Ironing is among the various unfashionable behaviors I sport, though that verb probably doesn’t work unless I iron in the grocery store or the gym. I refer here to ironing as in pressing wrinkles out of fabric, or deliberately pressing them in. The latter is called creasing. And no, crease and increase are not cognate, I found, though ironing is one of those maintenance jobs that can happen in a tessellating time zone. The more you do it, the more there seems of it to do, in other words. This increase illusion happens in the ironing of drapes, for example.
Or sheets. This rant was instigated as entertainment while I was ironing a mistaken crease out of the hem of my top bedsheet. Don’t worry, I did not iron the whole sheet. The crease probably appeared quite some time ago, but it didn’t dawn on me it was increasing until sometime in the last 6 months. We are just not always thinking about accidental creasings and the probability of them increasing. Though we may snuggle the sheet hem in under our chin night after night, such fiber related tragedies sort of sneak in under the radar. Next thing you know, your sheets are groovier than they were- in a bad way. You stand forewarned.
But like unto the day I finally went out to buy magnifying eyeball lenses for sewing and suchlike, I realized the crease’s insidious nature as a lightning strike; in one revelatory moment. The awful truth being, that the outside edge of the crease will wear, and soon enough, be not a fold, but a tear. At my age I identify with that crease to an embarrassing degree. But then I began that identification at age 30, if I recall correctly, with my first facial wrinkles and odd grey hairs. Smiley face.
Though the damage is already done and it’s a case of closing the barn door after the cow got out, I am now ironing the crease as flat as I can after washing the sheets. Lest you (perhaps judiciously) style me mad, I assure you these are truly bomb sheets. They are a heavy 600 count Pima cotton sateen, from the day when thread count meant something, which wasn’t actually that long ago. I bought them in 2015. Five years ago you didn’t have to add thread weight to sheeting quality assessment. That thread weight thing started because of online bedsheet sales.
Sneaky people started manufacturing sheeting with high thread count, but with threads so light that thread count became meaningless. Thread count is a measure of how many threads per inch are used on the loom. Bogus 600 count sheets appeared from the shadows that might as well have been purchased at Walmart. And indeed were/are. Weirdly, on the internet high thread count is supposedly associated with softer sheets, as that is currently the #1 most desirable quality of bedsheets, assumedly. However, that can’t be. If I wanted really soft sheets, I would use gauze, which has like a 20 thread count. Or sleep under cotton balls. Don’t get me started. I know, you didn’t.
And, as an educational note and/or in case you didn’t know, Pima cotton is, like cotton labeled Egyptian, a long fiber cotton, produced on a perennial plant; a plant, like a rose bush for example, that lives for years. Here’s a short explanation of the differences. “Pima” refers to the Pima tribe of Arizona, some of whom worked on early Arizonian perennial cotton farms. In the beginning of the 20th C. I think. Most cotton grown in the U.S. is annual; the long fiber cotton plants need a hotter climate than the jolly old Southern plantations afforded.
Apparently the common long fiber species is Gossypium barbadense. Barbadense refers to Barbados, I assume, which comes into the story here in the form of high end shirting. Meaning, fabrics used for very expensive (or “exclusive”, the current doublespeak for you can’t afford it) shirts. Which are not aiming at softness, primarily. If I pay hundreds of dollars for a shirt, I don’t want half of it to disappear, so much lint on the dryer filter, in a year’s time, like a T shirt. Or underwear. Rather, I might hope to spend the rest of my life wearing this shirt. In Mother Nature’s domain, there are priorities. As far as I know, soft ain’t gonna last. It’s fluffy, not strong.
Annual cotton, that stuff that Georgia slaves grew and picked for their owners (and maybe still do, only they are not always AA), is harvested the year it’s planted, and done. As far as I know, short fiber cotton is softer. Because, basically, it’s fuzzier. That’s one of the important qualities of something soft; it has loft. How poetic of me (soft, loft). It’s like feathers, basically.
Annual or short fiber cotton falls apart more easily, disintegrating into what’s generally called lint. Short fiber cotton is responsible for a lot of the stuff I empty out of my vacuum, since I don’t have a pet. Even though some idiot published a paper some time in the last decade that my Dad would refer to that claims most of the crap we sweep up from the floor is our dead skin, and the mites that live on it. Come on, man! Obviously someone who A. doesn’t clean much at all, and/or B. conducted his/her study in an old age home full of polyester-clad citizens.
So now you know why I still iron; I am a materials nerd and a fiber snob. The sateen sheets cost a lot, in my world; they were a big investment, a rare indulgence. And THEY ARE NOT SOFT, they are substantial. They make a crispy noise when they move. Yessss! The glitch with the crease is probably the result of washing in a machine. I’m not willing to go down to the river and wash my sheets, though. Yet. Hey, the river is just down the hill…
I bought the sheets new, because I consider the investment of SUBSTANTIAL bedding a very sure bet. Remember how in the olden days linens (linen is a long strong fiber, BTW) were part of a dowry? Enough said.
As a fabric nerd, do I manage to frequently indulge myself in sexy fabrics in despite of my relatively slim pocketbook. This is thanks to my willingness to iron, and God’s greatest gift to the U. P.; the St. Vincent de Paul (and other assorted) charity thrift shops. Though there are some snazzy finds that don’t necessitate dragging the ironing board up the basement steps, such as Irish cable knit sweaters and tapestried wall hangings, I get to regularly rub my hands in nerdly glee at purchasing once expensive clothes, accessories, and linens on the super duper cheap. Because I still iron. And hand wash.
I assume that in many cases these once expensive items land in the second hand store because of the extra upkeep of said items, including the ironing of them. I was sourcing an ironing board for my son several years ago and found a selection at Vinnie’s (local affectionate term for the Catholic thrift stores). There was no price on the one I brought to the counter and the woman said they were $3. I conversationally remarked on how much a new ironing board costs these days, especially one of any weight, and she said breezily “Oh, well we have trouble selling them. Nobody irons anymore.” I metaphorically clutched my hand to my chest at this blatant acknowledgement of my prehistoric lifestyle.
If you imagine I scorn the populace that has eliminated ironing from their docket, nothing could be further from the truth. I applaud each and every one of you, for I do not enjoy the task. I have a sort of PTSD (in the colloquial sense) about ironing, actually, since I will not forget slaving over the ironing board as a child, seemingly most often in the summer. That might have been because we were not in school, and might as well make oneself useful, however involuntarily. Not only that, there was a preschool crisis where the iron caught the board on fire. Was I actually ironing? I know I was responsible for folding clothes at that age.
Anyway, I recall those school age summer days of ironing more clearly. The iron with its puffs of steam was tortuously close to my face; I was and am short. In a family with 6 children, there was plenty of stuff to iron, looming baskets of it, in a time when nobody in their wildest dreams imagined the demise of the ironing board. At least I never knew anyone who did imagine thus, though apparently many did and do. Ironing was normal, like having a personal computer now. Which is actually not even normal anymore, due to smart phones and workplace computers and etc..
Did I iron sheets on those sticky summer afternoons? I can’t recall for sure. There were some large things that got sprinkled with water and rolled up in order to facilitate the process. Knowing my Mom, I would say those were tablecloths, or perhaps the dreaded curtains and drapes.
I know my maternal grandmother ironed her sheets, though. Theoretically. She was even less keen on the task than I, as a matter of character. Her big piece of advice to me as a blossoming woman was to stop acting so “smart”, meaning competent. If I recall correctly, I was offering to make some drapes first time I heard it. She said I should feign helplessness, and others would then do the work. Since there were only her two adult children living with her when I got old enough to visit (she lived in another part of the country), and they seemingly weren’t going to buck her system, she had come up with strategies in line with her beliefs. Mainly, buying more sheets. She had many wrinkled sets, all good quality, that were relegated to the closet after washing.
Because she did not want to sleep on an unironed sheet, as it was beneath her. Haha. Pun. I assume it was normal in HER day for a respectable woman to require ironed bedclothes; wrinkled sheets were slovenly. She was a flapper of sorts. Did Zelda Fitzgerald sleep on ironed sheets? Perhaps it was a bourgeois affectation for someone who could not hire servants, but wanted the respect of those who can.
And yes, I did iron lots of sheets when I was visiting my much beloved Gram, for I loved her so dearly. Sadly, I have always found the prospect of helplessness boring. For one thing, who wants to hang around waiting for people to do stuff? Don’t have the patience. The alternative, bossing people around, is a big pain, too. That’s when all the trouble starts in life. Bossing and disciplining were my most unfavorite tasks as a mother- or wife.
We are always weighing costs and benefits, though, and ya gotta do what you gotta do. The joy I get from natural, luxurious fabrics is worth setting up the board. I’m not a very good ironer, either, being a mostly unmeticulous (or impatient) sort. Years ago I gave up that ironing board standard of my youth, spray starch, though a spray bottle of water is an essential tool for us ironers. Nobody digs the look or feel of stiffened fibers in the era of double knits. Witness that inaccurate internet assessment of high thread count sheeting as being “more soft”.
But look how far we’ve come, folks, from ironing our sheets with starch. These days people deliberately show off their unironed underwear, as well as a butt crack, surely an intimate crease of sorts. Gone is the laborious social requirement of unwrinkled fabrics, though I have noticed that folks whose britches are always falling off their butt expend a certain amount of labor perambulating. That crease is not coming out of my sheet hem, though, so I’m considering finding a can of starch. Tune in next week for the results.