Law & Order
Irons on display at the Powysland Museum. From left to
charcoal iron, two box irons, a flat iron and an Italian iron.
A crimping machine is behind the Italian iron.
Powysland Museum and Montgomery Canal Centre
The Art and Practice of Laundry Work describes the types of irons a laundress was likely to encounter in her working life. As well as the flat-iron, there was the polishing-iron:
"The polishing-iron has a convex surface,
being bevelled off at the heel, and its power of producing a gloss is
due, to a large extent, to this smooth rounded finish given to the iron."
"This iron is similar in shape
to the flat-iron, but it is larger and deeper, and, it having a hollow
interior, is fitted with solid pieces of metal known as heaters. These
being heavy give weight to the iron, and when made red-hot are placed
inside the iron for the purpose of heating it."
"The gas-iron is much like the box-iron in
size and shape; it also has a hollow interior, but it is heated by means
of a jet of gas, conducted to the iron by an india-rubber tube, which
is attached to the gas-jet, and burns inside the iron on the bunsen-burner
"The millinery-iron . . . is double-pointed,
and is so contructed that when the iron is turned round it describes a
circle. It is chiefly used for the ironing of crowns and brims of bonnets
"The charcoal-iron is made . . . on the same
principle as the box and gas irons, but it has . . . a large funnel fixed
in the front of the iron, for the purpose of conducting the fumes of carbon
dioxide from the burning charcoal within. This iron . . . is heated by
means of burning charcoal. The method of heating it is as follows:- A
piece of charcoal is placed on an iron spoon and ignited; when properly
burning, it is placed in the hollow of the iron and surrounded by more
charcoal. The lid is then fitted on the iron, which is a few minutes becomes
sufficiently hot, and is then ready for use."
"The Egg-Iron is a solid egg-shaped piece
of iron fitted on a movable upright stand. It is heated in the usual manner,
and is used for ironing the tops of small sleeves or gathered bodices,
for which an ordinary iron is not suitable. The egg-iron may be bought
single or in sets of four . . ."
"This is quite an old-fashioned iron. It was
used in years gone by for the regulation of frills, . . . but its use
for that purpose has almost been displaced by the introduction of goffering-tongs
and crimping-irons. The iron consists of a hollow tube, fixed horizontally
on a stand with a curved arm. The iron proper is made of polished steel,
and is heated by a heater of similar composition to that of the box-iron,
only this one is attached to a wooden handle . . . This bolt or heater
is made red-hot, and placed inside the iron . . . The chief use of the
Italian-iron is for the ironing of velvets, or articles that must be ironed
Goffering-tongs and Crimping-tongs
and finally, goffering and crimping tongs:
"Goffering-Tongs are scissor-shaped, but with
rounded points. They are made of iron coated with steel, and are used
for the regulation of fully-gathered frills. They should be slightly heated
. . . by placing the points in the flame. This must be carefully done,
as the coating of steel cracks and eventually peels off if too much heated,
with the result that the surface becomes roughened and sticks to the fabric."
"Crimping-Tongs are flat-pointed, scissor-shaped
irons, with the inner surface of the points fluted. These are best adapted
for the regulation of slightly-gathered frills, and for narrow lace edgings
of children's garments, to which they give a very delicate finish."
Ironing was practically an art in itself; Margaret Rankin goes on to describe
the seasoning and care of irons, and the other types of equipment needed: laundry
tables, ironing-blankets, ironing-sheets, iron-stands, iron-holders to cover
the iron handle, skirt-boards, shirt and polishing boards, and sleeve-boards.
* All illustrations on this page apart
from the photo are from The Art and Practice of Laundry Work, M C Rankin,
Blackie & Son, London, c1912. Collection of Margaret Reid.