Ode to a Linen Shirt

By Cliff Hakim

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Photo by Huu Thong on Unsplash

There’s a preamble to pressing my linen shirt. First, I plug in the iron cord into the outlet. Lift the plastic gallon jug of distilled water off the floor, hold it firmly on the ironing board then pop off the top. I tip the iron and angle the cumbersome jug, so the lip barely rests on the fill-hole. Tilting the jug slowly, I pour, watching closely as the water flows through the hole, backing off as it pools and bubbles. Feeling good that I have not spilled, I angle the jug back before the water reaches MAX.  Steam rises shortly after I set the dial on high. Hiss!

Our tailor, Mary, suggested that I buy a sleeve ironing board, to produce a smooth creaseless sleeve.  So I place this mini-ironing board, the same length as my arm, on top of the larger one.  I smooth out the larger wrinkles before I iron, then proceed, tackling the places that are hard to reach along the seams.

No center crease on the sleeves, on a linen shirt, gives it a look and feel of effortlessness.  The material has a free, breathable quality—there’s a practical joy woven into it. 

My wife Amy asks, “Why don’t you bring these shirts to the laundry?”

“I like handling the material,” I say. “It relaxes me. I like this easy conversation between me and my shirt.”

A linen shirt takes time and effort to iron, more so than an ordinary cotton oxford. I am mindful to go gently, not to press the fabric too hard, create shiny patches, or scorch the material. The fibers are coarse, but delicate.

As the steam makes its occasional hiss, I recall where I’ve worn this particular shirt.  Feeling the warm sand on my feet as I walked along the beach. Tasting the cabernet at my favorite bar with my daughter Gabriella. Appreciating the artwork at a local gallery, hoping someday my pieces will hang on these walls, too.

Linen is versatile, you can dress it up or dress it down. I’m not sure where I’ll wear this shirt next, as I close the top button over the hanger. But wherever I do, I’ll enjoy the drape until its crispness morphs into a softer shape.  The smooth surface of the linen changes and the fibers bend with my every movement—walking, sitting, stretching and retracting my arms. Soon there will be creases everywhere.

Wrinkles tell my story. They suit me.

Cliff Hakim is a Boston-based artist and writer.  He is the author of Walk in My Shoes: The Path to Empathy and Compassion. This article was written for Tell Your Story of Home, a collaboration of Reinventing Home and  Leap, an intimate platform for online learning.

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