Using and caring for flat irons

At Market Lavington Museum we have A selection of irons which were used before the era of electric irons. Here a just a couple of them.

Our notebook containing advice for housewives gives a good idea of what it was like to use them and how they should be stored.

Being made of iron, they were prone to rust, which would have transferred to the garments being smoothed, so care had to be taken to keep them clean and dry.

If they were not going to be used regularly, they had to be rubbed over with fat and rolled up in paper. When needed again, hot water and soda was required to remove the fat.

The notes inform us that irons had to be cleaned by rubbing with brown paper and bath brick. (A little research informs us that bath bricks, patented in 1823, were predecessors of scouring pads.) The irons also needed to be dusted off after any roughness had been removed.

Irons needed an external source of heat from a range or a Little Dorrit iron stove. Our notes recommend dropping water on the surface to check if the iron is hot enough for use.

The final instructions explain the best order in which to iron various parts of a garment – trimmings and both sides of hems first, working towards the larger sections. After ensuring that the clothing was well aired, it was ready to be folded and put away. It might be time by then to select another iron and return the used one to the stove for reheating.

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