Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wash wash washing


Lately I have been thinking about clothes washing, fascinating subject that it is. In our house we do one, and more often two, loads of it a day. If we skip a day, the quantity piled up the next day is quite phenomenal. It seems to be a subject that occupies the minds of many parents: see my cousin’s thoughts on it at http://thisgrowinglife.blogspot.com/2010/09/diy-indoor-washing-line.html. So here are some thoughts about the most absorbing of topics. 

Firstly, that despite the amount of it that we do, it is one of my least-disliked household chores. I am not very particular about it; I do towels/sheets and business shirts separately, but the rest of it just gets stuffed in the machine and off it goes. Once it’s in there, it gives you at least half an hour to get on with something else. Once it’s done, I like the chance to stand in the sunshine, and enjoy a certain pedantic pleasure from hanging it out in formation.

Secondly, that it is a chore which really has become easier in the last hundred years or so. Consider Laura Ingalls Wilder, writing about her childhood in the 1880s, where the cleaning and ironing of clothes was a third of the week’s work: 
Each day had its own proper work. Ma used to say: 
‘Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday

Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
B
ake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday.
And the production that wash day actually involved: 
“Ma brought the wooden pannikin of soft soap from the wagon. (NB: on a separate day, lucky Ma had made the soap herself, from animal fat). She kilted up her skirts and rolled up her sleeves, and she knelt by the tub on the grass. She washed sheets and pillow-cases and white underthings, she washed dresses and shirts, she rinsed them in clear water and spread on the clean grass, to dry in the sun. ...Then Ma took the flat-iron out of the wagon and heated it by the fire. She sprinkled a dress for Mary and a dress for Laura and a little dress for Baby Carrie, and her own sprigged calico. She spread a blanket and a sheet on the wagon-seat, and she ironed the dresses.”
Even in 1950s Australia, washing was a pretty horrendous exercise. Recall Thurley Fowler in The Wind is Silver, describing clothes-washing in a pre-electric farm: 
“Jennifer’s biggest challenge was the washing and ironing. On that first wash-day, she lit the copper early and was coping, soon, with the trickiest, nastiest thing on earth: a boiling hot, dripping wet sheet. It was fiendish. Like a legless alligator in boiling oil, it spat and smacked and twisted, then rolled and wrapped itself around you. Hours later, it seemed, the piles of dirty sheets, shirts, socks and undies had been transferred to the clothes line.”
According to http://inventors.about.com/od/wstartinventions/a/washingmachines.htm, the first mechanical, domestic washing machine was invented by William Blackstone of Indiana in 1874 as a “birthday present” for his wife. That strikes me as much like buying someone a vacuum cleaner for Christmas, although Mrs Blackstone probably far preferred the mechanical version to the scrub board or whatever she had before it. 

Thirdly, that given the quantity of it that we do, it’s fortunate Little E that thinks that sitting under the clothes line, watching clothes come up or go down and listening to my commentary (“Look, it’s one of your pink bibs. Do you like this suit with a giraffe on it? What a surprise, this one is yours as well”...) constitutes entertainment.

And finally, washing baskets are good for more than their conventional uses:

 

5 comments:

_vTg_ said...

An interesting post on a mundane topic- I agree on the points you make!

Are you also a washing-line pedant? I used to zone all the clothes on the line by person (now I do adults vs children), meaning it was easier to offload into separate piles, and also easier to find an item if you dashed out at night or in the rain. I also have certain ways I like to peg clothes up... especially thwarted by Ben who believes in no-peg hanging!! (DOESN'T WORK!!)

If I were Mrs Blackstone, I would have thought it a very thoughtful present given most husbands (inventors or otherwise) would have considered the old ways of washing quite sufficient!

My old favourite, Robin Barker, claims there is a correlation between laundry technology and toilet training: that there was a jump in the toilet training age correlating with the introduction of the automatic washing machine, presumably taking some incentive out of toilet training for the mums. (A similar jump correlated with disposable nappies) http://www.realdirt.com.au/2008/05/20/toddler-guru-robin-barker-on-disposable-nappies/

As for more babies in the laundry.... http://thisgrowinglife.blogspot.com/2009/09/news-from-laundry.html

Check Camp Homeschool for laundry tips (most not under the "laundry" tag)- with 5 kids and apparently 2-3 loads (and I presume they have a huge American washer!) per day she must have all the tips there are!!

allison tait said...

Great post. I've written about laundry. I think we all have. It features so heavily in any mum's life! I love the putting the washing on the line. Hate taking it in and folding it. But I'm loving Mrs Ingalls's schedule. I might give it a whirl - if not her technique!

Maxabella said...

Yes, but they had less clothes then... they only had to wash once a week... aw, who am I kidding? How LUCKY are we, even on those days when you need a Sherpa to get over the washing, we have it okay, don't we!!? x

JANE said...

I like this post. It reminded me about my grandmother's hand-operated wringer, wash troughs and scrubbing board which she used up until the late 1980s when she bought a washing machine. We really shouldn't complain, should we?! J x

ANB said...

I am on a bit of an anti-washing roll at the moment, mainly because since Little E can crawl there is no more relaxing-under-the-line whilst she bounces happily in the green chair or lies on her rug staring vaguely at the trees. Now I hang out one thing then sprint a few metres to stop her eating dirt or grass or worse. Also it is 35 degrees here ... which means the stuff dries fast once it's out, but does inhibit any desire to linger under the line!

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