Author reads between the clotheslines (June 29, 2002)
Irene Rawlings is so passionate about drying her family's wash on a backyard clothesline that she checks the weather forecast before starting.
"I forget that I have a dryer like everybody else in the United States," Rawlings says. Instead, she prefers the fresh smell that line-dried clothes soak up.
"It smells sunny. It's crisp and the towels are so satisfyingly scratchy," she says.
So it's no surprise that her debut book, co-written with former talk-radio host Andrea VanSteenhouse, is called The Clothesline, a 96-page treasury of laundry lore and drying wash.
Rawlings says she became interested in the subject in the mid-1980s while in Venice, Italy: "I was riding down the canal when I saw this laundry line. It had workmen's clothes, baby diapers, a huge but impossibly sexy brassiere and a huge but impossibly sexy slip."
From those garments, she was able to divine the story of the family that lived together, and took a snapshot. This early picture isn't included in her book (it was out of focus), but she and photographer David Foxhoven spent five years gathering other images.
"Traveling around the country, we'd see a good laundry line," Rawlings says. "So we'd knock on the door and say, 'Hi, can we photograph your laundry line?' "
The book also includes numerous vintage photos, shots of gorgeous laundry rooms and colorful clothespins, and laundry tips.
Rawlings' own laundry line in the back yard of her 85-year-old Denver home consists of two T-posts strung with rustproof metal line. "It's a sign of someone living in that house, taking care of things and doing what our mother and grandmothers have done for life," she says. She notes that co-author VanSteenhouse loves hanging the wash because it keeps her connected with her children's sizes and shapes.
But clotheslines aren't welcome everywhere. Recently, Garry Trudeau has been featuring a clothesline battle in his comic strip, Doonesbury. When the local authorities show up to halt illegal laundry-line activity, they say clotheslines are associated with poverty.
Some subdivision covenants prohibit them to preserve, protect and enhance property values, says Myra Lansky. A Denver attorney, she specializes in homeowner associations.
"Clotheslines are a detracting factor when you look out across a subdivision, and that's why they'll put in a covenant," Lansky says.
Rawlings suggests that homeowners read covenants carefully
to see what the concerns really are and work with their subdivisions to
look for solutions. Some laundry-line systems can be concealed by landscaping
or folded up when not in use.
VanSteenhouse is a Denver Colorado public speaker, psychologist, and author of Empty
Nest, The Clothesline, and A Woman's Guide to a Simpler Life.
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