As I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for a good flea market. Last weekend I was prowling the goodies in Lancaster County, PA, and discovered this antique labor-saving device.
The rocker-like device is called a Geneva Fluter (it proudly says so right there, embossed on the top in raised letters), and many late 19th c. women would probably have recognized it. The fluter is a specialized kind of "sad iron", used to press the fluted ruffles on linen cuffs and collars and other trim. (Here's more about historical
Made from cast iron, the fluter would have been propped before the coals in the hearth to heat. The piece to be ironed would be moistened and laid over the grooved base. Then, with a potholder wrapped around the handle, the heated iron would be rocked over the cloth, and with a hiss of steam, the linen would be perfectly pressed with rows of narrow flutes or pleats.
The weight of the iron and the heat would do most of the work, and compared to pleating and pressing the narrow ruffles individually, this
truly must have been a labor-saving device. Still, there also must have been plenty of room for error and scorching, and the learning curve must have involved considerable trial and error, plus a burn or two.
Made by a foundry in Geneva, IL, that specialized in household goods, the popular hand fluters were manufactured from 1866-1920, and were exported around the world. Once only wealthy ladies with maids and laundresses could have such skillfully ironed linens. Now women of the rising middle class wished to be fashionable, too, and the Geneva fluter took its place in households across America.
My flea-market fluter came with a base that's of a later date (after 1890) that was made in Philadelphia, not Geneva, but the principle's the same. The top plate with the grooves opens, and iron slugs, heated before the hearth like the fluter, would be placed inside to heat the grooves above it. Here's the more elaborate fluter that originally accompanied the base.
Still, mismatched or not, I thought I'd try it out. Not with linen; I'm afraid of that "patina" of old rust and corrosion, nor do I have an open hearth. But I did run a strip of printer paper across the grooves, and viola! Perfectly fluted, ruffled printer paper.