Ironing (and Starching) Your Shirts (part 2)

So how do you iron and starch a shirt? You need the following tools to achieve decent results:

  • a good steam iron, ideally heavy and capable of producing shots of steam;
  • a wide ironing board (over 40 cm is ideal) with a mesh base to allow steam to pass through the garment;
  • a water spray bottle. Some prefer to use scented ironing water in the iron or the spray bottle to add greater freshness to the shirt.
  • spray starch

My ironing steps have a great deal in common with T M Lewin’s helpful video

  1. Set your steam iron to the correct temperature for the garment you are ironing. Check the care label for information. Too hot and it may burn; too cool and the wrinkles will only come out temporarily. As soon as the shirt cools the wrinkles will become visible again.
  2. Spray the shirt with your water spray bottle to make it slightly damp. This helps you to iron wrinkles out more easily.  Alternatively, iron your shirts when they are freshly laundered at a point when they are almost, but not quite dry.
  3. Start at the cuffs. If they are very wrinkled or if you are especially keen on crisply starched cuffs spray again with water before ironing. The aim is to make the fabric slightly damp rather than wet. Then spray a little starch onto the fabric and allow it a few seconds to be absorbed.  Iron the cuff flat.  Do not iron a crease into it. Press on the heel of the iron rather than the tip to avoid creating ripple in the cuff.  For button cuffed shirts iron the cuff on the wrong side in order to avoid contact with the buttons.  For extra stiffness at the cuffs repeat starching and ironing.
  4. To make the perfect sharp crease down the sleeve it is important to locate that crease properly down the centre of the sleeve. Find the seam on the inner side of the sleeve. Working away from the seam get the sleeve nice and flat on the ironing board. The opposite end of the sleeve from the seam will be the dead centre of the sleeve and where you want to put a nice sharp crease. The crease should start where the sleeves are attached to the yoke and run in a single unbroken line to the seam where cuffs are stitched to the sleeve. Both the shoulder yoke and cuffs should be ironed flat without creases.
  5. To avoid tramlines I prefer to iron my sleeve creases, initially without starch, to make sure it’s in the right location.  Sometimes the sleeve moves when ironing so you end up with tramlines, i.e. more than one crease. You don’t want to starch your tramlines into place. Avoid this at all costs. Better not to iron your shirt than to have tramlines. If you have made a mistake simply spray the sleeve with water to loosen the creases you don’t want and then iron them out. Once you are satisfied that the crease is in the right location then spray with starch and then iron again pressing firmly on the shirt to fix it in place. A good ironing board and ironing board cover will reflect heat so that both sides of the sleeve are ironed at the same time. However, for perfect sleeves and a sharp crease I would iron and starch both sides.
  6. Having ironed the cuffs, sleeve, and yoke, then iron the collar.  I like my collars and cuffs to be well starched. If wearing a suit and tie, collar and cuffs are the most visible parts of the shirt. Moreover, they are the accented places of a shirt to which the eye is drawn so you want them to look their best. If you have removable collar–bones (from the shirt collar rather than from your shoulders, of course) you may prefer to remove them before ironing.  Plastic ones could curl in the heat, metal ones may leave their imprint outlined in the fabric of the collar. Spray the collar with water and then starch and then iron flat, again pressing on the heel rather than the tip of the iron. If desired repeat.

    TML Lilac-Blue Stripe Twill, Windsor slim fit
  7. Then move on to the front panel with buttons and iron on the wrong side under the buttons. The reflected heat will iron the fabric under the buttons. I find this more effective than ironing between the buttons. To stop the shirt dragging on the floor you might wish to button up the collar before then ironing the rest of that front panel before rotating the shirt to iron the remaining panels, again using starch as desired. The placket comes in for special attention. It is important that it lies flat so use some starch to keep it that way.
  8. Once you have finished the final panel, holding the shirt by the collar have a quick look over the shirt to make sure you haven’t introduced new wrinkles in the process of moving the shirt around as it was ironed. Some of the earlier areas may need a quick once over to remove wrinkles that you have inadvertently introduced.
  9. Place your shirt on good quality, i.e. not wire, hanger. A hot shirt that’s been hung on a wire hanger will quite often have tell-tale dimples in the yoke where the fabric has simply formed a crease around the hanger. Slightly wider hangers in plastic or wood are less likely to leave these dimples because plastic and wood are less efficient heat conductors and because their wider shape spreads the weight of the shirt.
  10. Wear your shirt with confidence!  Ideally with a suit….

As for how long all this should take it’s difficult to say. Some fabrics are easier to iron than others; poplin, for example, takes less effort than twill. It also depends on how badly creased the shirt is, how many mistakes one makes along the way, or even one’s mood.

If in the mood for ironing, or if ironing for an occasion for which I am very keen to make a good impression, I often take over 10 minutes on a shirt. However, typically I would expect to take around 7 to 8 minutes to iron and starch a shirt to my satisfaction.

At the end of the day it’s your satisfaction that matters isn’t it?


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