V336: The Geneva Hand Fluter – Experiments

Last to arrive from my round of eBay acquisition was the Geneva Hand Fluter, a ridged iron that was used to flute, or crimp, all kinds of things, like cuffs, collars, ruffly trims, from its patent date of 1866 to about the 1920s.

There are several kinds of fluters.  I chose the most available and affordable option, the Geneva, which come in two cast iron pieces – a base plate and a rocker with a handle.

The width of the plate is 3 inches, and it is about 5 inches long.  It had rust and crud on it, but in the spirit of restoration, Chris took a wire brush to it and annihilated all the build up from the last two centuries.  Patina is nice and all, but not when you intend to actually use the thing.

Next came seasoning – after a good scrub, I coated both pieces with canola oil and baked them for about 1.5 hours, allowing them to cool off in the oven overnight.  Just like a cast iron skillet, seasoning protects the metal from rust, yet isn’t oily or dirty.  It’s like magic!

Tis the seasoning to be jolly…

This morning I tested the whole thing out, with a piece of 4.5 inch long Dupioni silk, from my Green Acres dress.  I heated both pieces of the iron in the oven, at 450 degrees, for about 25 minutes.  I sprayed the silk piece with straight up vinegar, blotted it on a paper towel to remove the excess, then layed it on the plate for a good, sizzling fluting.

….and it worked!  Like pleats, the ridges shorten the fabric – in this case, it went from 4.5 inches to 2.5 inches, so I know how long I will need to cut my strips to meet the 100-or-so inches of hem to which the fluted trim will be applied.

Of course, I also burned myself, but dang those flutes look good!


  • Sarah

    December 17, 2012 at 2:16 AM

    Thanks for posting this, I have often wondered about these. I looked at one that had a double plate so you could have a plate preheating while you were using one. And now I am wondering about the straight vinegar. For stabilizing color? For stiffening?

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 17, 2012 at 4:17 AM

      That is a very good idea! Having two complete sets would be a good idea too, to have one in the oven while the other was being used. I had to heat the top piece with the handle as well, to get a very crisp pleat.

      The vinegar – I have read and heard recommendations to use vinegar to perma-set pleats in silk. I'm not sure the Dupioni or taffeta needs it, because it is so papery and takes a crisp pleat already, but the fabric, whatever the content, does need to be damp prior to pressing it with the fluter. Water might work just as well. I have not tried starch, though, which is the norm for cotton and linen fabrics.

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 17, 2012 at 4:19 AM

      Yes they do. This instrument was an expected addition to a laundress' arsenal of tools. I have read in many 19th century household guides about the cleaning of various garments, where the entire dress was deconstructed, cleaned, pressed, perhaps fluted in places, then re-assembled. Can you imagine!? And I hate laundry day in modern times!

  • Rachel

    December 17, 2012 at 9:58 PM

    I have to agree that seasoning iron is amazing at restoring it. I got this very abused iron pan, and after a good scrubbing, a coat of oil, and a nice baking job in the oven it was back to being black and lucious. It's one of my favorite pans to cook with.

    I love this just because it's an application of seasoning for something very unique and special. I can't wait to see how crazy you get with it. I'm sure it's going to get very tedious eventually with how much yardage of crimping you'll be doing. Kind of like olden time pinking.

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 20, 2012 at 5:14 AM

      Indeed! I live in a very dry climate, so rust isn't as much of a problem, but I still want to keep this thing in good condition. I was impressed by how effective the seasoning was.

  • Katherine Caron-Greig

    December 19, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    Just a word of warning–I added this to my blog post about my Geneva fluter–I have a friend who bought one and the top part of hers melted in the oven. It completely turned to liquid. Fortunately her oven was fine!

    I have heated mine in the oven since then, so I think hers may have been a different material. Maybe a less expensive model?

    Have fun with yours–I love mine 🙂

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 20, 2012 at 5:17 AM

      Hi KCG, I saw your warning on your blog post and was super nervous about heating the top piece. I tried the fluting with only the bottom plate at first, and it didn't work very well, so I tried heating the top piece and it stayed un-melted. (yay!). I wonder why your friends melted? I don't know how to test metals, but it would interesting to do some sort of analysis to find out…

    • Katherine Caron-Greig

      December 20, 2012 at 7:28 AM

      Wouldn't it be? Hers was shinier than mine, so I do wonder. She sent me pictures of the disaster, but I don't think she kept it.

      I know I was nervous the next time I tried mine. And I tried just the base as well, which didn't work very well.

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 20, 2012 at 10:56 PM

      Laura mentions in a comment below that tin melts at 450 degrees – maybe your friends contained a bit too much tin? I think I will keep the oven below 450 just in case, though…

  • Laura

    December 20, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    If you have a gas burner at home, one of the cheater ways to get these hot is to put them on an old cast iron skillet. Also, they were often sold as two bases to one handle, which seems really weird to me since I'd *think* that the handle would cool off as fast as the base plate – but I guess the iron slug at the bottom would make the plate retain more heat.

    Also, tin melts at 450 degrees, so if there was a tinned coating, or any tin solder, that would explain the whole "melting" bit described above. If it was made for 60 years, I would expect that it was made slightly differently over time – possibly VERY differently.

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 20, 2012 at 10:55 PM

      Ah, that explains so much! Chris assured me that the top piece wouldn't melt, unless it was the solder holding the handle and the iron together. No melting, thank goodness!

      I'm going to try that trick with the cast iron skillet. Sticking it back in the oven every 5 minutes is tedious…

  • Unknown

    December 20, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    That is so cool! I was at my mom's when I read this and had to show her and she just casually says "Yeah, Grandma has one in her basement somewhere. I bet she'd let you have it." On to Grandma's for a hunting expedition!

  • artgrrl

    February 19, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    I would love to get one in Amsterdam, I don't remember ever seen one before. Does a hair-fluter would work too? Are there any other names for the device? I can't think of a Dutch name for it.

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