Ironing board confidential: peeling back layers of history

ironing board with layers

Ironing is an art. Tailors and designers will tell you that garments need a proper pressing to look sharp and professional. A crisp, freshly-pressed pillow case feels like heaven under your weary head. Ironing used to be pretty high on the household task priority list. Now it’s dropped down and maybe even off some lists. We do it if it’s really necessary or if we have time. (Yes, I realize that’s a sweeping generalization and that lots of people are still ironing fans, including myself.)

mr sprinkle
Mr. Sprinkle: world’s cutest laundry sprinkler.

Like every art, proper ironing needs proper tools: an iron that feels good in your hand (irons are one of the appliances where spending more does not necessarily mean you are getting a better tool), a good misting bottle or sprinkler, spray starch or sizing if you like that extra crispness, and most important, a good ironing board with a proper cover and padding.

One of the main criterion for an ironing board is that is shouldn’t tip, especially with a hot iron full of water on it. Which is why it’s so disappointing that many of the inexpensive new ironing boards are about as stable as a teeter-totter. A vintage board will always do right by you. The classic metal Mary Proctor boards, with their cheerful colors and models with folding flaps for more ironing versatility, are an easy find at estate sales. A well loved vintage board may look scorched and shabby, but don’t judge the board by it’s cover. Metal ironing boards have covers and padding that fit either with elastic or a drawstring; it’s easy to change an old scorched cover for a new one. 

Before metal came wood, like this Fold-Well Ironing Table built in the late 1920s in Berlin, Massachusetts. It’s legs form a tripod, tremendously sturdy and stable. Having been in use for nearly 100 years, it had a lot of well-used covers and padding layers to peel back to get to it’s beautiful basic self.

ironing board with layers
Antique ironing board with all of the patched layers it acquired over the years.

The beauty of a wooden board is that you can make your own covers using a basic upholstery stretch-and-tack technique, which had been done on this board multiple times over the years. The outside layer was held on with vintage sharp pointed hooks (subtext–ouch!!!) that work similar to plate hangers, expanding to fit the width and pull the cover taut. 

Starting from the outside, there was a reasonably new striped layer, wearing it’s scorching and patches like badges of honor, followed by four layers of padding: thin foam, a double layer of ironing board padding, more thin foam and a layer of more loosely felted cotton batting. 

wooden ironing board
The silver metalized cover was the midpoint in the uncovering process.

Next was a metalized silver cover layer with a double layer of cotton blanket for padding. Finally the original cotton canvas cover layer and another cotton blanket layer. 

The wooden board, when all the upholstery tacks were pulled and all the layers were removed, was perfect – as clean and fresh as the day it was made. And even better, the original paper label and instructions were waiting under the final blanket padding layer. 

wooden ironing board
The natural unfinished wood was as pretty as the day it was made. (With the useful tack puller and the somewhat evil pointy sharp cover holders and original paper instructions.)

Once the board was uncovered, it seemed a real shame to hide it’s beauty. So instead, we sent a little Hollywood Regency glam it’s way. Ironing boards can be a fabulous and delightfully unexpected accent table as a plant stand in the window, as a lamp table behind a couch, as an impromptu bar or buffet table.

wooden ironing board
Vintage ironing boards are so pretty it’s a shame to save them just for laundry day.

If you enjoy history, we found the patent for this ironing board or one of it’s siblings.


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  1. I love my old wooden ironing board. I even have and still use those sharp stretchy claws that hold the cover on. A practical piece of history that’s as useful today as it was when it was made.

  2. Love your analogy of peeling back the layers of history. I think that’s what we vintage collectors love best…discovering each item’s history (if we’re so lucky) and getting a sense of the lives it has been a part of. Now I want a wooden ironing board! 🙂

  3. Thank you for reminding me that I still have mom’s ironing board with it’s original silver cover kicking around somewhere. Time to find it and let it retire as a table! Thanks for the idea!

  4. Well, that brought back some memories. As a child, we always had a glass bottle with a lid that had holes in it…our Laundry Sprinkler bottle. It was my job to iron the pillow cases. Great post!

  5. I loved this Laurie! We were always fascinated by layers of wallpaper in the old places we lived in….This brought tears to my eyes thinking about my mom’s ironing boards and how they also had almost sedimentary layers of wool and cotton under a newer cover.

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