1930s Sew-along with Norma: Tubbing your Paris frocks at home, Part 2


As part of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma, a discussion arose about hand washing clothes using natural soaps, laundry soda and borax.  I decided to make my own laundry soap based on recipes found online.  While researching I realized these products were used for decades.  In my own family Ivory soap was a staple when I was a child.  My Mom even used Ivory Snow to wash our clothes.  To keep true to the spirit of the 1930s Sew-along and try out the hand laundering and ironing techniques in “Paris Frocks at Home”, I experimented with the fashion fabric for my 1930s dress using a scrap.  I also washed and ironed several shirts and blouses.  What follows is a simplification of the process.  There are many kinds of ironing accessories like shaker bottles that are still available today.  I substituted a technique my Mom taught me using a damp towel.  The idea was to make do and adapt the techniques to my budget and limited space in the apartment.

This posting starts out with a section about my experience using the home made washing soap with colored clothes.  This topic was not included in part 1 because I hadn’t washed the blouse last week and did not want to hold up the posting of part 1.

Hand washing colored clothes

I made two kinds of fabric softeners as described in Part 1 of Tubbing your Paris frocks at home.   The home made soap powder did not stop the color of this blouse from bleeding.  This is why I washed it separately.  It does this even with Zote soap when I hand wash it.

The softener made with distilled white vinegar and lavender essential oil stopped further bleeding of the color.  As you can see here the blouse is soaking in water to which the mixture was added and it is clear.

For the red and white checked cotton shirt shown in the photos of this posting I used a powdered softener made with lavender oil, Epsom salts and baking soda.

Preparations before ironing

The shirt and the fashion fabric were completely dry when I placed them on damp, white towels and rolled them up.  It would be ideal to have a towel as long as the blouse so it would roll up more neatly.  Since this was the only white towel available I folded the shirt in half.

One of my Aunties used an ironing sprinkler to dampen her clothes.  It consisted of a glass bottle that had a top on it with perforated holes.  The sprinkler enabled adding a little moisture to the clothes.  I do not believe there were misters available like we have today.  My Mom hated sprinkler bottles because they took so much time to use.  Her shortcut was to roll the clothes up in a damp towel.

The ends of the towels are tucked in and they are ready for the next step.  Make sure your refrigerator is clean and does not have any odors lingering from spicy foods or eggs.  Yes, the shirt and fabric were headed for the fridge!

The shirt and fabric stayed in the refrigerator about 3 hours.  This results in the fabric becoming very manageable when ready to iron.  The wrinkles diminish considerably.  The important thing is not to leave the garments in the fridge overnight.  They start to smell badly when kept in there for too long.


I decided to forgo using steam when I ironed since the clothing was moist enough.

The fashion fabric was very relaxed and the crinkling shown in the photo of part one of this posting was not evident.  I worried about ironing too quickly or with too heavy a hand.  The fabric seemed so fragile.  I was concerned about stretching it out of shape.

The iron glided along.  I ironed in one direction at a time.  The rayon challis responded very well and was not troublesome as I thought it would be.

This is the cotton shirt before ironing.  The sleeve was so smooth and so easy to iron.  This process exceeded all my expectations.

The instructions in “”Paris Frocks at Home” recommends drying your clothing with the electric fan on once you’ve finished laundering or pressing.  The only available place that was dry and airy was in the little corner near the bow windows.  So I let the clothing hang from the ironing board while the fan was on.

What I liked most about this process was that the ironing time was reduced and I did not have to use a high temperature on the iron.  Not having to deal with the steam was also good.  This means less electricity consumption.


The crinkles were completely gone from the fashion fabric.  It was soft and still as colorful as when I first took it out of the package when the fabric was delivered to my house.

My cotton Hollister shirt, which is going on 6 years old, looks great.  The laundering process made the colors bright and the fabric soft.  The ironing technique made it look better than when I’d ironed it in the past.  I’m very pleased at finding the results worked out so well.  I plan on keeping them and bringing some vintage housewifery up-to-date and use it in my life.










14 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Tubbing your Paris frocks at home, Part 2

  1. How fascinating! Another tip: with colours that bleed throw a tablespoon of table salt into the wash water. That helps fix the colour during the wash.
    I had never heard of that refrigerator technique before.

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  2. Hi EmilyAnn, Thanks for the photos of the process. Great tips! Have used vinegar in rinse water to stop bleeding of cotton fabric, but will try the lavender essential oil. I seem to remember having to rinse again in clear water after the vinegar rinse, but perhaps I used too much. In the past I’ve ironed while the fabric was still a little damp after hanging outside. Will definitely try your idea of rolling in towels and chilling before dry ironing. I’ve found the temperature of the water is a very important consideration especially when laundering washable wool sweaters, for instance.

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  3. I’ve never heard of refrigerating clothes to help with ironing – very interesting.
    I do freeze woollen fabrics for a couple of weeks before using – gets rid of moths and any other problems that might be lurking. Useful for natural fibres from thrift stores too.

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