Monday, December 08, 2008

Musings on Traditions while ironing

Yesterday I finished ironing a large batch of linen and damask napkins. While doing so, my mind was at rest and was able to wander all over the place.

Understand that there is an art to ironing these napkins. First they must be spritzed with water, then bundled up and left overnight so that they become damp but not wet...evenly damp.

Then, remove a couple of them at a time, find the monogram and figure out which side is the wrong side. Place the napkin with the monogram face down in the upper right hand corner on the ironing board, hold the monogram somewhat taught but not so tight you rip the cut work, iron carefully with a hot iron, smooth down the four side seams, iron those and then iron the middle section. Fold over in half the correct way, then half again, then half again and then half again, all so the each napkin opens in the same way with the monogram right in front.

So, what musings you say?

For the first time ironing some of these napkins which are damask, I really looked at the images woven into the fabric. Of course when you iron 18 of them you get to see them a lot. There are a pair of cherubs in the center, cherubs in the corners, faces, and all sorts of curly cue shapes and designs.

I also noticed the patterns of the other napkins.

But most importantly, I started thinking about the fact that some of these napkins are over a hundred years old and have been used by five generations in our family. There are a few with some stains I haven't been able to get out, and some with some small holes in them. When the holes become too big I will cut out the monogram, hem it and then use it with family photos of the woman whose initials are in the monogram and make a nice shadowbox for the memory.

So I went back in years thinking about the generations that have used them. It reminded me of when I learned how to iron a shirt properly when I was 12 years old and visiting my aunt in Virginia. Her maid was down in the basement ironing the shirts and she showed me how to do it right...I still have that ingrained in my mind. (my mother never showed me how to iron)

And then I thought about using the napkins at my grandparents home in San Antonio, a home we visited every time we crossed the country on the way to another duty station (which was about every 18-24 months) and always seemed to be from one side of the country to the other. My grandparents were very formal and we sat at the large round dining table with family portraits hanging on the walls. Using these napkins. Now the table is at my fathers, some of the family portraits are in my house and I have a bunch of the napkins.

These are beautiful napkins...not something to daintily pat your mouth on, but 22" squares of beautiful damask and linens. And then there are others that are lace edged with scrumptious cut work and embroidery. The backs look almost as good as the fronts. And all monogrammed with the initial F for Furnish, a part of the family that goes back to Kentucky and then back further into Alsace Lorraine. And I think about the history of this family and my family and the continuity brought by these napkins.

I used to always serve a formal dinner for Christmas with damask table cloth that took me three hours to iron because it was so big, the napkins, the china which has been in my family for three generations, the silver which my grandmother on my mother's side gave me, the crystal and all the small candle sticks in silver holloware that I have collected. What a table. What a lot of work.

Last year we had the pretty table, the napkins, the crystal, the china but I put out a buffet and people grazed and played games and talked and relaxed and opened presents and played with the children. I think I will do that again.

But I think I need to show my daughter how to iron these napkins!

6 comments:

Michele said...

Liz,
Try Oxi Clean to get the stains out. Not a generic brand, but the real thing. From Wal-Mart I think. Anyway, I am fond of antique lace trims and crocheted pillow case edgings, and some of the oldies look pretty rough. But a little soak over night in Oxi Clean works the charm. Most come out looking like new, the others that nasty stain will never come out of.

norma said...

You know that ironing is a dying art. There are many young people that don't even own an iron. I, too, love to use cloth napkins, even for everyday. Your talking about sprinkling them and leaving them in a plastic bag overnight brought back a lot of memories. I don't do a lot of entertaining anymore, my family is so small now. Enjoy your holidays and those beautiful napkins.

Rachel said...

Oooh, that reminds me, I have a gazillion damask napkins to iron. We use them every day, but there always seems to be a backlog to be ironed. I like them heavily starched. Ironing a damask napkin properly is Zen.

Anonymous said...

it's your musings that I love. I don't have napkins that go back that far, but I always enjoy the process of ironing them and getting the family around the table for dinner.
I'd say that I also feel smug about "being green." when the truth of the matter is it's economy. I'm too cheap to buy paper ones! Maybe that's smugness too...oh well.
cc

Anonymous said...

have a busy life, a phd, a home in the country and am up to my proverbiials in damask napkins. I too was taught to iron by our nanny since my mother insisted that one must be able to do all the things that one gives orders to do. It was difficult then, but at 83 I find she was right.
Most important though is that ironing and musing are cherished tasks and one can wander so much.
We use our napkins daily, but I must admit that when they start to get a bit holey they are for breakfast and lunch for my husband and myself
All this started because today I asked myself, with my 150 napkins from the holiday, do I need to reiron the creases in and decided just to run through the mangle (another lost joy for the new generation--found in flea markets) two times
Any thoughts about this?
Happy New Year all
Mick

Anonymous said...

have a busy life, a phd, a home in the country and am up to my proverbiials in damask napkins. I too was taught to iron by our nanny since my mother insisted that one must be able to do all the things that one gives orders to do. It was difficult then, but at 83 I find she was right.
Most important though is that ironing and musing are cherished tasks and one can wander so much.
We use our napkins daily, but I must admit that when they start to get a bit holey they are for breakfast and lunch for my husband and myself
All this started because today I asked myself, with my 150 napkins from the holiday, do I need to reiron the creases in and decided just to run through the mangle (another lost joy for the new generation--found in flea markets) two times
Any thoughts about this?
Happy New Year all
Mick