Monday, January 31, 2011

Washing lines#1

Fine Lines a celebration of clothesline culture  by Cindy Etter-Turnbull doesn't appear to be available in UK but Canadian and US readers can get it here. I was lucky enough to win my copy at Letters from a Hill Farm.  It is a highly entertaining as well as informative book and well worth the effort of tracking down a copy. Each section had me reminiscing, remarking on the changes in our domestic habits over the last 60 years or so and frequently laughing aloud.

I was surprised  to learn that in some parts of Canada and US clotheslines are banned! I haven't heard of that happening here yet but we all know that where America leads England tends to follow. I'm getting my "Hands off my washing line!"  placard ready, just in case. My first thought on a warm, breezy day is how much laundry can I get washed and out to dry? It would be a brave official who would try to stop me!

You might wonder, as I did, at the idea of a clothesline culture. Don't people just put their washing out to dry in the sun? Believe me, after reading just a few pages of Fine Lines, I realised that the how and where of laundry drying is embedded in our cultural identity. I don't intend to spoil the book for would-be readers but I am going to pick out a few aspects of clothesline culture to explore here over the next few days. Do join me with your own memories and observations.

Nappy drying service at Butlin's holiday camp 1955
My mother always had two long washing lines made of rope and supported by wooden props. She would have approved of the rows of nappies blowing in the breeze in this picture from BBC archives. However, she would not have had that tattered nappy on display for the neighbours to see! Less than perfect items were dried on an indoor rack in the kitchen.
 There were more wet Mondays than dry ones in Lancashire, so this ceiling clothes rack was in constant use along with the 'clothes maiden'
I think this was a northern name because when I moved to the south of England I could only buy this type and it was called a clothes horse:
I didn't see any props in the southern gardens, all my neighbours had pulley lines. My Lancashire soul needed a prop so a friend made one for me, a little more sophisticated than this one, but not much!

My cottage garden is too small for a proper washing line so I now have a rotary line that can be packed away in the garage when not in use and I have a tumble dryer and the Aga for those wet days.
Modern appliances are useful but not nearly as satisfying as the old ways of doing things. As a young mother, I loved to look out on my rows of terry nappies blowing in the wind. I loved the fresh outdoor smell of the dried laundry and was really surprised when one of my neighbours told me that she never dried her washing outdoors because she hated her clothes to smell of the sea.

My mother had very precise ways of hanging out the washing. It was sorted and folded and put in the basket in the order it was to pegged on the line. The basket was carried out into the garden with the bag of pegs and a damp cloth for wiping the line - skipping that would lead to trouble if she found a dirty mark on a shirt or sheet. Next time I'll look at pegs and how the clothes were hung out to dry.


  1. I loved hanging clothes on the line, but I've gotten lazy these past years and only hang out things I don't want to shrink in the dryer. When we lived in Vermont, my son put up a pulley line from the side steps to a big tree probably 40/50 feet away. He got it so taut, a tight rope walker could have walked across it safely.

    I really miss that line.

  2. I grew up with a billowing clothes line in the garden and a ceiling rack like the one in your photo suspended over the Stanley stove.
    There is nothing to beat a good wind dried sheet or towel for scent and softness.
    Here we can line dry in the Summer but in the Winter the Gas fueled dryer is brilliant and economical.Although Mittens , socks, hats and coats dry on a clothes horse/maid by the stove.

  3. e,
    I didn't realise how much I missed my long line (not as long as yours but much better than my rotary) until I read this book. All sorts of fond memories came back. Did you ever try the tightrope walk? Perhaps that's what you can do when you have the new knee!

  4. Val,

    I'm glad you share my attitude to wind dried sheets and towels. I don't think there is anything to match it. It's all indoor drying here through the winter too, but nothing like as long as for you. However, it came very early this time, depriving me of two months of that lovely sense of achievement when I bring in the dried washing.

  5. m. I'll be glad to to walk a straight line on the ground, instead of wobbling along as I've been doing.

  6. I'm so happy you are enjoying the book! I posted on the clothesline restrictions:

    I think a lot of the restrictions come from condos and other developments. Tom's mother not only can't have a clothesline, but can't even keep her garage door open. I couldn't live like that.

  7. Nan, we rented a condo while we waited for our house in Florida to be built. There was a no clothesline code, but I didn't think that meant I couldn't put a pair of white duck pants I'd washed by hand and wanted to drip out on a hanger and hook it on to a branch of tree hidden behind the back porch.

    I was pretty annoyed when we came back from doing some errands and found the condo busy-body patrol had been on the job. My pants and the hanger were on the ground and it wasn't a windy day.

    Decided then that communal living wasn't for me.

  8. In Australia a rotary clothesline is called a Hill's Hoist (or was many yrs ago) and at the time I had the feeling it was more or less compulsory. When first married & living in a flat I used to have one of those zigzag clothes horses as in yr photo which had a yellow cover and a blow-heater which fitted underneath. Sounds a bit of a fire risk now I think about it.

  9. Nan and erp

    I don't know if such restrictions apply to similar accommodation to condos in UK but I don't think there are any town or county by-laws banning washing lines. Yet!

    Keep up the good fight.

  10. Susie

    My sister had a similar heated airer. I don't recall any disasters but I would never use it!

    Hill's Hoist makes me think of a gallows. I suppose adding a little drama to washing day is no bad thing.

  11. OMG..ban washing lines in the UK and I am taking to the street in protest...I love my washing line...and I hardly ever use a drier, only if I absolutely have to...the clothes smell lovely and fresh and I find it extremely satisfying to get them dry on a sunny day...several loads usually when the weather is nice...I peg items up with two pegs each...and the pegs simply MUST be of same colour...I couldn't cope with them not matching...I also find it very therapeutical..the process of hanging and having the breeze messing up my hair, usually I hang the washing out wearing my PJs in the's like a routine and a tradition at the same hands off my washing line!!!!

  12. I enjoyed this post so much that I had to mention it in on a posting of my own. -I am an ex pat. In the US I was lucky enough to have a fab washing line that stretched from the window of an upper floor laundry (oh, that washing blowing up high!). In Australia I lived with the obligatory hills hoist someone mentioned here. I will never succumb to the dastardly drier. Thanks for this!

  13. Hello Tracey

    I've had great fun with this topic and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've just been over to see your blogs and am really interested in your work on dyslexia. I was a Teacher of the Deaf for many years, specialising in literacy and I can see how helpful your books would be. I'll be recommending them to my old colleagues.

    Good luck with the novel and with your blog.

  14. Hi monix,

    It's been lovely "meeting" you and your terrific blog. Finally, today, I mention you in my chat

  15. Hello, I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wish you best of luck for all your best efforts. slotted angle racks Delhi, slotted angle racks suppliers.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!