Laundry, we were just talking about it. Such a mundane task but how much time it seems to take up. In winter time especially it seems that I’m always thinking about it. If it’s a sunny day I plan to wash so I can hopefully get everything dry outside on the Hills Hoist and not have to use the clothes dryer.
Of course, in my grandma’s day washing was a very big part of the housewife’s week. She would be up bright and early Monday morning to start it and get her washing on the line. Some houseproud ladies might compete with their neighbours to see who could get their load on the line first. First though, they might have to boil the copper. For those that are not familiar with them the copper was a tub used to boil water for washing. I’ve seen pictures of quite a few designs for them but the ones I’ve actually seen myself were generally cylindrical tubs. Originally, they would have been heated by coal or wood. They were not necessarily made of copper; they might be cast iron. You might be horrified at the idea of putting your dirty laundry in boiling water but remember there were not so many synthetic fibres in those times. A friend of mine gave me some old cotton and linen tablecloths and place mats for the Op Shop and they were yellow from age and being stored. I found an article online about boiling them with some Napisan so I tried it figuring I had very little to lose and they came up very well. The colours did not even run. I didn’t have a copper or a big old pair of wooden tongs like I remember mum having to move the fabric around. I think I used a big cooking pot that I had and I got a pair of kitchen tongs to lift them out.
My mother and grandmother always sorted their laundry into whites and coloureds and separated the delicate items. I still do that myself even though I wash in cold water which nobody did in their day. Always separate the red things if you don’t want everything you own to turn pink!
Washing machines today are so much better than they used to be. Mum had an enormous Hoover washing machine with a mangle. I remember her putting the clothes through it to get the water out before hanging them on the line. You had to be careful not to get your hand stuck in it. Mum did that once. Her hand was badly bruised. If she was doing woollens, they would be hand washed in the sink with soap flakes or a bar of washing soap. At one house we lived in we had two concrete sinks in the laundry. They were great for that. One for washing and one for rinsing. Wringing was done by hand. You don’t really wring delicate woollens; you roll them in a towel and squeeze the water out of them. Washing instructions usually say “dry flat in shade”
Here’s a sad story. Once when we were in our teens, I knitted Naomi a mini dress out of a shiny metallic yarn. She loved it and wore it to a disco one night. She came home smelling of smoke, people smoked in bars and clubs then, so she put it in the wash. Mum washed it and hung it on the line and it stretched so badly it was nearly down to her ankles. Naomi was mad because she couldn’t wear it again and I was mad because I’d spent weeks knitting it. It couldn’t be saved. Don’t hang things like that on the line folks.
When I was first married, I had to wash in a shared laundry in our block of flats. There was a twin tub there. Later, when we bought our first house, I had a machine similar to mum’s but then I got our first front loader and have had those ever since. The current one is my third, I think. I prefer them, they save water and don’t take up a lot of room. I could even stack my dryer on top if I wanted to. Although I find the dryer a blessing in wet weather, I only use it when I must. Electricity is expensive and it is nice to have the clean smell of things that have been dried in the sun. Many modern fabrics say “Do not tumble dry” anyway so if in doubt I don’t.
After washing and drying comes ironing. In mum’s day you’d do that the day after wash day. There would always be shirts, blouses and dresses to be ironed and maybe starched. I know a lot of people don’t iron any more. It’s not one of my favourite jobs but I don’t like wrinkly clothes either. Usually, I try to avoid getting things wrinkled in the wash by not squashing too much into the machine, giving them a shake when I hang them out and not leaving them sitting in the basket too long after bringing them in. But still some things need to be done. I do like to iron my pillowcases but I draw the line at doing the sheets.
I did kind of enjoy doing all that old linen though. I generally prefer to have a big pile of ironing to do. I’ll bring the ironing board into the living room and watch something that I don’t have to think about too much on TV while I do it.
It might be a chore but I have to admit that a basket of freshly washed and folded laundry does give me a feeling of satisfaction.