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Book Review And Giveaway: Streamlined Irons

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As a seamstress and someone who is very into clothing, irons are like a hairdryer – a must have. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Wrinkly clothes are a no-no. But just like a hairdryer, irons are a tool that are taken for granted. There was a time when irons did not exist. Can you believe it? I had never thought about life without them until the sister of Jay Raymond, author of Streamlined Irons, contacted me about her brother’s book. She sent me a copy over the holidays and I tucked it away in my library, not taking a look at it because, well, life got in the way. She recently emailed me and asked for my opinion of the book. I admitted that I hadn’t read it but that now might be a good time. Would her brother be interested in an interview? Maybe that would get me to read the book. Well, he was interested and below, he answers some questions about his book and shares his opinion on irons and their future. Be sure to read the interview all the way to the end because there might be a giveaway for you.
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Q: Brief explanation of you, your history, and how you came to write Streamlined Irons.

A: I’m 58 and a native of Philadelphia. I’ve done several different jobs in my adult life: heating mechanic, maître d’, handyman, and now author. I am a graduate of the art program and former member of the faculty at the Barnes Foundation.

I’ve been collecting vintage electric irons since the early 1980s. It began with a box of old irons bought at a rummage sale. My first interest was irons of the 1930s and 40s when they were streamlined. Now I am collecting the earliest electric irons, i.e. those from 1890-1905 and certain others that pre-dated 1925.

In 2007, a fellow iron collector bought my collection and then hired me to produce a book about irons of the streamlined era. A year was spent in research and production, and Streamlined Irons was published in 2008.

Since 2007 I have been writing the blog Vintage Electric Irons.

Q: In the beginning of the book, you write about the iron’s function – to remove wrinkles and give fabric a smooth appearance. Can you touch upon how a desire for wrinkle-free clothes came about?

A: I don’t know! I suppose it is something inherently satisfying, just as being organized or accomplishing a goal is inherently satisfying. Smoothed fabric looks better to the human eye than wrinkled.

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Q: What was streamlining and The Streamlined Era?

A: In the early 1900s, aerodynamics borrowed the term “streamlining” from hydrodynamics and used it to describe a goal of aircraft design: to minimize the drag created by the airplane’s surface. But streamlining came to mean more than an aerodynamic design. To streamline an object or a process came to also mean: “… to make [it] simpler or more efficient.” The term was used to describe the shape of things that never would fly or move through water. During this period, to streamline anything was to make it better, even if there was no discernable practical value. For clothes iron’s the streamlined era began circa 1934 and ended circa 1952.

Q: In your opinion, what was the biggest milestone in the iron’s history?

A: The biggest milestone in the history of irons is the incorporation of electric heating, which occurred circa 1890 and become popular in the 1910s. Prior to this, a stove had to be fired up and kept hot in order to heat the irons. This was quite uncomfortable, especially in the summer! Of course, women were more appreciative (than men) since they were the ones expected to do the ironing.

Q: What was your favorite iron?

A: I cannot say that I have one favorite iron. I am particularly attached to:

1. The first electric iron made in the U.S., the Carpenter, from St. Paul, Minnesota.
2. The “Torrid”, made by Beardsley and Wolcott of Waterbury, Connecticut. Made in 1932 it was the first streamlined iron, beating all others by two years.
3. The “Steam-King”, made by Knapp-Monarch of St. Louis, Missouri. Made in 1940 it is the grandest and most complex of the streamlined era irons.

Q: What do you think of irons today? What do you see for their future?

A: Irons of today are much, much better at their job than the irons of the streamlined era or before. They are lighter in weight; control temperature more precisely; have a finish that won’t stick to the clothes; turn off automatically when left unattended; and produce high quality steam. Irons still sell quite well, even though most people profess to never using one and that most clothes don’t need to be ironed. Though I think the age of widespread ironing will turn out to be roughly 1860-1960, there will always be a desire to wear sharply pressed clothes and thus, a demand for a good clothes iron. Perhaps, someday a type of energy yet to be discovered will replace electricity as the common source of heat in irons.

Jay was kind enough to offer three of his books for a giveaway. To win a copy of Streamlined Irons, first “like” my Facebook page and then tell me in the comments below your best iron story. Did you almost burn the house down? Did you once use your iron for your hair (I’m guilty of this!)? I want to hear it all. Be sure to leave your contact information as well.

13 Comments

  1. Reply

    elena knits

    I don’t know a lot about irons. To confess, I don’t like ironing, but since I started sewing I learned to appreciate the value of it. Our last story related to irons was last month. My boyfriend and I went to a swing festival and we packed some dresses, a suit, a couple of shirts and our little travelling iron. Well, after hours dancing at the classes, we were too tired and gave up on ironing our clothes for the parties on the very small desk we had at the hotel room. I feel very guilty about it :/

  2. Reply

    Stephanie King

    What a great giveaway! My worst ironing experience happened at a hotel getting ready for a special event. My top was wrinkly from being in the suitcase so I figured a quick iron would do, not thinking that my fabric was this delicate metallic that just sort of scorched and smoldered with the bad hotel iron!!! What a mess, good thing I packed a backup blouse 🙂

  3. Reply

    P. (zrucniprace.blogspot.com)

    Historically, at least here in Central Europe, men did the pressing/ironing in sewing production as irons were really heavy. This was still so in the sewing workshops which made the uniforms during WWII – women sewed, kids basted and unpicked, men ironed. Pressing and later ironing became “woman’s” thing with the advent of lighter irons.

  4. Reply

    Elle C

    I am one of those rare people who like ironing. Get the ironing board set up in front of the TV, pick out some DVD’s and get to it.

    My favourite ironing story, there are a few. A friend of my husband’s lived with us for a few months, and I would iron his shirts along with my husbands, he had never worn an ironed shirt before and loved the way they looked. Several months later (after he moved out), he dropped by after work, and I commented on his shirt being ironed. He told me it wasn’t, but that all his poly cotton shirts now looked ironed after being removed from the dryer. In effect I had “improved” his permanent press shirts.

    My favourite iron, a 1957 General Electric iron I found at a garage sale in the original box with the warranty card. It is a non steam iron and gets a lot hotter than any other iron I have ever owned. Perfect for ironing linen and cotton. I love this iron and live in dread of the day it dies.

  5. Reply

    Elizabeth Madison

    Since I have been sewing I don’t really know the proper way of Ironing but I have burn a lot of fabrics for having the iron on to high. I had cut out McCalls 6319 and was in the process of sewing all of seams together. Went to the ironing board and was ironing the seams down and when I got to the last piece. I burnt the fabric I was so pissed. I just think someone should come up with a better way for us to get our seams and pieces layed with the frying and burning. lol

    thanks
    eli.madisoneli@gmail.com

  6. Reply

    sallieforrer

    Oh irons, what would we do without you?? I’m constantly asking my husband if I can iron his shirts. I’ve, luckily, never been burnt by my iron. But one time I had the ironing board set up with the iron set on top, full heat and steam going, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the ironing board beginning to collapse. I don’t know how I did it, but I crossed the room at lightning speed and caught the board underneath to support it, then stood that way for a good while trying to figure out what to do. If the iron fell I’d be burned! I ended up doing this weird kind of slow dance, snake charmer thing, as I slowly guided the ironing board, and balanced iron, down to the floor. Kinda wish someone had been watching so they could tell me how ridiculous I looked!!

  7. Reply

    oonaballoona

    this book looks like good porn. seriously. i love jay’s comment about smoothing out the wrinkles.

    my worst iron story: i left an iron on for 8 hours while ruggy and i went out for the evening. it was a new cheapo, it never worked right after that. however, it wasn’t mine, it belonged to our landlord, who overcharged us, so i’m glad i broke it. and slightly glad i didn’t burn the joint down.

  8. Reply

    Laura

    Although I’m impatient, I rather enjoy the slower pace of life when ironing.

    My dad gave me an antique glass iron for christmas a few years ago. I work with materials, so the glass was particularly cool. I had pointed one out in a museum a year earlier, and he decided that I need one. Alas, I’m scared to use it (and it weighs a ton), so it’s more of an art piece than functional. But it makes a great story every time.

  9. Reply

    Julie Humphreys

    This is kind of an iron story. I once lived in a very old farmhouse that had a dirt cellar. I had to go down there occasionally to deal with the water pipes and once found one of those little “eye”-shaped iron trivets for a sadiron.

  10. Reply

    anto

    I’ve never paid much attention to irons other than in the general sense and as a very important component of a sewing room, but it never occurred to me to stop and learn a bit about it’s history in the way that we study the history of sewing, or the history of fashion.

    Thankfully I don’t have any crazy iron stories (yet). I’m extra careful when ironing because my parents used to warn me all the time when I was a kid about how dangerous hot irons are.

  11. Reply

    Stephanie

    I have to admit that since I’ve started sewing I have left the iron on overnight on more than one occasion! So dangerous – we’re lucky i didn’t burn the place down!

    I quite like ironing – always have and since sewing it’s only gotten worse because you can see how much ironing and pressing can affect the look of a garment

  12. Reply

    Guest

    Again another giveaway where a winner won’t be announced This is starting to get a little suspect imho

  13. Reply

    Beth Ridings

    1. i like you on FB

    2. literally the first time i used an iron was in home ec. my mom had apparently never thought i was old enough to use it yet. i ironed well, propped it up, and went to grab the next piece of fabric when i bumped the ironing board and reached for the iron to prevent it from falling. only a couple fingers touched the bottom but it still hurt like crap and i spent the remainder of the class period in the nurses office… ooops!

    http://www.untilonlyloveremains.com

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