Fabrics and I have a very casual, almost platonic relationship.
I don’t manipulate or alter them by cutting, sewing, embroidering, or stitching. Let’s face it, I don’t even iron them. Yes, I launder and, more often than not, dry clean them before I wear them. And that is about the extent of my relationship with fabrics. When I lived in New York, I dropped off my laundry at the corner laundromat, and could be reasonably assured that stacks of neatly folded, freshly scented clothes would be delivered at my door steps within a day or two.
In books, Murakami’s characters lends ironing shirts with such zen-like allure, that I finally decided to give ironing a try. Here is an excerpt from “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” if you don’t believe me:
I couldn’t read anymore. I decided to iron shirts instead. Which is what I always do when I am upset. It’s an old habit. I divide the job into twelve precise stages, beginning with the collar (outer surface) and ending with the left-hand cuff. The order is always the same, and I count off each stage to myself. Otherwise, it won’t come out right. I ironed three shirts, checking them over for wrinkles and putting them on hangers. Once I had switched off the iron and put it away with the ironing board in the hall closet, my mind felt a good deal clearer.
Nicely pressed shirts and minds, now how is that for a money-saving multi-tasking activity!
First, I set up my ironing station. We have a small fold-up ironing board that I saw Monkey King set atop our laundry basket, so I did the same. The station felt flimsy and wobbly. Oh well, I would have to make do with this. Next, I needed to decide how to orient the ironing board. Do you point the narrow end of the ironing board toward your dominant hand or the non-dominant hand? I experimented with both and found out that when I pointed it towards my dominant hand, I ended up ironing with my non-dominant hand, and that could get awkward. OK, so that’s decided.
With my station set, board oriented to the non-dominant hand, and iron turned on, I was ready for business. I even adjusted the dial to the middle heat setting.
I practiced on my martial arts uniform, then on my white coat: both were pretty straightforward. Martial arts uniform is a low expectation item since it’s going to get wrinkled anyway. My white coat is 100% polyester, so it looks pretty good even without ironing. Next, I moved on to MK’s shirt, and this is when it got complicated, not the least because it’s not my shirt, so I definitely don’t want the guilt of ruining someone else’s garment. I wish Murakami had listed the “ twelve precise stages, beginning with the collar (outer surface) and ending with the left-hand cuff.” First of, I didn’t know the cuffs got ironed too. Secondly, I needed more than the beginning and the end steps! I needed the whole twelve steps each with its precise description! Again, I made do with the missing middle part instructions and began with the outer surface of the collar. Next, I draped the yoke at the fatter end of the ironing board and iron the whole yoke across. Done! The front sides of the shirt, done and done!
My misguided confidence quickly led me into trouble. I mean, how do you iron sleeves?! Sure, the side that contacts the iron gets ironed beautifully, but when you flip the sleeve over, the underside always gets wrinkled. And this process repeats itself, and I ended up ironing the same damn sleeve over and over. Light bulb! I stopped and crowd-sourced on FB asking for tips from my friends. Surely I have friends who know how to iron! Many “used to” iron and resorted to using dry cleaners like I do, or did (I haven’t decided yet, but just knew that I wasn’t ready give up yet). I confirmed the orientation of the board, and learned the nuisances of ironing: things like you iron the “inside of a pocket”, various people’s starch preference, and keeping both sides of the sleeves flat. Well, that could be tricky, what with all the buttons and the gatherings of a sleeve. As my frustration gathered steam, I heard MK’s footsteps heading toward me. “I can show you how to iron!” he said breezily as he sauntered over to my little ironing station. He demonstrated the importance of flattening the fabrics on the board, and ran the iron over the sleeve. I took over the iron and followed suit, stopping and leaving the iron on the sleeve to let it humm… iron out the wrinkle a little longer. “NO! YOU CAN’T LEAVE THE IRON ON THE SHIRT, YOU ARE GOING TO BURN IT!!!” Oh boy, alright alright. Hold your horses, there is NO BURNING HOLE on your shirt!
Some say practice makes perfect. The question is not how to be perfect, but do I want to be perfect. I suppose I can keep practicing… when I have time next. But let’s just say that ironing shirts definitely won’t be the activity of choice when I need to calm down to a zen state of mind.