Nowadays, we just plug in the iron and flatten our clothes. Ironing was much more of a chore over a hundred years ago, when the flat irons had to be heated on a stove and you needed a range of them, so you could replace the cooled one with one heated up to the right temperature. They were much more trouble to clean, too. For more information and pictures of the stove and irons in our collection see our previous blogs – A selection of irons, Using and caring for flat irons, An iron stove and Little Dorrit.
Some clothes were more fussy too, with frills and gathers to be smoothed in creased cotton garments. This could be achieved using a goffering iron or goffering tongs. We have several of these at Market Lavington Museum, forming a display around our kitchen range.
Goffering tongs are scissor like tools, with one cylindrical ‘blade’ fitting into one that has a matching concave ‘blade’. They were heated over a flame and then had to be wiped clean of any soot with a damp cloth, before being tested on paper to check that they weren’t so hot that they would scorch the frills. The handles of our tongs have been bound with string to protect the housewife from burning herself on the heated metal.
It has to be said that baby clothes are simpler in design today and less in need of ironing.