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by Kerstin Fröberg

Mangle Types

As I see it, there are two principally different kinds of mangles - the (for want of better names) "roller" type and the "wringer" type.

In her article on Calendering, Laura Fry described the old fashioned roller type, basically a large dowel (approx 3" in diameter) and a flat board with a handle. The fabric is rolled around the dowel, and the flat board is pressed down onto the dowel with the cloth. With a rocking motion, you roll the dowel back and forth under pressure. This is actual quite effective for smaller pieces, but hard work!

Smaller "wringer" mangles have two rollers, you put one end of your cloth in between two rollers, and it comes out on the other side. If you want it flatter, repeat the operation.

Modern mangles are a hybrid version: working size about 2 - 2,5 ft. square, where the pressure comes from the electric motor. Those I have seen have not had variable pressure (unlike the old hand-cranked ones, where pressure could be regulated with a giant spring). The "mangle sheet" (a smooth, strong sheet of fabric, usually made of tight linen) is fastened to the upper roller (with a spline, to avoid nail-heads that would leave marks), the cloth to be pressed is placed on the mangle sheet and rolled on to the upper roller. When you are satisfied, reverse the motion of the rollers, and the cloth unrolls again.

Then there is the type which I don't consider a mangle at all - the type with a padded roll and a heated iron piece. This type works essentially as an ordinary iron.

My stone mangle was manufactured around 1910, although they were made well into the 1950s, possibly '60s. We bought it out of an old building which had been also been built in 1910, and with the combination of a piano mover and friends, carried it (in pieces) out of an attic and down three floors of a spiral staircase. We then reassembled it in our house.

Kerstinnnn's mangle weighs 1500 kg!
Kerstin's mangle is approximately 2,5 m (8 ft.) by 1,2 m (5 ft.) but requires a space 3,8 m (12 ft.) when in use. It weighs 1500 kgs (more than 3000 lbs).


Details of the mangle's mechanics.
Details of the mangle mechanics. The cog wheels and track are shown in the center. The bar at the bottom of the picture operates the clutch assembly. To the right is the drive belt which connects the flywheel to the motor.

This type of mangle works on the roller principle. It is made of cast iron, wood, and two beds of granite (or possibly "composite stone" according to the 1915 price sheet). The top bed rests on a set of wooden rollers and is driven back and forth by a motor and belt attached to a large drive wheel and cog assembly. This superstructure of cogs is all in one piece, flywheel included; it is solid cast iron, has no convenient handles, and weighs considerable in its own right.

Using My Mangle

First, the cloth to be pressed must be prepared. Goods should be slightly damp, preferably from the washing (i.e., not dried out completely). "Mangle dry" is an expression, at least in my family. Should the goods have got too dry, then it has to be dampened some. After spraying with water, it has to sit for a couple of hours before it can be pressed.

It's important to roll good as carafully as possible.
It is important to roll your goods as carefully and as tightly as possible. Every distortion, crease, or wrinkle will be permanent (at least until the next washing).

I roll the fabric around a wooden dowel (about 4" in diameter - mine are beechwood), possible with the help of a mangle sheet. The mangle sheet is used to help roll a number of small pieces (towels, pillow-cases, etc.) If the roll is not tight enough, creases will probably form inside the roll as the mangle goes forwards and backwards.

Once the electricity is on, the motor turns. Whether the mangle moves or not depends on a clutch, which is operated with my right hand via the wooden handle, visible in the first photo. To lift the top, I slide a support wheel (which I operate with my left hand) under the large cast iron top bracket. I engage the clutch, wait 'till the bracket rides up on the support wheel, and when it is at its highest point, disengage the clutch. The top bed stops moving, hanging on the support wheel.

The top slab tilts.
The top slab tilts to create a "gap".

I place the freshly rolled dowel on the bottom stone, removing the empty dowel left there after the last use of the mangle. The roller should be placed outside the "locking mechanism", the small iron brackets embedded in the bottom stone (whose exact function I don't know) - because instructions say so. It has to be put in the right direction - I want the mangle sheet to first unroll, then to roll on again as the mangle returns. I always take care not to have my hands in positions where they could be crushed should the motor by mistake be engaged; this should not happen, but who knows, one would not want one's hands to be in the way. (Actually, I have only heard of one accident. This occurred when a mangle was sitting too close to the wall, and a woman standing between the wall and the mangle had her ribs crushed.)

Inserting a new roll.
The "new" roll (with the mangle goods) is inserted before the "old" roll is taken away.

When ready to mangle, the lever is pulled to engage the clutch. The top stone starts to move, sliding off the support wheel to rest on the roll. Now the support wheel is slid away from under the bracket, otherwise the other end of the mangle would be lifted, too. (Not that it would mean anything, but unless we want to add another roller, it is pointless.)

Starting the mangle
I release the clutch lever to allow the top stone down, then ...

The mangle in action.
...the mangle rolls back and forth, for as long as I want.

The mangle can be cranked manually (again hard work), or it can be motorized. Since mine is motorized, I leave the mangle to roll back and forth as long as I want - a couple of minutes (it takes eight seconds "one way"). When I have prepared the next roll, with new goods and another protector sheet, the first is probably "done". The process is repeated to change rollers.

When the roll is removed (always with another roll in place!!!), it is unrolled. Out comes the linen towels, nice, crisp and shiny. They are folded according to the family standard: in three, lengthwise, then in three crosswise. If there are embroideries, I make sure they come with right side out, and uppermost!

Towels after pressing.
Three towels, one "before" rolling, and two folded "after" pressing.

I am 45 years old and have lived in apartment houses in Stockholm for 42 of them. In all houses there has been a mangle in the common "wash-room" - and for 30 years I have lived in houses with real stone mangles. And, I have always used them! In my opinion, until you have dried yourself on a mangled linen (terry) towel and slept in a bed with freshly mangled linen sheets, you have not met real luxury!


Kerstin Fröberg has been a spinner and a weaver since 1980. She learned to spin horsehair in Iceland 1987 and has been seriously weaving with horsehair since 1992. She has taught classes in horsehair spinning and weaving in various parts of Sweden and has exhibited her work in Sweden and at Convergence '94, Cloth*ing '96, Convergence '96 and '98. She has had articles published in Hemslojden (1988) and Spin Off (1993). She was a teacher at the 1999 ANWG conference, SETT Under the Big Sky, in Bozeman, Montana. Kerstin would love to hear from anyone having information on horsehair traditions in the Americas.

Copyright © 1999 by Kerstin Fröberg. Please contact the author for permission to use any part of this article.

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