The Clothesline (2002)
A number of memories from my childhood begin with helping my mother hang clothes outdoors. She was the comptroller of a publishing company (and later, its personnel manager) and here she was, before starting out for work, at the clothesline.
With this charming book, I can recall the fresh smells of the laundry, cold fingers on a line that sometimes froze and billowing linens. Those of us to whom dryers were a new invention remember folding ourselves within those flapping sheets, while playing games with our friends.
I've cheerfully succumbed to the dryer as a main source for drying, except for a old wooden drying rack for items I wouldn't want to submit to that twirling machine: rugs, linens, lingerie and my favorite sweaters. Don't get me wrong, if I had the backyard space there would be a line because the smell of linens dried outside is like no other. However, those of us who experienced this kind of housekeeping also remember sheets that were completely wrinkled if the fabric was all-cotton or linen. Many hours of ironing followed if that was a priority. In my family, ironing was next-to-God in elevation; how many of us now iron underwear?
The book also invoked those times when, living in an apartment in New York City, I put clothes on a line that moved by a pulley system, high above the sidewalk, the motion of the pulley creating a reassuring squeak. A painting by Alice Neel called Fire Escape in the book illustrates that apartment building laundryscape.
I must say we may treat our clothes with a little less violence nowadys due to the washing machines that supply the muscle. Some washday advice quoted in The Clothesline from a mother to her daughter Bessie reads:
Make a lather of good soap with very hot water. And let it cool until it is lukewarm. Then let the blankets and coverlets soak in it for a while. Then take a new clean hoe for a pounder. Pound well and pound again in another suds.
A few years ago I went to a Connecticut estate sale that had for sale a number of old bedlinens made from silk and lace as well as pure linen. It was a bidding situation and I prevailed. Now they sit in my linen closet, pampered and loved. Whenever I encounter vintage linens in shops, I recongratulate myself on that special trove. The Clothesline is wonderfully illustrated with many of the illustrations being of vintage linens.
There are many helpful recipes and tips in The Clothesline for handling the Monday washday task that I'll employ now: hand-washed lace and silk will have extra luster if you use half milk and half water for the final rinse and store fragile fabrics rolled up, not folded.
A quote from a 1927 book reveals a mix of ground cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace and caraway seeds with powerdered orrisroot used to repel moths. Or how about a mix of lavender, southernwood (also thought at one time to ward off infection), rosemary, black pepper and cloves for that same use. There's a recipe for making lavender ironing water that's worth the effort. Clothesline art is a section of the book as well as clothespin toys. A suggestion for making your own laundry and clothespin bags by using Sunbrella fabric as well as sources listed at the back of The Clothesline will aid the laundry enthusiast.
It's never too late to learn these tricks in spite of my senior woman status. The Clothesline take a sentimental look at a part of a culture that, at least in the US, may be fast disappearing.
What ever happened to Rinso? Did anyone else have a mangle in their basement for ironing?
VanSteenhouse is a Denver Colorado public speaker, psychologist, and author of Empty
Nest, The Clothesline, and A Woman's Guide to a Simpler Life.
Copyright © 2002-2005 by Andrea VanSteenhouse. All rights reserved. Web site created by ruby slipper designs llc.