Friday, August 12, 2011

Time to Put Up Your Toys

Chapter 27
The countdown to the end of Summer marches on -- the beginning of the next school term is just around the corner. Millions of school children, (and a goodly number of teachers and professors!) will soon feel the crush of reality bearing in on them; as do we all, as the carefree styles of the calescent days of July slowly give way to the breezy chills of September.

As the jackets and ties and buttoned-down Oxfords of sobriety take over our wardrobes, it's time to say a fond see-you-later to your short sleeved summery Aloha shirts, tropical patterns and florals, and pack them away for their ten-month annual hibernation.

But wait! Just how do you pack away seasonal shirts, anyway? Sure, you could just stuff them in a sack and throw them in the attic -- but wouldn't it be nicer to be able to take them out of storage in a store-fresh, ready-to-wear state?

Of course it would -- and that's what this week is all about! What follows is a step-by-step tutorial that will show you how to pack away your summer funwear in a way that would make any valet green with envy. Step into my den, and I'll demonstrate my starching, ironing, and folding procedure. If you haven't been introduced to starching or ironing in your masculine adult life yet, this will be an excellent point of departure for you!

First, let's discuss starching. Putting away shirts in a starched state will insure they stay clean and wrinkle-free until you need them again next year, as well as rendering them exceptionally easy to fold and pack off. There are many different brands of commercial starch available, in both spray and liquid form. Well, forget 'em, we're gonna make our own -- from scratch! It won't be nearly as expensive as the bottled stuff, and it will be a good deal stronger.

It's important to note here that starch is starch, whether it is made from corn, rice, potatoes, or whatever's in the pre-bottled stuff. The stuff you use on your laundry and the stuff you put in your gravy: identical. So let's get cookin'! Join me in the kitchen...

You'll need a good-sized pot. This doesn't involve anything that's not basically edible, so you can use one of your regular cooking pots. Put two quarts of water in, set it to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Now follow along with the filmstrip. (All of these images can be super-sized by clicking on them.)

1: Measure out a quarter-cup of starch (I'm using cornstarch, available in the baking aisle of your grocery.)
2: Add the starch to a half-cup of cold water.
3: Mix with a fork until the starch powder completely dissolves.
4: Add the dissolved starch mix to the simmering pot, and turn the heat off. You want the starch to hit the water just under the boiling point for maximum effectiveness.

5: Using a wooden spoon, stir the pot constantly, until the mix turns from white to translucent, and thickens to the consistency of thin paste. This should only take a few minutes of stirring.

Voila -- two quarts of starch, easy as that! Now, a couple thoughts while we wait for our pot to cool off a bit.

First, before you ask, NO, this is not the recipe I use for starching my Razor Squares. That is a century-old concoction that involves many different ingredients and is considerably more difficult to make. (No, I will not tell you what it is.) For our purposes, this quick-and-simple basic starch will work just fine.

Second, yes, I'm using cups and quarts. You won't find me using milli-deci-anything. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the standard measure just fine, thank you. Just remember: two tablespoons to a jigger, two jiggers to a jack, two jacks to a jill, two jills to a cup, two cups to a pint, two pints to a quart, two quarts to a pottle, and two pottles to the gallon. Easy!

Now that our starch has cooled somewhat, let's move the pot to the den, where we have some clean shirts, hangers, and an ironing board awaiting us.

I strongly recommend latex gloves: any barrier between you and this rather hot sticky liquid is a good thing. Simply take a shirt, and immerse it completely in the starch.

Use your wooden spoon to push the shirt under, working out the air pockets and getting it thoroughly wet. The spoon is also handy for fishing the shirt back out. But there is plenty of room in the pot to add more shirts! Stir them around like shirt soup, making certain they are all wet right through.

1: Fish out the first shirt by the collar. Let it drip for a bit, then run it over the spoon as shown to draw some more water out. This is important, because the next step --
2: -- is to hold it high by the collar and methodically squeeze the water out from the top down. The water should be off-scalding to the point where this won't give you first-degree burns. (The gloves really help here.)
3: Fold the shirt in half, then in half again,
4: and gently wring the entire thing out. Don't overdo it: we still want it to be damp, just not dripping.

Unfold the shirt, let it hang free, fold it sleeve-to-sleeve, and lay it across the ironing board onto a towel. Continue with the other shirts in the pot the same way.

Hang the shirts on a plastic hanger. Take care to fold the collar down, straighten the sleeves, and generally adjust it so it hangs as wrinkle-free as possible. This will save you much grief later, trust me.

Hang your shirts overnight until they dry out completely; in your laundry room, or your shower curtain rod, for instance. Some love the natural outdoorsy scent of clothes line-dried outdoors.

And so we wait...

Until the next day! Notice how stiff our shirts have become; they are standing horizontally like flags. Perfect.
Now we'll go on to the ironing. You'll need to set it about medium-high, with a full head of steam. (Dampness relaxes the starch; when it dries it stiffens up again.) If your iron doesn't crank out copious amounts of steam, a spray bottle of water, or more traditionally, a damp sponge, may be needed to relax the starch as you iron.

What follows is a very thorough and methodical method of ironing, which is sure to get every seam, every corner, every inch. Is this really needed? Yes, it is. Unlike regular out-of-the-dryer ironing, heavy starch doesn't like shortcuts; and this method will pack a shirt away with absolutely no wrinkles. None. It will take a while to learn at first, but there a logic to the method; it will reveal itself to you as you work. The more shirts you do, the quicker and more automatic the process will become as you gain practice and experience.

Now, before you say anything, I know my ironing board is ratty, rusty, and stained. I do not apologize for this, nor should you -- a well-used board is a badge of honor, for it shows that you properly iron your clothes. Now follow along:

1: First, attend to the collar. With the shirt label-side down and the collar open, stretch the collar out with one hand while drawing the iron slowly towards it.
2: Flip the shirt over, and iron the other side of the collar, this time pulling with one hand and drawing the iron away from it.
3: Put the shirt shoulder over the point of the board, and pull the shoulder seam tight at the yoke.
4: Then pull the yoke seam itself tight.
5: Iron to the corner of the yoke seam at the shoulder, then sweep the iron down to the midpoint of the yoke. (Image is ironing into the corner)
6: Turn the shirt around so that the other shoulder sits over the board's point, and do the same with the other half of the yoke. (Image is sweeping the iron down the yoke.)

This completes the collar and the yoke.

7: Put the left front panel on the board so that the point sits inside the shoulder. Pull the front of the shoulder seam tight.
8: Then pull the side seam tight.
9: Iron down the side seam from under the arm to the bottom seam.
10: Run the iron down from the chest pocket to the bottom seam in several passes. Pull the bottom seam tight, run along it, then pull the placket tight and run up the placket, holding the neck point out and ironing up to it.
11: Iron above the pocket, sweeping out to the shoulder point.
12: Change the position to the right side front, and repeat the procedure. (Image shown is ironing out to the neck point and sweeping over the pocket.)

This completes the fronts.

13: Set the back on the board so the point sits inside the right shoulder. Pull the bottom seam tight, and the back tight against the point.
14: Crease the back pleat, and hold the endpoint in place.
15: Drop the iron straight down on the pleat to set it.
16: Sweep the iron down from the shoulder down to the bottom, covering the entire board. Iron along the bottom edge last.
17: Center the back over the board and sweep from the yoke to the bottom. (If you have a center pleat do it now.)
18: Repeat the procedure on the other shoulder.

This completes the back.

19: Set the shirt face down with the sleeves out. Pull the sleeve's bottom seam tight.
20: Align the ends of the sleeves, with the seam at the bottom, and pull tight to find the top crease.
21: Iron from the sleeve bottom seam, up the opening, and sweep in to the shoulder seam.
22: Flip the shirt over and iron the other side as well. Repeat for the other sleeve.

This completes the ironing of the shirt -- now we'll move on to folding it. Now that everything's starched and ironed, this won't be difficult at all!

1: Lay the shirt on its back on the board with the fronts open, and smooth it out.
2: Bring the fronts together, and button the second-from-the-top button, the bottom button, and every other button in between.
3. Bring the neckpoint up, and smooth down the front under the collar. Pull the shoulder tight to find the crease point of the yoke.
4: Iron the yoke from the neck to the shoulder, and sweep down the base of the collar.
5: Fold down the collar right at the turnover seam, and pull out the collar points while holding the pivot point at the placket. You will find a point where the geometry allows the collar to sit tight and smooth against the front of the shirt, and not bind against the yoke. (This sounds more complex than it is.)
6: Drop the iron down on the points of the collar. Don't iron the whole collar flat -- you don't want a seam where it turns around the neck.

7: Holding the shoulder with one hand, and the bottoms with the other, flip the shirt over.
8: Smooth the shirt down, making sure everything is laying flat and there are no wrinkles.
9: From the shoulder crease at the collar-turn, fold the left side over straight down to the bottom. Pull the fold tight, smooth it down and iron it.
10: Using the shoulder seam at the sleeve, flip the sleeve to the outside. Smooth the crease down. Note that the geometry of the sleeve is such that a small triangle of the fabric of the sidebody will turn over as well to allow the sleeve to lay perfectly flat.
11: Flip the sleeve back in again, and iron the sleeve down.

12: Fold the right side in, the same as you did for the left.
13: Fold the sleeves in the same fashion as well.
14: Turn up the tail and double-check that the side folds are equal -- the button should be right in the center. If not, re-do the right side slightly further out or in until the dimensions are equal, then iron the right side down.
15: Using a wooden skewer helps here. Fold the bottom third of the shirt up.
16: Pull the skewer tight while holding the fold to work out any wrinkles. Do this again, to make a three-part fold.

17: Turn the shirt over, and you are done! This tight, starchy package will pack very well as-is. But, for the finishing touch, you will need squares of tissue paper.
18: Place the tissue on the board, with the folded shirt at the bottom edge.
19: Flip the top third of the shirt over.
20: Fold in the tissue paper from both sides.
21: Flip the top of the shirt back over the tissue.
22: Fold the tissue over the shirt.

And now you're ready to stack your summer shirts in a dresser drawer, or storage box for the winter! By giving them a proper send-off like this, you'll have a stack of crisp, fresh shirts awaiting the return of hot weather next year.

And next week, we'll turn our attention on replacing those summer shirts -- with something a bit more autumnal. Stay tuned...

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