Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ironing / Pressing

Most of the expat sites that I read for Egypt said that getting clothes ironed by an external guy was easy & cheap.....

Then I landed in Egypt !

Hotel rates of course are not even worth mentioning. With what we spent in a week, on cleaning of clothes at the Cairo Sheraton, I could buy myself another outfit or 2. But, companies only reimburse laundry bills not shopping bills :(

Getting back to topic : once we moved into our house, getting clothes washed wasn't a problem, since furnished apartment means a washing machine is definitely included in the house fittings. So clothes duly washed & dried it was now time for stage 3 (1. washing, 2. drying... keep up with me) which was the ironing.

There is a dry cleaning guy & an ironing guy hardly a door away from our building (quite common all over Cairo) so sent dear husband down with almost a suitcase full of clothes to be ironed. (they were mostly HIS clothes anyway {grin})

He comes back up & says the rate is 1.5 LE thats 12 rupees TWELVE Rupees. (Ok Ok, I'm desi, I've hardly been here a month, I'm still converting.) But 12 Rupees !!! to iron a shirt ! I thought my Bombay dhobhi was expensive when he charged me 2rs an item since my Hyderabad dhobhi only charged me 1rs. With over 20 items of clothing, that worked out to 30 pounds thats 240rupees. This may be a cheap rate for someone from the Western world where the options are d-i-y or Dry Cleaners, ($3 - $5 = Rs135-Rs225 a garment) but not for any self respecting desi from India.

For a change even hubby thought the rate was too much & he promptly pronounced that henceforth he would iron his own clothes. Lofty & noble intentions should not be discouraged & all good ideas should be encouraged. So I agreed with him wondering how long these good intentions would last.

Well that suitcase load of ironed clothes ran out today & as he rushed out of the front door hubby sheepishly asked me with the sweetest of grins "Kim, can you please iron a pair of pants for me, I don't have clothes for tomorrow"

He's esp busy this weekend. Was working yesterday (Friday - weekly off in Egypt) so I could hardly say "No"

Until today I was happily dumping the dried clothes into one of the bedrooms which I have converted to a laundry room (with the door closed) so I dont have to observe the growing piles of clothes.

So faced with this request, I had to face the *Laundry Room*

Now I'm no stranger to ironing. I used to iron my own clothes until I got married & husband convinced me that it was easier & worth it to pay off the dhobhi to iron them for me. I come from a mental framework of ironing & washing my own clothes. In hostel I created a record of firing 3 dhobhis in 4 days because I didnt like the way my clothes smelt when they brought them back. I was then part of the "Crazy South Indian" group which insisted on washing their own clothes in cramped hostel bathrooms in the middle of some truly gruelling study & party schedules.

Flash back over. Cut to present : I still iron my delicate salwar suits & saris myself because I dont trust a dhobhi with my expensive stuff. But I had compromised with husband to let the dhobhi iron my daily wear clothes. But husband has never ironed clothes in his life. Not because he led a completely spoilt childhood devoid of any physical labour or household chores (which he did), but because in the North of India (cultural divide in play here) it’s a very rare household that doesn't send all its clothes to a dhobhi for ironing. There's one in every neighbourhood (dhobhi not household) who comes door to door to collect & return clothes. So hardly any houses would own an iron.

Whereas in my part of the country, if you didn’t have a batallion of maids to do the household chores, everyone pitched in & did their share. Work & resource allocation was my mom's specialty. With 4 kids & a travelling husband we were initiated into chores appropriate for our age quite early. One of which was ironing our own school uniforms.

Now any of the convent school educated girls out there who have ironed their own skirts would know that although the nuns imparted good education (debatable) & designed smart uniforms (debatable) the uniforms were extremely difficult to iron (non-debatable) With a multitude of tiny pleats which had to be folded & ironed just right to preserve those multitude of creases, ironing skirts honed those skills completely. Come to think of it, maybe that was the idea : the education was an eyewash of womens lib, while what they really wanted to teach us was to be perfect homemakers & ironing was a requisite skill.

So yes, I ironed my own clothes & womens clothes after those dratted skirts are quite easy to iron. Men's shirts and trousers are more painful. Tousers have pleats which remind me of those aforementioned nightmare inducing skirts. The only time I ironed men's shirts was when my brothers managed to blackmail or plead sufficiently or dad "requested" that I iron their shirts/trousers. Which wasn't very often (Tip of the day: If you do a job badly enough, people stop asking you for help)

So today when I shook out my husbands trousers & started to iron, it brought back all the above memories which was why I decided to transcribe it into a blog post.

If you are looking for insights into special ironing techniques used in Egypt, then maybe what you really need to view is ABC's Foreign Correspondents - Egypt - The Ironing Man.

Where Jennifer Byrne explains that Ironing is an art form in the back alleys of Cairo, where successive generations ply their craft with not a steam iron in sight. In fact, Cairo’s ironing men are dismissive of the humble iron, preferring the ancient method of a heated metal block pushed carefully around the garment with one foot. Jennifer Byrne takes in a treasured blouse to sample the difference from the service offered at her Cairo hotel. Initial impressions aren’t great for the ironing man sprays water over the blouse with his mouth before taking to it with his foot. But presto…it really works!

For those who happened across this post when looking for an instruction manual on ironing for dummies, here goes : (ooh I feel like Martha Stewart)

Step 1 :
Wash clothes. (duh....)
Some washing machines come with a ironing friendly setting which minimises creasing in clothes. Use that to make your life & job easier.
For those of u who believe in conserving water & recycling clothes, skip step 1

Step 2 :
Dry or semi dry clothes. A little moisture in the clothes ensures a steam press. But not soaking wet or damp clothes. Just lightly moist. Otherwise you may create a sauna in your laundry room by the time you can iron out the moisture.

Step 3:
Check the setting on your iron (please turn it on first) Cotton needs higher heat than synthetics & don’t even try to iron pure wool (the smell will be worse than burnt food on your gas range) If you must iron woolens please hand them over to a professional. Check the heat of the iron (WARNING : NOT by touching the metal plate !!! Run the iron on the iron board & then place your hand on the iron board & check to see if your fabric can handle that heat.) If in doubt, start at the lowest heat & slowly work your way upwards. Too hot & your clothes will burn ( so although you may save something on self ironing you will lose much more in replenishing your rapidly diminishing wardrobe)

Step 4 :
Lay the item of clothing on the ironing table & straighten out all folds in the material, then lightly run the iron over it

If you need this manual to teach you how to iron your clothes, then lets not even get into the folding part of it. Either wear immediately or put up on a hanger.

But know this : seeing the creases getting ironed out as you go is instant gratification for people in management or who don’t often get to immediately see the results of their efforts. Hoping to use this argument to convince husband to iron his own clothes {grin} If that doesn' work I'll try & get him this ironing board.

If you want the Martha Stewart version, then this is where you wanna go Martha Stewart Guide to Ironing a Shirt

Dhobhi : hindi term for the guy who washes your clothes for you. Sometimes used generically for the guy who irons your clothes instead of the longer drawn : istriwallah


Athena said...

Hi there, went through your blog on the laundry bit...funny :)
Stop converting to INR..u will go nuts.... :p

Michelle said...

Hi Karishma, I love your Egypt blog. Was laughing out loud at the ironing saga Totally relate to the advice... my poor husband has started ironing his own clothes and mine too Are you working in Egypt too?

Anonymous said...

I laughed out to read your "ironing mantle", specially the tips to easy "get away" by doing sloppy job. However, some kinda realities in living "away from home" ... a price for quiet living abroad. Buy wrinkle free clothing for hubby that can be thrown in dryer to see it fresh and neat again. Salwars ... a NO NO unless u can afford dry cleaning. In Egypt wear (egyptian) cotton, the comfortable wear and who needs ironing when u throw it in dryer. Just try.

temporal said...

tell bubbly hubbly to chip in and iron his own clothes

(and don't take no for an answer;))

Lady Colleen Heller said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lady Colleen Heller said...

Hi Karishma Pais,

I read some of your writings and laughed with my tea in hand this morning! Egypt certainly has its special side to living here. Is Kim your trade name?

Kim said...

u must have empathised with the nuns & skirts LOL
It takes me at least a month to stop converting. Bcos as of now thats the only way to check if i feel that soemthing is too expensive or right pruce. Once i establish a base level of prices in Egyptian pounds, I'll stop naturally. Went thru the same thing when i was in the US. The funny part was I adjusted quite quickly there, but when I came back to India I went on a huge shopping spree, bcos I was converting to USD & everything was So Cheap !!!! :)

U r a lucky bum. A husband who irons & cooks too. I'm sendin mine over to Wirral for training :)

Thanks for the tips. I think it makes sense to buy a dryer if its going to save me the effort of ironing.

Wish I could take yr advice, but I'm useless at being assertive when faced with cute smiles from hubby.

Lady Colleen,
I'm contacting you off list. Kim is a name I've been known by for over the last 20 years. Hope you didnt have an accident with the tea :)

Kripal Pais said...

hey kim,
thats a pretty long post. looks like u have lots of spare time on your hands in egypt.(grin) Which is good for me. You finally appreciating your brothers in all your flashbacks (double grin) yeah i know. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. :-)Yeah with the exam done i also have lot more time on my hands.

SP said...

I think Egyptian makwagis do a much better job than the dhobis at home (my mother agrees, and she's hard to please). But the rate for a shirt is one pound, not 1.5! And if it's a short-sleeved shirt, 75 piastres. Tell your makwagi you know what the rate is (unless you speak no Arabic, in which case they'll charge you the khawaga rate and leave you sputtering)

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