Victoria Cosford: Dashing away with a smoothing iron…


Who owns up to loving ironing?  Who in their right mind could love ironing?  Writer Victoria Cosford, that’s who…

I like ironing. I will go so far as to say that I love ironing: order out of chaos, like washing up, which I happen to love as well.

I say I love ironing, but as a childless woman I have never had to contend with an over-flowing laundry basket of newly washed clothes all requiring the dreary diurnal discipline of an iron’s thump. Once every couple of weeks I will erect the ironing board, locate some quiet classical music on the radio, pour water into the aperture and switch my iron on. Daylight streams in behind me through the sliding door opening out on to our modest balcony; rainbow lorikeets twitter and beak into the bottle-brush draped over its railing; steam issues, hissing, from my appliance, and I begin.

Especially it’s tea towels I love to iron. I have a vast collection and so many of them carry reminders – of the person who bequeathed it; of the overseas village I purchased it from; of a period of my life when I acquired it. Some, like the thin green and white cotton one with a pasta sauce recipe and a map of Tuscany on it, should have been hurled out years ago – there’s an ever-widening hole near one hem – and yet I cannot seem to let it go because to do so would rob me of the memory, every time I come to iron it, of the small hill-top town outside Siena where I purchased it, a young woman in her twenties living alone, bravely, in a foreign country. Or the rough-hewn linen one sprigged all over with cheerful illustrations of different herbs, a gift from ex-landlords after their trip to Provence. Or the painstakingly hand-stitched hand-printed one of bees made by a gifted artist friend. Or the dazzling Anna Chandler ones – I own two – in swirling psychedelic patterns given to me by a close friend who died recently. These are tea towels with stories attached to them and as I thump the hissing iron across them, folding them into halves then quarters, stacking their neatly pleated oblongs into a pile, I am obliged to revisit the stories.

Anna Chandler tea towels - perfect for the ironing afficianado...

Anna Chandler tea towels – perfect for the ironing aficionado…

Pillowcases are nearly as satisfying, as are handkerchiefs (yes, I possess a small handful, even in this age of the throwaway paper tissue). Handkerchiefs were indeed the very first things I was taught to iron by my mother, a solemn plump seven year old at the lowered ironing board – before I inevitably graduated to the more complicated clothing, shirts with cuffs and collars and sleeves, dresses with linings and pleats, blouses with frills and tucks and fancy folds, expansive white linen tablecloths which had to be pre-folded in order to fit on to the ironing board. In Italy I had an important ironing lesson by my then-boyfriend’s mother in their tiny Umbrian village: she taught me how to iron something I had never previously seen the point of ironing, which was T-shirts. Gian Carlo was a chef whose uniform included a battery of brightly white T-shirts and so I needed to know to start by pressing the short sleeves, then folding inwards each two sides, then folding upwards so that the T-shirt became one perfectly compact white square. (To this day, while I dispense with the actual ironing, I fold T-shirts thus.)

'Dashing away with the smoothing iron...she stole my heart away.'  Victoria enjoys creating order out of chaos.

‘Dashing away with the smoothing iron…she stole my heart away.’ Victoria enjoys creating order out of chaos.

Thump goes the iron, and the creases dissolve to give way to a clean smooth plane still faintly fragrant with washing powder. One pile grows; the crumpled one diminishes. This is meditative and soothing, because if I am not being tugged back into history by souvenir tea towels I am allowing my thoughts to float, unstructured and untethered, where they will. Sometimes after an especially long session – I have missed my regular keeping-up and let too many weeks lapse so the wicker basket is a positive tower of laundry – I emerge at the end as from a trance, and realise I have covered in my head what to cook for dinner; what to wear the following day; the current crisis amongst my two sisters; the phone calls I must make; the cooking class dish I need to test-run; the recent conversation I had with a new friend; the diet I will start on Monday. So there is all that to add to the pleasure of a pile of ironing done, the legs of the ironing board collapsed so it can be slid into its recess next to the washing machine, the methodical putting-away of all that pressed cotton and linen and synthetic. Chaos temporarily ordered.




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