Mending and ironing – lost arts
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the star Journal
“Mending” is a word not known or understood by most of the present generation. Years ago, clothes were purchased as needed or sewn by mothers and grandmothers on the old treadle sewing machines – and they were taken care of carefully, for it was expected that they would last for several years and be worn by many children in the family.
“Growing into” and “growing out of” were phrases heard often in families. Another phrase was “hand-me-downs,” which caused many a child to wince – but this had to be practiced in most all families. If there were no brothers or sisters to get the out-grown clothing, they were passed on to cousins, neighbors and friends.
It seemed that my mother was always mending or darning socks. She had an old black darning egg (wooden) to make the darning task easier. Sometimes there were very large holes in stockings, and then she would use good parts out of similar type stockings to carefully patch the hole. Patches were not as smooth and easy to tolerate by the feet as her darning, which was perfect weaving. The old rag bag came in handy in mending and darning day as it contained a lot of yarn of different textures and colors, and also many “good parts” of discarded material. Letting down hems was done to keep up with the growth of the youngster. Mother had a unique way to hide the telltale sign of the former hem; she would use rick-rack or bias tape or maybe lace to cover this faded line. Her button drawer contained buttons of all descriptions which were useful for replacing missing buttons or when altering or making-over articles of clothing. She also had a drawer in her sewing machine that contained snaps, hooks and eyes, zippers and an assortment of lace, binding, bias tape, rickrack and pieces of elastic. These were all useful in mending, altering and sewing.
Mending was not always done on a certain day, but generally each week after the washing day. Evening was her best time for mending and darning, after her outside chores and household duties were done for the day. It was no disgrace in bygone days to wear patches and have darned clothing; however, today it seems “the thing” to wear clothing that is full of holes! And they cost a fortune! Times have changed from the days of hand-me-downs and made-over altered clothing mainly because today’s mother does not have the time for these things, as she often is employed outside the home for eight hours a day. Our mothers certainly were busy all day in the home and on the farm, and relaxed in the evening while doing necessary mending. I recall my mother having time in the evenings to create beautiful pillows and other handwork – her hands were never idle. If the modern mother finds it necessary to patch, she can buy iron-on patches of all sizes and colors, and they work well (if the kids will wear things that are patched). We knew it would be useless to argue about wearing patched clothing, as almost everyone had to wear them years ago.
Now we come to ironing! Many mothers today do not have an iron or ironing board, and actually have no need for either. With permanent press so available, and washing machines that have many and varied cycles to adapt to every fabric, there seems to be little need for an iron. And if pressing would need to be done, the steam iron would do a great job – much easier than when Mother would sprinkle all the clothes that were to be ironed, roll them in a tight roll, wait several hours, and then begin that task of the weekly ironing. This was a household chore that required standing for hours, unless you were fortunate to have a mangle. Nowadays the sheets do not need to be ironed, as they come out of the dryer as smooth as can be, or off the line smelling so-o-o fresh! The kitchen range had to be fired up on ironing day, summer and winter, as the old irons were heated on top of the range, There were many styles of irons: those that were totally iron; those that had removable handles, and then the gas iron (which did not require heat from the kitchen range). Ironing boards were wood, but did fold for storage. At the broad upper end of the ironing board was a special thick pad used for testing the iron to see if it was too hot. This was changed often, as it became scorched from the repeated testing process. Many articles of clothing were starched – aprons, dresses, blouses, dresser scarves, doilies, pillow cases and tablecloths. The collar and cuffs of Dad’s Sunday shirt had to be starched, but he did not want the entire shirt starched. I started to learn how to iron by practicing on hankies, pillow cases and flat doilies. The old irons were very heavy, and I didn’t like this task at all.
Panel curtains were well-starched and then placed on the old curtain stretchers, which were adjustable frames with heavy pins to attach the curtains. When they were first hung, after washing, drying and stretching and being heavily starched, they hung just perfect and looked great. After a few weeks the humidity and possible heat from the stoves caused them to be not so bouffant and pretty. This was a task that was done only in the spring and again in the fall because it was so time-consuming. During the summer when clothes could be hung outside to dry, the ironing task was not so great, as many articles would blow smooth in the breeze, and just a touch of ironing was necessary. Sheets dried so nice as they hung in the sun, and with a breeze, were perfect. If there was no breeze, we knew that there would be the task of many extra hours of ironing time. In general, ironing was not one of the pleasurable household duties of yesterday, and certainly not today (if ironing or pressing is done).
Today we can count our blessings because of the many short-cuts to help us in the kitchen and laundry; and the fond memories many of us have of our childhood are heightened by the fact that they are only memories, and not household duties waiting for us to complete. Clothing manufacturers have helped greatly by giving us fabrics that do not need ironing, and keep in shape for years. So ironing and mending can become a memory only!