Here we have one of those once-commonplace, now-mysterious household tools: a fluting iron. This little (9” tall) machine was used to make and launder clothing, specifically fluted trimmings, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A wide variety of fluting irons, or fluters, was manufactured.  Some were ‘rocker’ style; others, like this one, operated with a crank.  All were improvements over the earlier method of pressing pleats into fabric, which involved wrapping each individual crease by hand around a goffering iron.  Ladies’ and children’s clothing of the late 19th century featured a lot of pleated (also known as fluted or plaited) trim, probably the impetus for the invention of an easier way to create and care for your ruffles and ruches.

Our model here was invented by a Mrs. Susan R. Knox, patented by her on November 20, 1866, and manufactured by H. Sauerbier & Son, Newark, NJ.  In case you forget those facts, they’re written on the base.  The machine is iron, with brass rollers and a wooden handle.  Here is a description of the device, taken from her patent (“Improvement in Fluting Machines,” No. 59,913):

“This invention relates to a machine having a pair of corrugated rollers, between which the fabric or material to be fluted is drawn by the rotation of said rollers, the fluting effect, as well as the simultaneous rotation of the rollers in opposite directions, being caused by the intermeshing of the corrugations of one roller with the corresponding grooves of the other.  These rollers are made hollow in order to heat them by the introduction of heating-irons or otherwise, and thus render the fabric more susceptible to the fluting action of the rollers.”

The machine was donated to the Historical Society in 1962 by Mrs. Josiah Waters (Margaret Elgar Sherman) Jones.  Though no specific stories were shared about this artifact, many of the pieces donated by Mrs. Jones were from her husband’s family’s home, The Briers, in Olney, and this fluting iron was likely used there.

Bonus!  Here’s another fluting machine from our collections.  This one is, sadly, missing its bottom roller, but it has a decorative paint job and a few extra ‘conveniences’ (a table clamp that swivels up and out of the way; a lever to keep the top roller from flipping up by mistake) so I thought I’d throw it in.  This one is a Crown, patented in 1875 and manufactured by the American Machine Company of Philadelphia; a similar model can be found in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalog, for $3.25 (including “four heaters and a pair of tongs”).  It was donated to us in 1962 (a good – indeed, the only – year for fluters here at MCHS) by Mrs. Henry H. Griffith.  Again, nothing specific was shared about this item, but much of Mrs. Griffith’s donation came from her husband’s family’s home, Crows Content in Laytonsville.

Above: “side plaiting” trim at the hem of Isabella Snowden Stabler’s wedding gown, worn in Sandy Spring in 1884.  For more examples, try an internet image search for 1870s or 1880s fashion plates.  This site has photos of many other fluting machines, both crank-operated and rockers.

The inspiration for today’s post: Our copier decided to try a little fluting-machine action of its own, crimping all our papers. (It’s fixed now, don’t worry.)

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