 6cm (2ft 2in) long and 8cm (3in) wide, with a handle on top) and then passed backwards and forwards over the roller until the fabric was smoothed.  This method produced quite a high standard of pressing and was in use until well into the nineteenth century.

Unfortunately, there isn't a bibliography to indicate where *this* information was derived and I have yet to be able to find a representation of a mangelbrett (mangling board) from the 16th century.  Most of the images I find on Bildindex are from the 17th century or later, but by this point they were rather ornately carved.

Here's a little more history behind the Mangle Board.

I haven't quite exhausted this subject (I hope), but I have run to the end of my proverbial rope for today.

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