14 January 2013

Norwegian mangle boards

From the collections of the Horniman Museum and Gardens:
Mangle boards were originally used for ironing clothing, before being discarded for the flat iron. Mangles were widespread throughout Europe before the nineteenth century. When these mangles were collected by Frederick Horniman, they were still in use only in the Norwegian countryside. In the UK, they continued to be used in parts of Yorkshire, and also in Ireland. A mangle consisted of a long flat board, usually of fir tree wood, about two or three feet long, with a raised handle at one end... The underside of the mangle is completely smooth. A mangle board was used with a roller driven over the clothes until they were smooth.

A mangle board was considered an essential item for all young housewives. The carved mangle board was often a gift given to a new bride by her husband, who would carve and paint the mangle, placing her initials on the flat panel of the board. The carved motifs on Norwegian mangles use a combination of scroll, geometric and floral designs.
It's interesting that a word that today means to ruin, cut, destroy was once applied to a device for pressing clothes.  Probably some complex etymology there that I don't have time to pursue today.

Here's another, less elaborately carved mangle board, dated 1796 by the auction house:

And finally, here's a modern one, decorated with rosemaling rather than carved, that was auctioned at Iowa's Vesterheim museum:


  1. More modern wash tubs had mangles that were two rollers. You slipped the fabric between the rollers and turned the crank and the fabric rolled out, water pressed out of them and fabric smoothed. Later wash tubs, and industrial washers, had automated mangles that were hard to turn off. If your fingers got caught in them as you were feeding fabric in, you could lose a finger or hand. A friend of mine grew up with a really old electric wash tub. The basin agitated the clothing/linens and then you drew them out and ran them through the mangle by hand. He hurt his fingers pretty badly once when they got caught in the mangle. Fortunately his mom was visiting and heard him yelling and came down and unplugged it.

    1. When I was young helping my grandmother,, I got my skinny little hands and arm caught several times,, oh it was so painful.. somethings old are good but not those old roller machines.

  2. My paternal grandmother, my mother and my ex-mother-in-law each had an appliance that they called a "mangle." The machines were large, about 4' x 5' x 3'. You opened the cover by lifting and pushing it back, it was hinged where it attached to the machine. You sat in a chair at the machine and operated it by using two levers attached at knee-height, you pressed one lever to raise and lower a padded roller with your knee and pressed the other lever with the other knee to make the roller revolve, feeding the cloth between the padded roller and a heated, rounded platform underneath. It was very easy for fingers to get caught between the roller and the heated steel platform -- and that's why I thought the name "mangle" was so appropriate. Women with large families who had a lot of washing and ironing to do would use the mangle instead of employing a laundress or sending the laundry out. It's another appliance that supposedly was a labor-saving device for the housewife, but which actually gave her more work to do, since she then had no excuse for hiring a servant or paying a laundry service... I think the brand-name of our mangle was Iron-rite.

  3. There are two types of mangles - "cold" and ""hot" mangles. Linen, for example, is cold mangled after weaving to flatten the strands and bring out its sheen.

    Yarn is woven under as much tension as it can stand, and mangling, washing, brushing, and other finishing techniques allow the fiber to relax into its natural twist. Most handwoven cloths change characteristics once they are finished correctly. Chenille should be heavy and stiff off the loom - it gets that soft drape after the fibers are relaxed in water. Wool fulls or felts, etc.

    There are some excellent videos on mangles created by Laura Fry who knows more about how to finish cloth than anyone I know:


  4. I've never heard the term "rosemaling" before. I have always referred to this type of decoration as Tole Painting. After a bit (like, oh 30 seconds!) of research, it appears that rosemaling was developed in Scandinavian countries whereas tole painting developed in Colonial United States, esp. among the Pennsylvania Dutch.

    As I've said at least once before, that's why we love your blog, Stan: you learn something new every day!


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