Sunday, February 06, 2011

Washing lines#3

I've just been reading about Victorian wash days. I was surprised to find that these were not weekly events but probably only took place about once a month. When I read the instructions for landering in the Girls' Own Paper of 1899, I understood why ordinary housewives, who had no servants to do the work,  would need time to recover in between what were wash weeks rather than days:
Monday - Steeping (soaking)
Tuesday - Washing
Wednesday - Folding and Starching
Thursday - Ironing
Friday - Airing

 Have you noticed that there is no mention of drying? Surely that should follow the starching?  I could easily become distracted at this point and explore the culture of washing or ironing the laundry but I am supposed to be writing about washing lines, so I will not digress.

I like a neat and orderly washing line. The sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers go out first thing in the morning so that they are usually dry when the towels, tea cloths, table cloths and napkins are ready to hang out. Nowadays, thank goodness, I don't have rows of shirts on the line but when I did, they were pegged at the tail. Dark coloured items next and, if it is a really warm and windy day and I can get everything dried outdoors, the socks are pegged by the toe, in pairs. Oh, and in case you are wondering, trousers and skirts are pegged at the waistband. I am afraid that the Random Distractions washing line has nothing random about it!

Now for that rather special line that I mentioned in my last post:
 I bought this Picture Puffin book in 1967 to use with my first primary school class. It has delighted many children, especially my deaf pupils who always loved stories with a strong visual element. My own children loved it and now Millie and Charlotte have been introduced to it.

Farmer's wife, Mrs Mopple hangs her washing out to dry, using good old-fashioned dolly pegs, but the wind blows each item off the line and onto one of the farm animals so that when she comes to collect her laundry she finds:
A pig in a petticoat
A turkey in a nightcap
A chicken in a muffler
A jersey cow with ten horns
A rabbit with the measles

That would never happen if she used a tumble dryer now would it?


  1. No, m. it wouldn't, but perhaps the kids would be amused by watching the new front loader washing machines toss the laundry around!

    I hang pants by the waistband too, but I zip them up and pull the waistband taut so the front doesn't bend over and it dries less wrinkled.

    As for drying, I think the ironing accomplished most of it with the airing as needed completing the task. Apparently dampness was just a fact of life prior to the luxuries we take for granted.

  2. If the weather permits to dry things on the line, I wouldn't dream of wasting energy using a dryer!
    who loves to sniff the
    air-dried laundery

  3. starching is done when ironing if I remember my childhood correctly and I would think drying is included in 'washing' in your list;

    in most places there would have been outside drying space or else the washing would hang in the house until dry. In the country small items would be hung on lavender bushes to scent them, I remember old people doing this in the village where I grew up. Love the puffin book :)

  4. Well i had to remove the cat from out of the dryer the other day.I just keep thinking Thank goodness i saw her!I love the book i remember it from when i was a child.
    Logan has just started playgroup and they are doing ok apart from story time when they all go in a little room.Im sure because he cant hear he wonders why they have all been shut up in there.I will go tomorrow armed with my new info and suggest trying books with a strong visual element.Thank you x

  5. e

    That picture of the jeans on the line is one I googled. Mine would show very neat waistbands of course!

  6. Margaretha

    I'm glad to see you back. I hope all is well with your mother.
    Nothing is nicer than the scent and softness of air-dried sheets.

  7. RosieB

    When I was a child, my mother put the things that needed starching in the sink, after they had been washed. Starch was mixed with water and put into the sink and then the clothes were put through thewringer and hung out to dry. By the time I had to starch shirts, spray starch had been invented - thank goodness. Even more thanks went up when shirt collars didn't need to be starched at all!

  8. M and M

    I am so glad that I mentioned how well that book went down with my deaf pupils. Ask your advisory teacher of the deaf to go in to Logan's playgroup to suggest ways of including him in story time. That is part of his/her job.

  9. m. you've renewed my faith in across the pond pegging. :-)

  10. Kindred spirits, we are, when it comes to hanging out a line of washing! I like a bit of colour co-ordination too.....

  11. As I teach Year 1 I thought I would try to find a copy of Mrs Mopple: £15 plus postage on e-bay, £19 to £60 on Amazon second hand. Hold onto yours, it's obviously a gem. But then those Little Puffins often were weren't they?!

  12. Now hanging clothes on the line is where my ocd side becomes apparent. Its funny but even tho' lights go out at a different time to darks I hang each persons clothes together - like with like, undies with undies, socks in pairs etc etc. Lights are normally dry before the darks anyway so having two seemingly different sets doesn't matter as long as I can see the difference. Years ago one of mmy daughters asked why and what difference did it make - my reply (and to me it seemed obvious ) it was apparent at a glance whose was whose and with 5 children I - or that person as so often happened in teenage years - could see at a glance where a garment was if it was needed quickly. Now I'm not laughing at her but a quick look at her line these days shows she took it onboard - each persons together and like with like all the way lol
    Oh yes and they certainly had to be hung neatly. I have to hang back sometimes and stop myself from rearranging washing on someeone else's line lol
    Take care

  13. Cathy, some years ago my daughter was hanging wash on my lovely long Vermont clothes line and when I looked everything was in proper order to the extent I couldn't and wouldn't have done anything better or differently.

    My method was like things together and that's how she did it. Everything was stretched neatly and pinned together ...

    Made me smile. Kids actually do notice things.

  14. Rachel
    I am now convinced that Cindy Etter-Turnbull is right in speaking of the clothesline culture. On this little blog alone, we can see women from different countries have similar ideas about how to hang out the washing - not just for convenience or for the best drying positions but to make it aesthetically pleasing. We transform the clothes line into a work of art!

  15. Adele
    I'll keep an eye out for a copy in the secondhand book shops. The Puffins and Picture Puffins were superb.

  16. Cathy and erp
    You did better than I did at training your daughters. I'm always tempted to rearrange the washing on my daughter's line but don't want to annoy her. If she reads this then I'm in trouble!

  17. m. a work of art may be stretching (pun intended) things ... but there's a lot to be said for orderly lines (pun intended).

    I'm sorry, sometimes I just can't help myself. I'll stop now.

  18. What a fascinating series of posts, M, which made me think about things I normally do on automatic pilot.

    It also made me reflect how different it had been for my mother when my brother and I were children. No washing machine, everything done by hand, apart from a copper in which the whites (eg sheets and pillowcases) were boiled - along with a packet of Reckitt's Blue. Then there was a scrubbing board, for anything with stubborn stains or items like shirt collars and cuffs and when everything went out on the line, the line was held up with a prop - yes, in our West London garden there was a prop! Like so many women, she did all this for a family of four, along with caring for my grandmother, who lived with us, and going out to work . . . they were remarkable women weren't they?

  19. D

    Your childhood experience sounds just like mine. We had a copper with a fire under it but later a gas boiler did the job. And I remember Reckitt's Blue in the final rinse. I never understood how blue made things white!

    Remarkable women indeed, our mothers.


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