This collection of over 35 000 individual pieces illustrates the evolution of the pressing iron and emphasizes the variety of models and methods used for removing wrinkles from the fabric. This collection is also the largest of its kind in the world, and is internationally certified.
In the beginning, the fabric was smoothened using different methods and devices like a roman press, wooden rollers that were not heated. The materials were even treated with substances in order to maintain their proper shape after they were pressed.
Yet, in the Far East, in China, fabrics began to be smoothened using heated objects. The Chinese Pan that used charcoal in order to be heated was then moved around the fabric to remove wrinkles. A much cleaner method used for expensive fabrics, silk for example, was using heated sand which, unlike charcoal, does not leave debris, nor does it stain the material. Heated irons were used as far as 2000 years ago, but in Europe, heated pressing irons appeared much later.
In other parts of the world, the pressing instruments were even made of stones. Removing wrinkles from the fabrics using stone-made objects (which, most interestingly, had the shape that we see even today on pressing irons) or using iron-made objects with an uneven surface was not an easy task.
It was not until the pressing irons were heated, that ironing became easier and faster than before.
Some methods that used heat involved charcoals which were placed inside a tall, hollow iron with holes that allowed the essential air flow that kept the charcoal burning. It was a widely used method but it could be quite a messy one. Debris from the burning charcoals could land on the fabric and stain it or, even worse, burn it. Nonetheless, there are many variations in time and charcoal irons were used around the world. Some of these irons were even offered as a present from a husband to his wife and a few of them are even marked with her name.
Things changed when the charcoal was replaced by a heated iron slug. A piece of iron or even stone which matched the shape of the iron was heated in fire and was then inserted in the iron either through a back door, either from above. This meant that the sole was no longer placed on a stove or on fire and it remained clean. Furthermore, there was no more debris from charcoals that could stain the fabric, nor toxic smoke or vapors. It even allowed the user to have two or three slugs that were heated while another one was in use, inside the iron.
The flat irons were placed on the fire or above it and one had to use a leather or wooden protection in order to prevent burns on the hand from the handle that was heated along with the sole. Furthermore, before applying pressure on clothes with the heated iron, the sole had to be moved back and forth on another cloth in order to clean the sole from any debris from the fire or charcoals. Other pressing irons were placed on specially designed stoves which heated several irons. When not in use, the iron was placed on the stove and the ironing was made with a heated one. When the sole cooled, it was put aside for reheating on the stove and a hot iron was taken to continue ironing. This method reduced the time needed for smoothening clothes as no breaks were required for the iron to be heated again.
Even this method had a drawback as the handle was still too hot to be hold with bare hands. The breakthrough came from a woman from the USA, Mary Potts, who invented the pressing iron with detachable handle and double pointed shape. This handle which could be used with different soles remained cooler because it was not longer attached to the iron when was placed on the fire or sources of heat. As for the double pointed shape of the iron, it no longer required twisting the iron or replacing it on the fabric because it could be used in both directions.
Another method for heating the iron was using liquid fuel like oil, kerosene, alcohol. The iron fitted with a small fuel container increased the risk of accidents. Before them, one could get a burn or two, but liquid fuel and a burner meant that even an explosion could occur, and it often did. Similar risks were also involved with the lamp oil irons which can be either with an internal burner, either placed on a device connected to a lamp oil source.
The electric iron appeared towards the end of the 19th century and soon found its way in the domestic use, in homes. They were smaller, with no gas or toxic vapors that could make you sick, a better option than the previous pressing irons. The fact that we use it even today is proof of its efficiency.
Another important thing that you can find by visiting the Pressing Iron Collection is that fashion was not always about removing wrinkles from the fabric but also about making folds in a collar or different impressions on the material. The tool used at making folds in a collar is called a goffering iron which consisted of a hollow tube into which a preheated metal rod was inserted. The fabric was placed on the tube and folded to make the well-known collar.
The collection of over 35 000 irons, the largest in the world, is the best place to learn about pressing irons, the different methods used for heating or about the various models for decorating them. The iron and its evolution follow that of mankind, through the ages, and offers a complete perspective and a better understanding of our history.