Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cool Clothes

You learn the most interesting things at the beauty shop. When I was getting my hair cut last week, the topic of ironing came up, and I joined in with my recent experience of using liquid starch in my front-loading washing machine.

The customer next to me said that she still uses doilies on her tables and upholstered furniture and always starches them.

She explained the starching process that her family used to practice: freshly-washed clothes were dipped in liquid starch, squeezed out, and hung on the line to dry. Once dry, they were taken back inside the house and sprinkled with water. The lady doing her hair confirmed that this method was used by her mother.

At that point several ladies jumped in with their memories of the "sprinkling" bottle--usually a coke bottle with a perforated aluminum top stuck in it. The part that stuck down into the coke bottle was wrapped with cork to keep it from leaking. I have tried sprinkling my clothes and was never too impressed. The reason why was revealed to me as I continued to listen to the experienced ladies. They said that after the washed, starched, and dried clothes were sprinkled, they had to be rolled up and "seasoned" to wait for the moisture to permeate them. No wonder sprinkling never worked for me! I wasn't starching or seasoning!

This is not the end of the story, though. In those days before permanant press, the battle was to keep your sprinkled clothes under optimal conditions until you could get them ironed. The ones on the bottom of the basket could mildew; the ones on the top could dry out.

The surprising solution was to pop them in the freezer. The two ladies who remembered this step said that the clothes ironed beautifully once they were frozen in amongst the butterbeans and blackeyed peas. How refreshing it must have been in the sultry South to pull some frozen clothes out of the freezer on a hot summer's day and iron them crisp as perfectly-fried catfish.

Alas, this golden era of laundry tricks was doomed to a short life of about 35 years. Frigidaire invented the chest freezer in 1929--though I doubt its use was widespread until after World War II--and Ruth Benerito invented the permanant press process in 1964.

No comments: