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Basic Care Instructions #18: Cotton Shirts Washing & Ironing

  

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BASIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS  #18: Cotton Shirts Washing & Ironing

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This is the 18th in a series of articles on domestic items, and materials most often seen in antiques and vintage textiles, including but not limited to housewares and clothing. At the risk of trying your patience, I go into considerable detail in suggesting how to care for your things. I've also added some general suggestions here, and if you follow them, they can add a lot to the life expectancy of your favorite things.

See our issue BASIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS #1 for information on how to read care labels you may find on vintage fabrics (and you should follow them if you do find them!). All previous articles in the series can be found in our library and in the magazine archives.  

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COTTON SHIRTS WASHING & IRONING 

 

Children's Play With Pipers In White Shirts, 1886. 

 

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There are three ways to care for your cotton garments: 
I. Wash and iron everyday cotton and cotton blends at home, casually.
II. Send them out to the 'cleaners'.
III. Wash and iron your fine cottons yourself, and take this seriously.

Fasten your seat belts; here they are.

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COTTON SHOULD BE WASHED 

Cotton is a natural fiber and it really should be washed, rather than dry cleaned. Dry cleaning won't damage cotton but it also won't remove water soluble stains such as perspiration. This means cotton can come back from the dry cleaners and still look dirty.  Dry cleaning solvents contain little to no water, leaving perspiration based dirt untouched. Washing cotton, and cotton blends, in water (H2O) is better for removing water soluble dirt and stains from sweat. That said, if your cotton garment has an oil based stain on it you may have better luck getting that cleaned by a dry cleaner than via a washing machine.Dry cleaning is an expensive method, whether via a dry cleaners or via a home dry cleaning kit.

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Cotton is one fiber that is strong when wet; it actually holds up very well and it looks best when it is WASHED, either by hand or by machine. That's the good news. The bad news is that washing 100% cotton means ironing it. This need not be unalleviated torture however. 

Here are some tips to make this task more comfortable for you, or for whomever you hire to do it for you.

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Laundry Duty, 1942, WW2 Navy Sailors, USS Cebu Battleship.

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The shirt has conveniently separately signalling parts yet remains essentially a billboard; it's worn across the largest visible portion of the body, the chest.  The shirt is now the pivotal piece of the Western World dress code, as important and essential to the human dress code as vowels are to the English alphabet.  The shirt made its' earliest appearance as First Dynasty Egyptian tomb sleepwear.

Wikipedia states that the world's oldest preserved garment, discovered by Flinders Petrie, is a "highly sophisticated" linen shirt from a First Dynasty Egyptian tomb at Tarkan, c. 3000 BC. This was the first wear-it-forever comfort shirt.

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I.  HOW TO WASH & DRY EVERYDAY COTTONS AT HOME


Here are general instructions for everyday cotton and cotton blends. For fine cottons, you'll need to use a different set of instructions; see below.
 

Ancien photographe blanchisserie repassage.

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1. Wash everyday cotton and cotton blends in a normal washing machine using water and detergent, then put them through the spin cycle in the washing machine JUST LONG ENOUGH to wring out most of the water. ONLY THEN put them in the dryer.
 

2. Set the dryer to medium heat. Remove everyday 100% cotton and cotton blends from the dryer when they are JUST dry, even a bit damp! DO NOT OVER DRY THEM. They will FRY. 
 

3. You can spray everyday cotton and cotton blends liberally with water, and roll them up tightly in a bath towel to let them moisture absorb. Leave them in the towel for approximately 30 minutes, so they are still slightly damp when you unroll them.
 

4. For everyday 100% cotton, you can use a warm to hot iron. For everyday BLENDS however, lower the setting appropriately, usually to a warm setting; otherwise, you could melt the synthetic portion of the fibers causing the garment to develop permanent puckers.
 

5. If possible, iron on the wrong side. In other words, turn the clothing inside out, and iron it inside out. This decreases "iron shine" and any creases that may form with a warm iron.
 

6. If there are buttons, don't run over your buttons with your iron. Try to go around them, using the pointed end of the iron. If you, or your dry cleaner, ever break a button, remember that many fine garments include extra buttons already sewn onto inner seams inside the garment; many women's garments may also include a little packet of extra buttons.

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TIPS 

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The Laundry & Cleaning Works in Upper Shoreham Road (Old Shoreham Road, Portslade), 1923 drawing.

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Special Tips For Cotton


Don’t leave dirty cottons waiting in the hamper for too long before washing. This leads to premature yellowing, as any sweat and oils will have more time to oxidize and set into the fabric. For shirts, remember to always remove the collar stays from the collar before washing and ironing because if you don’t, they will warp, and cause the shirt collar points to curve awkwardly. If you're worried about buttons breaking, wash the shirts turned inside out. 

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Some General Sensible Laundry Tips

Aluminum Foil Fabric "Softener" Balls :  A few 10 cm diameter / 4 inches scrunched up balls of aluminum foil can be used in the dryer very effectively in lieu of fabric dryer towels or fabric softener; they reduce static cling and when made correctly, last up to 6 months before they should be replaced. Don't skimp on the aluminum when you make the ball; make it firm and tight, and it will last 6 months, and until then, it can just 'live' in the dryer.

Clean Your Washing Machine! Every 3 or 4 months, run your washing machine through a cycle using hot water and a 12 ounce bottle of white vinegar.  This will dislodge soapy residue that accumulates in the machine over time, and it will help keep the agitator clean. In general, this can also be done with coffee pots and all electronic appliances that risk buildup over time of any sort of residue or minerals from hard water.

Super whites can also be achieved by adding one cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle.  You can also dissolve five aspirin tablets in hot water, and soak dirty or dull whites in this before washing.  Aspirin contains salicylic acid which brightens whites. A good alternative to this is baking soda: the proportion ratio is 1 cup of baking soda for each 4 liters of water.

For darker clothing and other household items such as tablecloths, knapkins, pet beds. and rugs, add one cup of table salt (Na) to the rinse cycle.  You can 're-dye' fading black tee shirts, socks, and other dark fabric by adding 2 cups of dark brewed tea or brewed coffee to the rinse cycle.

Adding fresh squeezed lemon juice to your wash cycle along with whatever detergent you use will keep your laundry feeling and smelling fresh. The proportion ratio is approximately the juice of two fresh lemons to each 4 liters of water, with the lemon juice added with, or mixed into, the detergent. Don't try this with anything but fresh squeezed juice as the pre-packaged variety's acidic content isn't strong enough. Lemons take just seconds to squeeze, and your hands will smell terrific.

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II. SEND YOUR COTTON SHIRTS TO THE DRY CLEANERS OR "WASH & PRESS"

The Empress Hygienic Laundry, Stevenson Laundry Horse And Cart, Aberdeen Scotland.

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When you take your cotton shirts to a "dry cleaners", they probably aren't dry cleaning them; they're most likely washing and pressing them unless you are expressly ask them to dry clean. Washing and pressing is considered in the industry to be the 'default', 'standard', 'normal' way to clean shirts and it's the best choice. It is in fact a relatively cheap and easy method that keeps cotton shirts looking great.

Here's the process used at most "dry cleaners" to wash and press shirts: 1. First your shirt is washed in a normal washing machine using water and detergent.
2. Then the shirt is put through the spin cycle in the washing machine to wring out most of the water from the shirt.
3. Finally, the still-damp shirt is put on some sort of rig or industrial shirt press that closes over the shirt and simultaneously irons the garment while steaming out the remaining water, resulting in a wrinkle free, dry shirt.

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NOTE!

Some cleaners are too hard on shirts. You'll need to find a careful cleaner, unfortunately probably through trial and error. 

Sheets in The Laundry.

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So, Heads Up!  Pay attention to these things:


1. Some cleaners will press shirts in the wrong orientation and the shirt will come back to you with the midsection width stretched out, larger than it should be. This is because they pulled the shirts onto the press with the fabric under tension in the width direction. Then they steamed the shirt dry, effectively locking the stretch into the shirt. This can increase the midsection width by between one half inch to three quarters of an inch. In most cases, washing the shirt and then drying it on low-heat in a tumble dry dryer  will return it to its' original size. See also my section below titled "How To Control Shrinkage". 
 

2. The cleaner slammed down the press over the front of the shirt; this causes buttons to chip or shatter.

3. Try not to starch your shirts.  Starch really is bad for shirts. If you must starch, when you send out your shirts and other cottons, request light or medium starch. See my section below titled "On Starching".

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Alsace oops! not enough starch!

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4. Finally, in the process of bringing the shirts home from the cleaners, collars are often smashed, even with the best intentions, and this requires additional ironing for optimal appearance.

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Stay-Flow Starch Advertisement, 1952: Scorch Marks? Pulled-in Wrinkles? Shiny Spots? Which Blouse Was Beauty Starched? 

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OOPS!   DON'T COUNT ON THE CLEANERS TO FIND AND REMOVE STAINS!


Don’t count on the cleaner to find and remove stains. If you know there’s a spot, point it out to them, so that they know to spot clean it.

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Mrs. Lowe's Laundry & Fortunes Told, Bering Sea Gold Nome Gold Rush.

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If you spill some wine or spaghetti sauce, quick action can minimize any stains that result. With a brush or comb, carefully swipe or lift away any large pieces so you don’t smear them worse into the garment. Immediately treat the stain with water or stain remover solvent. The sooner the better. If you can’t get your hands on a stain remover pen (if you're eating out, try asking the waiter or maître d' ), then I recommend a Tide Pen, and you can also try dishwashing detergent, lemon juice, vinegar, or seltzer water. Usually one of these will be available right where you're sitting. Dab any one or more of these various solvents on the stain with a light touch. Pressure can force the stain deeper into the fibers of the garment. Rinse and repeat.

If you're in an academic environment, grease stains and spots can be rubbed with white chalk, and then the clothing can be just tossed into the wash as usual; the chalk is absorbent and will help to absorb the grease oils.  

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The Chemistry Of Stains.


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III.   WASHING A FINE COTTON SHIRT OR BLOUSE


Ironing instructions are separate; see below.

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15-year old laundry girl at the Bonanno Laundry in Boston, Massachusetts 1917.

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Shirts are made to be worn, and they will get dirty.  There is, however, no shortcut to quality. If you want to look your best and also want your cotton shirts to last, wash and iron them yourself. This takes a bit of time, but it's not Rocket Science.  Really. You won't have to fret over trusting a dry cleaner not to stretch out your fitted shirt, not to smash all the buttons, or miss removing the stains. With proper care, a high quality shirt can last for years and years and years of frequent wear, and continue to look great on you so long as you keep fit.


Follow these steps for optimal results. I make the assumption here that you're washing a shirt.

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USE PERSIL DETERGENT.

Just so you know, I don't receive, or accept, any kickbacks when I recommend products. And my standards are so high, I rarely make recommendations. But I recommend Persil Detergent.   It is, simply, the most effective gentle detergent for washing fine cotton currently available on the market.  Here's an endorsement from a Famous Person so you don't have to take my word for this.

"I'm a nut about care so I wash my shirts myself. Persil detergent is the absolute best. It used to be fiendishly complicated to get because it wasn't being imported to the U.S. Now you can get it on Amazon." 

Quote from Facebook's Matt Jacobson, in the Wall Street Journal article "The Exacting Tech Exec", Style and Fashion, page D4 Saturday/Sunday edition, May 6-7, 2017.

 

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Persil es gut nut bessers als. 

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1. Start by preparing the shirt. Unbutton all of the buttons, including cuff buttons and any collar buttons. Remove any collar stays if the shirt has them and put them in a safe place. If the shirt has a pocket or pockets, be sure they're empty.

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Remove the collar stays and put them in a safe place.

 

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2. Pre-treat any stains by carefully working a little detergent into them, or better yet spot cleaning them with a stain remover pen.


3. Set the settings on your washing machine. To minimize wear on a fine or lightweight shirt, use the Delicate cycle. If the shirt is made from a heavier duty fabric, or is particularly dirty, you may opt for the Normal cycle. Whites and light colors can use hot water, but you're safer from shrinking when using cool or cold water. Dark colored shirts that you don’t want to fade should be washed with cold water. The warmer the water, the more likely color will bleed and fade, and the more likely natural fibers are to shrink.  Take care not to include other laundry items with bold colors because you don't want those other colors bleeding into your shirts. In other words, wash colors separately, in cool water,  and don't take a chance; chemical dyes and fabrics change with age and something that never bled or shrunk before could start bleeding or shrinking now.


4. Use a high quality detergent, like Persil or Woolite, that is appropriate to the color of the shirt. Don't pinch pennies here;  that's penny wise but pound foolish, as Benjamin Franklin once said.  Be sure not to use any detergents or cleaners that are chlorine based, as these will cause discoloration to many shirt fabrics. Wash the shirts in the washing machine, and then let the spin cycle wring most of the water out of the garment.


5. The shirts will be tightly crumpled in the washing machine, and slightly damp, so you’ll want to remove them promptly before these intense wrinkles dry into the shirt. Hang the shirts up or lay them out so they can air dry. Be careful about hanging the shirts on a sharp hanger or with tight clothespins as this can distort the fabric or leave a mark on the shirt. 6. Next you’ll need to iron the shirts. You don’t need to wait for the shirts to be completely dry to begin this step, but they should be mostly dry.

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TIP:

If you are drying your clothes on an outdoor clothes line, dry everything inside out to prevent fading. Fading can occur due to oxidation, and doesn't necessarily require sunshine. Be careful using and placing clothespins as the pressure can damage finer fabrics.


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New Siamese Kittens Hanging On The Clothesline To Dry, London, 1931 (Dziewczynka wiesza koty na sznurku do wieszania prania - Londyn, 1931).

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ABOUT THE DRYER


Frankly, for fine cottons, I honestly recommend that you avoid using the dryer. You really don't need to use it. Just allow fine cottons to air dry on a hanger. 

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Tumble Dry Washing Machine Home Robot, Advertisement,1950.

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If you must put cotton in a dryer, avoid high heat or over-drying. Use the dryer only to get most of the moisture out of the clothing, and then pull out the clothes and iron them WHILE THEY ARE STILL DAMP,  i.e. immediately, to remove the rest of the moisture and any wrinkles at the same time. 

If you dry your cottons completely in the dryer, you’ll find them a bit harder to iron perfectly, and they will likely shrink over time.

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HOW TO IRON A FINE COTTON SHIRT

To keep fine shirts looking their best, you’ll need to have them pressed. You can send them out, but as discussed above, you need a trustworthy presser. And if you don't trust your 'dry cleaners' to properly press fitted dress shirts so they come back the same size they went in, then you'll have to iron these yourself.

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Fer à Repasser, Homme.

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Ironing clothes is one of those tasks that has a tendency to seem terrifying, but worry not! Ironing shirts is quicker and easier than you might think. It should only take an average of three minutes to properly iron a shirt, and that's doing it the right way.

You may or may not know that ironing is different from pressing. To iron, you generally go over the entire garment with an iron, using long, smooth stokes; hand pressing involves lifting and lowering the iron to apply pressure and heat just where there are wrinkles. Most professional laundries and cleaners use an industrial press that closes over the garments and simultaneously irons them and steams out any remaining water. Even when using an iron, it's gentle pressure and steam that are going to do the work, not so much the motion and heat of the iron itself.
Here is the method, step by step, to iron a fitted dress shirt. I've also tucked in information for skirts; see below.

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You'll Need:


A clean iron (without rust or burnt starch, because that ruins clothes!). An ironing board. A bit of water, preferably in a spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle.

Step 1:  Set up the right equipment: the iron, ironing board, and ironing board cover.
You need an iron, an ironing board, and an ironing board cover.   Try to buy an iron with these 2 features: a slippery teflon coated bottom, and a little built-in receptacle that allows you to pour water into it to make steam. 

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Diagram of an iron showing the Spray Button that allows you to spray steam. 

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Your life will be made easier if the iron also has a Press-For-Steam button. If you're stuck with an iron that can't spray steam water,  you'll need to substitute a spray bottle full of water, and be sure the bottle has a settable nozzle that allows you to choose to spray a fine mist. 

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 L'Eau Détartrer Un Fer à Repasser.

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You’ll need a proper ironing board; it really is necessary. "Any old flat surface" can do in a pinch, but that's more of an emergency measure than anything else. A proper ironing board makes the results of your effort look better with less frustration, and allows you to wrap the board in special material that's flame retardant (teflon) and breathable, allowing the steam to escape from underneath the item you're ironing.

What's a proper ironing board? Well, this depends on where you live. And so long as you can protect your ironing board with a teflon heat proof cover, it works!

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For  New York, it's a nearly pocket travel size ironing board that fits on the only tiny table you have. 

Mini Planche Repasser Jeannette Ble.

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In California, you'll have to look up what an ironing board is because Californians only wear tee shirts. 


Old Wooden Ironing Board, Northern California, 1973.

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Anywhere else, you'll have a proper big fold out ironing board, probably inherited from your mother, which you can set up in your laundry, living room, or bed room, near an electric outlet. 


Maison, Planche à Rapasser.

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Step 2: Set up the ironing board, and put the cover on it.
Set your ironing board up in a comfortable place, like a little work station area, with enough space so you can spread the shirts out without wrinkling them all over again.

Plug the iron in and turn the dial to point to “cotton” or whatever the hottest setting is, and wait a bit for the iron to heat up.

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Porte Electric Pour Souris.

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TIP:

If you’re planning to iron several shirts in a row, always start by ironing the item that uses the lowest setting on your iron. 

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Step 3: Start By Ironing The Back Of The Shirt


Start your ironing with the back of the shirt,  because it's going to get wrinkled as soon as you put it on and sit down anyways. Unbutton the shirt completely, and spread it out over the ironing board. Put the shirt on the board so that the narrow end of the board is going into the back of the shoulder of the shirt, and the edge of the ironing board is along the side of the shirt. With moderate pressure, slide the iron smoothly down the shirt from top to bottom, being careful to keep the shirt flat and be sure that you don’t actually iron wrinkles into the garment. On any wrinkles that aren’t going away easily, apply a little steam from the iron (it may have a Press-For-Steam button) or spray some water (using the fine spray setting on your water bottle nozzle). Once you’ve ironed one side of the back, slide the shirt over and iron the other side the same way.

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Step 4: Iron The Sleeves


Iron the sleeves, one sleeve at a time. First, open the cuffs! This is something that beginners often forget; it's easier to open the cuffs and lay them flat, but allows you to do a better job ironing the whole sleeve, too.

Lay the sleeve long ways on the ironing board and carefully flatten the sleeve with your hands so it folds along the hem on the bottom of the sleeve. Starting from around the arm pit area, iron toward the cuff and away from the bottom hem. It’s optional to iron in a crease on the top of the sleeve, but if you do, this crease should be straight. If you don’t want a crease, just iron close to the top but not over it. Repeat on the other sleeve.

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TIP:

Don't leave ironing the sleeves for last; you'll just end up causing wrinkles in other parts of the shirt that you've already ironed.

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Step 5: Iron The Top Part Of The Shirt Front And Yoke


Since this section of the shirt is next to your neck and head, it's the most visible. You'll want to iron this correctly. For this area you’ll use the narrow pointy side of the ironing board. Pull one shoulder of the shirt over this part of the ironing board so you have a clear view of one side of the yoke and the front of the shirt just below the yoke. The collar should be sticking up straight and curving around in a circle. Spray this area so it is damp, and then iron carefully around the curve of the collar.

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Step 6: Iron The Shirt Collar

Take out the removable collar stays from the shirt collar (don’t lose them). Button down collars won’t have collar stays, but you’ll still need to unbutton the little buttons that hold down the collar. 

Open up the collar, and lay it flat, as you will be ironing it on the underside; in other words, you will be ironing on the back of the collar. Just like the cuffs, people tend to think that this is opposite of what they should do, since they're used to seeing the collar in the down position at all times.
Unfold the collar so that it is “popped” and lay it flat on the ironing board, with the backside facing up. Spray the collar with a good amount of water so that it is quite damp, and give the water about thirty 30 seconds to soak into the fabric. 

Now, be sure the iron is on and hot, and iron the collar, on the underside. Iron from the middle of the collar outwards, all the way to the tips of the collar points. The collar is a thicker, stiffer piece of material than the rest of the garment, and you may need to press slightly harder than you would elsewhere. 

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Ironing The Collar Backside.

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When you’re done, put the collar stays back in the collar and fold the collar down again. You can also fold down the collar and iron in a bit of a crease at the front of the collar so that it will angle down sharply. You won’t be able to iron this crease all the way around since the collar is designed to curve, but a little bit of a crease at the front can make the shirt look a bit sharper; it's a nice finishing touch.

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Step 7: Iron The Shirt Front


Finally, iron the shirt front. Hopefully, by now, you’ve gotten the hang of this. Do one side of the front at a time. No cheating. Be careful of the buttons. Make sure the front placket is not folded over in a way it shouldn’t be. Use the pointed end of the iron to get into the areas up around the front of the collar. 

If the shirt has a pocket, follow these instructions: as you push the iron down on one side, pull gently on the other side to keep everything tight and straight as you iron.

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Step 8: Let The Shirt Cool.

When you're done, hand the shirt on a good hanger (not a thin metal hanger!) and let the shirt hang for a few minutes to fully cool down. Ironing heats the fabric to a very high relative temperature, and the "flatness" actually sets in during the cool down phase, so wearing this immediately after ironing it could negate much of the hard work you just put into ironing it in the first place.

If you've pressed in a crease, such as a pleat down the back, let the shirt hang for an hour or two to set. Really. If you don't iron in creases then don't worry about it and just give this a few minutes to cool down.

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SKIRTS

For most skirts, it's as simple as starting at the top and working your way down, EXCEPT for skirts that flare out suddenly at the bottom, with what are called "flounces." For flounced skirts, you'll want to start at the bottom, and iron each flounce first, then work your way up toward the waist at the top. Basically, skirts are just plain easy; you just need to be careful about the fabric so remember to read the label.

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USE THE RIGHT HEAT SETTING FOR FABRIC BLENDS

   

Ouch!  Pay Attention! The Iron Is Hot.

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Fabrics blended with silk, polyester, or other synthetics, or fabrics that have been treated with formaldehyde to be 'wrinkle free" all need special attention, because it doesn't take much to ruin them with an iron. For these fabrics, make sure you start by using the lowest setting available on your iron. Though it's not required, it might be a good idea to use a barrier cloth between the iron and the fabric.  The cloth can be made of any natural untreated fabric, like a cotton towel, cotton handkerchief, of linen. Even something like untreated writing paper or layering paper towels also works pretty well in a pinch. Linen doesn't shed lint, and it's very breathable; it allows steam to pass through.


Use the medium setting for wool and rayon blends. Start with the medium or medium high setting for cotton and linen and only go to high if you really need it.  If you're unsure about the fabric type you're about to iron, use the lowest setting to start with,  just to be safe. If the wrinkles aren't coming out, then you can try lightly ironing on a higher setting, testing this first by ironing on an inside seam.

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ON STARCHING

Niagara Starch Advertisement, circa 1950: Revolutionary new starch discovery works perfectly in cold water! 

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My suggestion is to avoid starch completely. Frankly I frown on starching, but I don't feel I've the right to impose my preferences. And I'm not the one wearing the shirt all day. One can't argue with the look of a freshly starched shirt. However much I like that look, starch actually tends to cause fibers to "crack" and weaken, and wears out fabrics, prematurely. Fabrics that aren't starched last a lot longer. When the starch material gets embedded in the fibers, over time, it acts like a million little knives cutting at the fibers and breaking them down. 

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IDE Starched Collars Advertisement, circa 1928: If you would rid yourself of all doubt as to collar correctness, wear IDE starched collars.

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So I say, if you must starch, when you send out your shirts and other cottons, request light or medium starch. When you starch your shirts at home, use a dry iron and clean that iron regularly. Starch builds up quickly on an iron and can leave a yucky mark if not removed after each use.

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HOW TO CLEAN AN IRON

 

Starch builds up quickly on an iron and can leave a yucky mark if not removed after each use.

 

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1.When the iron is cool, wipe and polish the plate bottom with a soft dry cloth.


2. Turn on the iron and when the iron is warm, not hot, rub any marks on the bottom with a damp cloth (use water - H2O - to make the cloth damp!).


3. For more stubborn marks, use white toothpaste. Put some white toothpaste on an old toothbrush. Turn on the iron and when the iron is warm, not hot,  rub at the marks with the toothpaste on the toothbrush, until the marks are removed. Then use a clean dry cloth to rub off any toothpaste remaining on the bottom of the iron. 


4. To ensure the iron is completely clean,  and to be sure that it no longer leaves any marks, set the iron on steam and steam a cloth for a full five minutes.

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HOW TO CONTROL SHRINKAGE


 

Feeding The Stork.

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You may or may not know that shrinkage happens over time, not all at once. All fabrics are a little bit different, but a good rule of thumb for shrinkage for most natural fibers and natural fiber blends is 1-3%. Fine woven cottons, like those used for most fine shirts, shrink an average of 2% over time. This may not sound like much, but it becomes quite noticeable with sleeve and body lengths, and collar sizes. On fine cotton shirts, you can expect most shrinkage to occur in the sleeve and overall shirt lengths, and around the collar. High shrinkage fabrics include some chambrays, oxford cloths, corduroys, and some finely printed fabrics. Clearly, you should buy your clothing in a size that takes into account a normal amount of shrinkage over time. There are, however,  a number of caveats to this rule that should also be considered.

Remember, how you care for your garments, how you wash them, and how you dry them, really makes a huge difference. If you wash your cottons according to my suggestions, there should be only a minimal, and predictable, shrinkage over time, and you won't have to dry clean anything.


The first time any natural fiber woven fabric is washed, it usually shrinks the most, and it will still continue to shrink over its' lifetime. While I don't have official scientific data to support this, just my own experience, there seems to be logarithmic decrease in the shrinkage with each subsequent washing, and eventually the garment fabric reaches an equilibrium, because the first washing sees about half the total shrinkage, the second washing sees another quarter, the third another eighth, and so on over time until it stops. Felters take note. The point is, it’s common for a woven cotton shirt to be slightly smaller after fifty washings than after the first washing.

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Lilliputian Big Chair And Lots Of Little Kids.

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 Generally speaking (there are plenty of exceptions) natural fiber woven fabrics will shrink more in the warp than in the weft, which is another way of saying that the fabric will tend to shrink more in length than width. Depending on how the fabric is cut to make the garment, and on how the garment is pieced together, this translates into where to expect shrinkage. It is a very sophisticated science and art to assemble any garment to account for fabric shrinkage; it's often why it's well worth your money in the long run to pay more for a better made, better considered, wearable.


Likewise, some fabric weaves (like imperial twills and even pinpoint oxfords) are more susceptible to stretching than other fabrics. Broadcloth fabrics are generally more resistant to stretching. Finely woven fabric, or fabrics with a loose weave, can stretch all over the place. You may find that rather than shrinking, your garment comes back from an over-zealous cleaner actually looser than before, especially around the bust / chest, midsection and around the biceps. If this isn't the effect you wanted, then you should find another cleaner. Over zealous cleaners have been known to press fabric with too much tension in the width direction; then when the clothing is steamed dry, this stretch is effectively locked into the fabric. If this size increase isn't what you want, you can, in most cases, return the garment to the original size by simply washing it again, as soon as possible, and then dry it on low-heat in a tumble-dry dryer. 

Incidentally, this same procedure works for leather, both for stretching and contracting.


Again, I don't recommend dry cleaning natural fiber woven fabrics. Certainly, if you only occasionally wear these, and only occasionally have them spot-cleaned by a dry-cleaner, and have them washed and pressed by a dry cleaner who is really washing and pressing them and not dry cleaning them, then they won't shrink as much as they would if you were washing them regularly in water. 

But really, if you don't pay attention, and you wash these fibers in the washing machine but then dry them on high-heat in the dryer, or send them to a dry cleaner who dry cleans them rather than washing and pressing them, then you will see shrinkage that will make your hair stand on end. 

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It shrunk!

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The next time you want your hair to stand on end for some Halloween costume, please first read my magazine article for the facts on Synthetics (https://www.suityourself.international/appanage/basic-care-instructions-15.html). If you want skin tight clothing because you think it's sexier, remember you really can't get that look without wearing synthetics, and the trade offs are poisoning yourself and your environment. 

Buy natural fiber woven clothing in a slightly bigger size that takes into account the fact that the garment will shrink over time, and be sure you don't make mistakes when setting your washing machine, your dryer, or your iron. 

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REMOVING WRINKLES IN A PINCH  (Without an Iron)

Sometimes you just don't have time to sit and actually iron something, or you might not even have an iron readily available and just can't find one. In those cases, there are a couple of tricks that can get you by without too much of a headache. But don't use these tricks to avoid ironing. Remember, it takes an average of three minutes to properly iron a shirt, doing it the right way,  and some of these suggestions take a lot longer.  These suggestions use water, pressure, and / or heat.

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Docteur Albert Einstein sur la plage du Maine, vêtu d’une chemise blanche froissée.

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Use the Shower: As funny as it sounds, hanging your clothes up directly outside the shower curtain or door while running hot water is actually a very easy way to get rid of most of the wrinkles in your clothing by hot steaming them out. The only problem with this method is that clothes can get soaked pretty easily with one wrong splash, and creases that were there on purpose will also likely disappear soon afterwards.


Water Spritzing: Using a spray bottle with a good adjustable nozzle is already a trick used during ironing to help get steam deeper into fabric, but if you don't have an iron and need to get rid of some serious wrinkles, just using the water itself can help you out immensely. The best way to do something like this is to find something flat and heavy, like a book. Spray some water on the wrinkled area, rub it in gently, and place a paper or fabric towel over it, then try to flatten it out by pressing the book down over it on a flat table. Don't hold it too long, though, or you may be causing a whole new set of nearby wrinkles. You can wet and repeat.


Use the Dryer: If you've got a good half hour to spare, you can spray heavy amounts of water on the wrinkled item, and throw it in the dryer for a quick and hot tumble. The trick here is to pull it out of the dryer while it's still hot—then either put it on or hang it up immediately. Nearly all the wrinkles can be taken out of a single item this way.

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In short, have fun with your clothes and take care of them.   After all, you're a "picture worth a thousand words"!

 

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Fete des vins de France a Colmar. M. Albert Lebrun boit du vin de Riquewihr dans le verre ou le President Raymond Poincare but en 1920, au cours de son voyage en Alsace. 22/5/36 (Mai 5, 1936).

 

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I sign our magazine articles "See Into The Invisible". Thanks for reading.

Best Wishes, 
Debra Spencer

All Content is © Debra Spencer, Suit Yourself™ International. Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
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All Content is ©2019 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at www.suityourself.international Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.

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All Content is ©2019 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at www.suityourself.international Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill