There is a very general impression that the more rapidly a family washing is got out of the way, the more excellent must be the domestic management. Certainly, the having clothes about in an unfinished state, day after day, is a sign of anything but good management in a home. Still, I am to in favour of too great hurry. Laundry work, like everything else, requires a reasonable amount of time and pains, if the result is to be satisfactory.
In a sanitary point of view it is good to give underclothing, table and bed linen as much light and fresh air as we can, colour and purity being both improved thereby. When it is noticed that articles are getting a bad colour, let them go through all the processes with the rest, and then, weather permitting, put them out on the grass to bleach, wetting and turning each from time to time, and finishing when washing day comes round again.
In my former chapter I described the mode in which boiled starch is used. For all delicate fabrics, such as muslins, and for shirts, collars, cuffs, fronts, &c., cold starch is preferable. It is very economical, both as regards time and material, cold-starched articles being almost immediately ready for the iron, whilst those done with boiled starch require to lie some time after being sprinkled and folded. The use of extremely thin, water starch for all white underclothing, makes it easier to wash and to keep a good colour, besides improving the appearance.
For starching collars, cuffs and things which require to be very stiff, the starch is smoothly mixed in the proportion of four ounces to a quart of water. There is an article sold called "starch gloss," and a small quantity of this, well combined with the starch, adds a beautiful sheen to the surface of the linen, and makes it look like new.
The water should be put in slowly and very well stirred, and, if needed, the surface should be skimmed after the mixture has stood for a few moments. When well mixed it should stand for three or four minutes to allow part of the solid starch to settle, and then half the mixture, which will be of the consistency and colour of new milk, should be poured into a clean basin. In this, starch shirt-fronts, collars, &c., but as each article will take a little of the stiffening quality out of the mixture, more must be added from the other vessel to make up for the loss, the solid starch left being again treated as at first directed.
Four ounces of starch will suffice for nine shirts, or smaller articles in proportion; and, when too thin for these, the poured-off mixture can be used for other things which require less stiffening. I say the poured-off mixture because there is always the greater part of the solid starch left behind, and when the cold starching process is over this must by no means be thrown away. On the contrary, though no longer available for the same kind of stiffening, it must be allowed to settle and the water drained off. Kept in a clean, cool place, the sediment again dries and hardens, and on the next washing day can be used up only in the form of boiled starch, for which it is almost if not quite as good as when fresh I prefer the white starch to the blue, and use the ordinary-looking article.
The sprinkling, folding, and ironing of linen is such cleanly and pleasant work that I cannot fancy the most fastidious young lady finding anything to object to in it. The deal ironing-table should be white and clean, and, as each article is taken from the clothes-basket, it should be lightly and evenly sprinkled.
Careless hands sometimes deluge one part and leave the others dry. Fine, even sprinkling is the right thing, and in winter, if the chill is taken off the water, so much the better for the fingers of the workers. When you have sprinkled a goodly pile, put your hands under and over, and turn the clothes topsy-turvy, so that the bottom article may come to the top. Well stretch and straighten each piece, bring corners and seams nicely together, and fold everything for the mangle, as neatly as possible in the same way as when finished ready for wear. Shirts and similarly starched articles are not sent to the mangle; they are sprinkled, cold starched, folded, and singly wrapped for ironing. Collars and such little matters should be nicely straightened after being squeezed through the starch, rolled up, and wrapped in a clean towel. Table-cloths and sheets should be stretched by two pairs of hands, and lengthways. Suppose two girls doing this. Each must take two corners; go back to the full length of the article, and pull it gently but firmly out, gradually gathering up the hemmed ends in your hands until both meet in the middle, but with each fold stretching again. Then let the cloth go gradually, until your hands are back at the corners again, when you must give it a good shake or two and fold it in half, right side inwards. Turn the selvages back to the middle of the wrong side, just as a pocket-handkerchief is folded, meet your companion by bringing your corners neatly to hers, and finish the straightening on the table.
Table linen requires very little starch, only enough to give it consistency. Nothing is more disagreeable than to have stiff, crackling, table napkins, and board-like table-cloths; but they should be very well mangled and ironed on both sides, so that when laid on the table they look almost like brocaded satin. The folding should also be most carefully done, that there may be no folds sticking up, or unsightly creases when the cloth is spread.
There are a few starched articles that require no ironing. Dimity curtains should be most particularly stretched, straightened, and shaken after starching, and pegged out by the loops, or pinned to something else when put on the line to dry. Many laundresses, otherwise experienced, do not know this; and consequently iron all the pattern out of the dimity, and send home, smoothed and glazed, what ought to be in ridges and have a rough surface, as when new.
The cleaner's art is now brought to such perfection that most people, whose means allow them to do so, send their long curtains to be cleaned instead of washing them at home, and they come back made up like new. It is, however, very easy to do them at home, for whether lace, leno, or muslin, they should not be touched with an iron. The cleansing process should be effected by abundant soaking, with a little soda as well as soap, and frequent changes of water. These things would be worn out rapidly if subjected to rough rubbing, so they must be handled tenderly, stewed in a bag, as before directed, or bleached, squeezed through strong cold starch, and very nicely straightened while wet.
The quickest and best way of drying them is to have a frame. It is a mere oblong rim of wood, long enough and wide enough, for the purpose, and with small hooks fixed near the edge, at a distance of two inches from each other. The curtains are simply stretched and hooked on these, and when dry are ready for neatly folding up or hanging at the windows again. The frame is a very inexpensive article, and saves much trouble, as the curtains dry very quickly on it.
As a substitute, a sheet may be spread on a carpet, and the curtains pinned to it, should there be a spare room available. I know a very good house in which they are always dried in this way. If hung on a line, the edges would be nicely straightened, and the curtains gently pulled when about half dry.
Pretty, short curtains for the lower portion of windows are those made of plain book muslin, or leno, and horizontally fluted. Of these the selvages should be at the top and bottom, and through the side-hems brass rods are run, which fasten to hooks on the window frame. These curtains are slipped on the rods, wet from the starch, hooked at once to the window frame, and regulated and fluted with the fingers, when they dry stiff, and keep their appearance. If ironed and put on afterwards they are never fit to be seen.
Starched articles should never lie very long before being ironed, or they will lose the stiffness. In warm weather, if thus left, they mildew in addition. I should also mention that rough Turkish towels should not be mangled. They are better wrung by hand; but if passed through the machine, they require a great deal of shaking to raise the knots to the proper state of roughness.
Starch made of common wheaten flour is sometimes used for stiffening dark prints. This is done with a view to economy, but cannot be recommended, as prints subjected to this process are much less clear-looking than when proper starch is used.
We will now run over a list of articles, required for ironing. There must be our ironing board, or clean deal table, covered first with a suitable blanket and then with a moderately fine sheet; a stand or two for the irons; padded holders to lift them with and preserve our hands from being burnt; a board, sprinkled with bath-brick, on which to rub them; dusters to polish with after the said rub; a basin of clean cold water close by to sprinkle or damp an article that may have become too dry; the clothes-horse to hang the linen on as fast as it is ready; and, if you like, a tray on which collars and cuffs can be placed near the fire for a time before they are put away.
I am supposing the irons are at the fire; but I ought to say a word or two about them, as you require various kinds for the work. If there is no proper stove for heating flat-irons, they will be hung on a bar in front of the fire, which should always be made up beforehand, and allowed to burn clear before they are put down. Never let a fire go low when you are ironing. Bring the hot coals forward from time to time, and keep adding a little fresh at the back, so as not to smoke your irons. There should be at least three flat-irons, or a box-iron with three heaters, for each person at work. Box-irons are less used than they once were, but they are very cleanly articles, and, for delicate ironing, preferable to the others, as being less likely to scorch dainty collars or muslins.
There should be two box-irons, varying in size, and an Italian iron for frills, each with three heaters. Goffering irons and a little crimping machine are also very useful for flounces and frills. In using the latter care should be taken that the little rollers are not too tightly set - otherwise the muslin will be cut in the operation, as I know to my sorrow. A laundress once sent me a whole set of new underclothing home with the frills looking beautifully crimped. But, alas! When next washed my dainty cambric was all in tiny shreds, having been cut to pieces in the crimping, and all the trimming had to be picked off and replaced. Hand crimping, though rather tedious, may be nicely done with a blunt knife. A silver pocket fruit knife answers admirably, and injures nothing.
Wherever there is much delicate ironing to be done, it may be greatly facilitated by the use of three, differently shaped boards, smoothly covered with double flannel. One should be about eighteen inches long and nine broad. This is for slipping below the fronts of shirts, night dresses, and ornamental chemises, &c., the second for putting under white petticoats and the skirts of dresses. It should be narrower at one end than the other, in fact, the shape of a gore; the third, narrow and long enough for shirt and dress sleeves.
And now we will begin by ironing first some collars and cuffs, then a shirt. If you use a box-iron, mind that it is beautifully bright and clean; then put in a red-hot heater with the tongs. Perhaps it will not go in! Never mind. Drop it on the hearth for a minute or two to cool, and then try a second time. Your bit of red iron has given you a lesson on the expansive power of heat, and it will contract again directly by contrast with the cooler air and slip in easily. Place it on the stand to let the iron itself heat through; take out your collar, but roll up the rest as before, that they may not dry; stretch and straighten it nicely wrong side up on the ironing cloth. Try your iron on something of little consequence, then run it quickly over the collar once or twice, and turn it the right side up. Now press the collar firmly, again and again, till it is thoroughly dry and stiff, lifting it occasionally to let the steam escape below. Your irons should be as hot as it is possible to use them, without risk of scorching the linen. If you only half dry the article, it will turn limp and the surface will be blistered and unfit to wear.
I daresay you may have noticed that when you buy new collars there is a little ridge which looks like a cord between the band and the upper part, and you probably wonder why this pretty ridge disappears the first time of washing and is seen no more. There is really no cord, but the appearance is produced by the deft hands of the London laundress, and requires considerable practice to manage it. The collar must not be run over with the iron all at once, but in two parts, as it were, and very few country laundresses produce the effect or perhaps care to try. You may leave your collars and cuffs flat, if the shape be suitable, or give them a turn round in the finishing, if desired. Take care always to place your irons on the stand whilst you adjust the linen, or your sheet and blanket will soon be scorched and spoiled. A flat-iron should be vigorously rubbed on the board with bath-brick, polished with a cloth, and its cleanliness tested before you begin the shirt. And be sure you treat the buttons respectfully. If you stamp the iron on them they will break; if you rush at them violently with the point they will fly off; go tenderly round them and they will seldom want replacing.
The parts of a shirt should be ironed in the following order: - Back lap, saddle, neck-band, or collar, sleeves, cuffs, front - for which use the flannel-covered board number one - front lap, then finished and folded. The final folding of most articles may be very neat or equally clumsy. Look at specimens done by a first-class laundress, study and copy, which will be better than pages of printed instructions.
In ironing skirts and dresses do them in the following order: - Bottom hems, tucks and flounces, sleeves, body or band, lastly, rest of skirt, using shaped board.
After rinsing delicate prints or muslins, let them lie for a few minutes before starching in clean water in which an ounce of Epsom salts has been dissolved. This is a little secret imported from France and has been successfully used by a very superior laundress of any acquaintance, who finds that it fixes and brightens colours, and improves the general appearance of prints.
The many beautiful, printed cotton fabrics now in use should, if possible, be made up in such a manner that they can be ironed on the wrong side. They should not be rubbed with soap, but washed in a lather made with boiled curd soap. Woollen stuffs of very good quality, such as French merinos, will bear washing; but dresses should be taken to pieces and hung out dripping from the rinsing water. It is, however, no economy to wash really good stuffs, and poor an mixed fabrics will not bear it. It is far better to send them to one of the large dyeing and cleaning establishments; the appearance will amply repay the cost, if the articles be worth doing at all. Sateens and prints which are tumbled and creased, can be thoroughly renovated by ironing them through a damp cloth, in the same way as black silk after sponging, or merinos after washing.
In THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER several different recipes for washing lace have already appeared. To any possessor of really valuable lace, who has had no experience in cleaning such a delicate fabric, but who desires to experiment upon it, I would give the same advice as the celebrated Mr. Punch did to persons about to marry - "Don't." By valuable lace, I mean Brussels, the various kinds of points, Honiton, &c., &c., which require very delicate manipulation. Maltese, Cluny, Torchon and others of a comparatively strong kind of thread, are easy enough to do, and I will give you my method of getting them up; but by all means send costly lace to a professional cleaner. It costs very little, comes back exactly like new, and may be done time after time without injury. I have a beautiful piece, only thirty inches long, of rare old point, which cannot be reproduced in these days. It went to Brussels a short time ago, with two little rents in it; it came back so well repaired that the places where they had been were not to be discovered by the naked eye. The mending, cleaning, and postage both ways cost about two shillings; the lace itself is valued at twelve guineas.
A Honiton lace-maker to whom I entrust lace of that description sends hundreds of pieces weekly to be cleaned in Devonshire. I cannot tell the process, but the result is perfection. He says the hand never touches it in the cleaning, and no person could tell it from new unless it has been once washed by an amateur beforehand.
The pretty, frail and so-called "cheap" laces used at present are really very expensive; many will not bear washing, and are not worth the cost of cleaning.