Dashing away with a smoothing iron - this is the first line of an old English folk song written in the 19th century about a housewife carrying out her domestic duties.
Ironing or smoothing items have a long history beginning somewhere about a thousand years ago when the Chinese were using hot metal for ironing before anyone else.
Pans filled with hot coals were pressed over stretched cloth. Later Northern Europeans began using heated stones, glass or wood for smoothing wrinkles in material. The use of stones continued through to the mid-1800s long after Western blacksmiths had started to forge metal irons in the late Middle Ages.
Flattish hand-sized stones could be rubbed over woven cloth to smooth it, polish it or to press in pleated folds. Simpler round linen smoothers made of dark glass have been found in many Viking women's graves.
Archaeologists know there were plenty of these glass objects across Medieval Europe but they aren't completely sure how they were used. Water may have been used to dampen linen, but it is unlikely the glass was heated.
More recent glass smoothers often had handles attached to the mushroom-shaped glass head; this form was often called a "slicker" or "slickerstone". Such stones were standard laundering equipment in the late Middle Ages. These stones were convenient for small ironing tasks.
Other methods were available for the more well-off. Medieval launderers dealing with sheets and large tablecloths may have used frames to stretch damp linens, which were then passed through large rollers rather like wringers or mangles.
Simple metal irons made by a blacksmith were known as flat or sad irons which were heated by fire or on a stove. The metal handles on these irons had to be gripped in a pad or thick cloth to protect the user's hands. Some irons had wooden handles which were much cooler to use.
The Whangārei Museum holds a number of interesting ironing instruments. The iron pictured here was most probably used in Victorian times to iron narrow frills or small items.
It has a detachable wooden handle and came in different sizes. This type of iron required a lot of care to keep the ironing surface clean, sandpapered and polished and had to be kept lightly greased to prevent rusting.
These irons were often called "Mrs Potts", named for Mary Florence Potts who had this particular iron design patented in America in 1872. They were hollow rather than solid metal, making them much lighter with both ends pointed for ease of use.
With removable handles they could be heated two at a time, swapping the handle to allow ironing to be a continuous process. Many old "Mrs Potts" irons have found their way into modern homes as very efficient door-stops. I have two for this purpose.
Later developments meant that irons could be filled with hot coals or hot water to heat the base from the inside. The downside was the increased weight of the iron and the dangers of being burnt while filling the iron.
The advent of the electric iron in the 20th century revolutionised this household chore and today's modern steam irons are a far cry from the clumsy sad irons of the past.
The discovery of the materials that required no ironing further lightened the domestic load for today's home manager. Thank goodness!
• Alison Sofield is a volunteer with Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.