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With people wearing more natural-fiber clothing, ironing is on the upswing, and aficionados say it's a blissfully therapeutic domestic art.


Daisy Buchanan wept when she saw the contents of Jay Gatsby's armoire. A battalion of neatly stacked pretty boys--luxurious, petal-fresh shirts laundered and ironed to tear-inducing perfection.

But Daisy probably never pressed a garment in her life, let alone lifted a box of Rinso. And that's the real crying shame. Her fictional life would undoubtedly have been happier and more fulfilling if she had had the chance to iron even one of Gatsby's London-tailored tic-weave shirts.

That's because few household chores are as satisfying as ironing. Sure, it's easy to be house-proud about streakless windows, dust-free bookshelves, sparkling toilet bowls and well-scrubbed pots, but tackling wrinkles is a domestic calling of the highest order. Ironing is a process that mixes discipline and strategizing with thoughtful contemplation. In the right hands, it can even be elevated to a domestic art--a joyously purposeful composition that allows for grace notes of steam and starch.

Who doesn't like the look and feel of a freshly ironed shirt? Let your eyes take in that crisp accomplishment; allow your fingers to graze the finish of tamed fibers. Even your nose gets a piece of the action. The smell of just-pressed cotton is a scent for all seasons: an air-kissed smack of spring, an ion-charged whiff of winter purity. Listen carefully and you might hear the stiff rustle and faint snap of starched seams. Such are the senses (and sensibility) of ironing.

While some might find ironing drudgery, there are those who see it as a solitary, skillful endeavor full of practiced nuances. A vocation, if you will.

"Ironing gratifies the senses," Cheryl Mendelson writes in her housekeeping bible "Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House." "The transformation of wrinkled, shapeless cloth into the smooth and gleaming folds of a familiar garment pleases the eye."

"Ironing is very personal," said Jennifer Genest, spokeswoman for the Rowenta iron company. "Not only is it very personal, but we hear from a lot of people that it's also very therapeutic. It's turning chaos into order. You feel a sense of accomplishment and control."

Parents who taught their daughters and sons the rituals of ironing have passed on something as lasting as any familial tradition. For some, ironing is a daily reminder of how things were and how they should be.

But let's not get too nostalgic about ironing. It's not like it's a dying practice. In fact, Americans may be ironing more today than they did 10 to 15 years ago. Polyester duds of the '70s and '80s have given way to demand for natural fibers that often require an iron's touch.

Rowenta Inc., the German manufacturer of the world's leading high-performance iron, has had a steady sales growth since it entered the U.S. market 13 years ago, with significant growth over the past four years, Genest said. The company's irons are the tools of choice for professional tailors and seamstresses as well as dedicated everyday ironers. Martha Stewart swears by her Rowenta iron (the only iron sold in at

So, is there a surge in ironing? Genest said Rowenta's studies and growing iron sales indicate that ironing is on the upswing. As more companies segue from casual Friday to casual every day (and emerging dot-coms have little use for any type of dress code), ironing has become a necessity. "They're wearing khakis and a polo shirt to work," Genest said. "Who's going to send that to the dry cleaner? Casual Friday spilling over to casual week is making people iron more."


Some ironing hints:

* Use steady back-and-forth strokes. Never use circular strokes, which can stretch the fabric.

* Cottons and linens are easier to iron and look better if you sprinkle them first rather than rely solely on the iron's steam.

* In the same way you adjust the iron temperature for particular fabrics, you should select a proper steam level: lots of steam for linen and all-cottons, down to practically none for 100% synthetics. For an extra-sharp crease, use a burst of steam.

* Spray starch can sometimes leave a white residue on clothes and starch buildup on irons. To prevent this, turn off the steam and use two light applications of starch rather than one heavy one.

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