My lavender-scented laundry starch clouds, thickens and then just as quickly clears as I stir in the hot and then the cold water. And like a modern day alchemist, I submerge each item of vintage linen into the soft, glutinous liquid which will transform the fabric from limp, everyday Damask to sharp, crisp, glamorous linen, fit for a table rich with roses, sparkling glass and pretty candle light.
Special linen requires select treatment and this linen is truly special for it is French, monogrammed trousseau linen; linen fit for a princess.
Timing is everything when starching linen. Trying to iron it when it is too wet is impossible; too dry and the iron will not remove the creases without damping the fabric again. And if the iron is too hot it will burn the starch. But get it right and the linen is glazed and stiffened, sharpening the folds and totally enhancing the beauty of the cloth and its detail.
In everyday life, the ironing board and I are happy to be estranged. But once the warm iron and my hands begin to work instinctively together, smoothing out wrinkles from this beautiful, pure white, embellished cloth, I am suddenly totally at peace. But as I move each carefully laundered item onto the rail of my Sheila Maid to air, it is not without paying silent and respectful homage to my Great Grandmother, Lydia for whom washing was not a relaxing indulgence, but a form of income. For, like many other women in the early 1900’s, taking in washing and making use of the copper boiler and mangle which every woman possessed, was the only way to earn a little extra money when there were many young children at home.
I think of her as I pack away the Damask into a tissue lined box and realise that despite the years which lie between us and all our differences that this hardworking woman and I share a bond and connection which is palpable as I wash, starch and iron as she too would have done so many years ago.