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The Proper Way to Iron Shirts, Trousers, and Tablecloths

Wrinkles are the worst. Armed with the right iron and board, as well as a few simple techniques, you can guarantee a smooth look.

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Photography by: VICTORIA PEARSON

A Shirt

Begin with a shirt still damp from the dryer, or sprinkle a dry shirt until thoroughly damp. Start with the underside of the collar; gently pull and stretch the fabric away from the iron to prevent puckering. Iron the inside of the cuffs. Move on to the inside of the sleeve fronts and placket. Slip a towel under the face-down buttons to cushion them as you iron. Iron the outside of the sleeves, using a sleeve board, if possible -- it's the only way to avoid a crease. Iron the outside of the cuffs after each sleeve. Iron the inside of the yoke, the part of the shirt that rests on your shoulders, then iron the back of the shirt. Iron the outside of the yoke and the back. Iron the outsides of the shirt fronts; always iron around the buttons, not over them. Finish ironing with the outside of the shirt collar. Hang the shirt on a wooden hanger, and fasten the top button.

To press both ruffles and pleats, always use a steam iron set at the hottest temperature appropriate for the fabric, and lay the fabric on a thick towel.

 

To iron ruffles:

Iron fabric on the wrong side to prevent damage. Press the nose of the iron into the top of the gather, and then gently iron downward.

 

To iron box pleats:

Lay fabric flat and press on the right side. Cover the pleats with a pressing cloth to prevent shiny spots, and iron section by section.

Trousers

If you are pressing wool trousers, you must use a pressing cloth to prevent shine. Iron the inside of the waistband. Turn the back pockets inside out. Iron the pockets so they will lie flat. With the pocket still inside out, iron the outside of the pants where the pockets will lie. Tuck the pockets back into place. Direct the tip of the iron into each pocket. Then iron between, above, and around pockets. Repeat with front pockets, pulling pockets inside out, then ironing into the pockets. Iron in pleats, and touch up the rest of the front.

 

To iron creases in, match up all four seams in the pant legs, and lay the trousers along the ironing board. Fold back the leg that’s on top, and iron the inside of the leg that's exposed; iron right up to the seam, but not over it. Fold the top leg back down, and flip the trousers over. Now fold back the already-ironed leg, and iron the inside of the second leg. Lay the folded leg back down so both legs are together. Iron the outside of the top leg lightly, flip the trousers over, and finish by ironing the outside of the other leg lightly. Hang from a clamp hanger.

Ironing Creases into Trousers

As a general rule, creases start a few inches below the waistline and run right down the center of each leg, in front and in back. On pleated pants, the crease starts where the pleat ends; with flat-front pants, the top of the crease should fall somewhere between the crotch of the pants and the midpoint of the fly. Our technique moves efficiently from the inside to the outside, keeping the pants as crisp as possible. Be sure to hang the trousers in the same manner that you laid them down on the ironing board -- with seams together -- to preserve the creases. You should use a good-quality wood clamp hanger, which grips the trouser bottoms, or drape the pants neatly over a trouser hanger.

 

Lay the pants lengthwise along the ironing board with all four seams aligned so that they are in the middle of the legs; this will put creases in just the right spot. Fold the top leg back, and iron the exposed part of the bottom leg; go right up to the center seam, but don't iron over it. Fold the top leg back down, and slip the pants over (keeping the legs together); now fold back the already-ironed leg, and press the exposed part of the second leg. Bring that leg back down. With both legs together again, iron the top, flip the pants, and, finally, iron the top of the other leg.

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A Rectangular Tablecloth

If you are planning to put the cloth directly on a table, set the ironing board up right next to the table, to save the step of folding it (and creasing it). Lay a clean sheet on the floor under the board to keep the ends of the cloth from getting dirty. Iron the cloth damp out of the dryer or sprinkle to dampen. Iron the wrong side first, pushing the cloth over the board as you work, then finish on the right side (for delicate fabric, or to avoid a sheen, use a lower setting and press wrong side only). If you have a large or unwieldy cloth, try this alternative method: Fold in half lengthwise, right sides together, and press; refold wrong sides together, and iron until dry. Erase any unwanted center crease by folding the cloth loosely into thirds, and gently ironing down the middle.

 

Unless the cloth is going straight onto the table, store it on a cardboard tube or fold in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Smooth or re-iron, and fold again to form a long rectangle. Bring top and bottom ends together, folding in half crosswise. Fold the bottom end toward the center. Bring the ends to cover the already folded portion. Store on a hanger draped with acid-free tissue; or fold in half a final time, and store flat.

A Round or Oval Tablecloth

If you are planning to put the cloth directly on a table, set the ironing board up right next to the table, to save the step of folding it (and creasing it). Lay a clean sheet on the floor under the board to keep the ends of the cloth from getting dirty. Iron the cloth while still damp, just out of the dryer, or sprinkle to dampen. Lay the clothes across the board and press all around the edges, turning the cloth as you iron. After all the edges are done, iron the center of the cloth.

 

Unless the cloth is going straight onto the table, roll it on a cardboard tube for storage. If folding for storage, fold the cloth in half, wrong sides together, forming a semicircle. Fold again into quarters. Lay the cloth across the board; bring the edges together to fold crosswise two more times until you have a pie-shaped folded cloth. Store the folded cloth on a hanger draped with acid-free tissue paper. Or bring the point down, fold once more, and store flat.

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