I might seem a little obsessed by doing the laundry… I guess sitting by the window working I glance out and see the state of the day and think it’s perfect to thrust a load of stuff in the washing machine and an hour later out on the line… if the weather is really kind and doesn’t suddenly spring a shower of rain on my washing line, then a couple of hours later I can find some trash on TV to watch while I iron (Canadian Boarder Control, Motorway Cops, Oi – You’re Nicked, that sort of thing)

I’m also fortunate that I am no longer at work so I can just take advantage of a change in the weather – we live by the sea so it can be vile and pouring down with rain at seven, when I used to go to work, but then perfect for washing at eleven – when I still would have been at work. Lots of old weather sayings are pretty accurate, and I once saw a meteorological explanation for why the saying ‘rain before seven, dry by eleven’ is true – something to do with fronts…

Even when I was a child, washing was so different; we had a boiler in the kitchen, then a single tub washing machine and a mangle, then we got a spinner… and then the miraculous twin-tub! Now we have one machine which does everything, and even has a dryer function.

Another great progress in the field of laundry is the type of fabrics we have; so many of them are designed for machine washing, even some woollens. I am very careful with the garments, separating whites, turning things inside out, choosing the right programme for the fabric, to save energy by reducing temperature or doing ‘quick’ washes.

In her book ‘The Happy Housewife’, posthumously published in the early 1960’s, Ruth drew has a section on washing, and a subsection on curtain materials… these days we’d probably just take curtains to the cleaners if they were made from a material we weren’t familiar with. Ruth also suggests dry-cleaning for some materials… but these are the fabrics she has helpful hints about:

  • brocades and damasks – Ruth recommends dry-cleaning (do any of us ordinary folk have these type of curtains?)
  • chintz (permanently glazed) – wash in hot suds, rinse well, iron with a hot iron; iron on the wrong side if its textured, on the right side if it isn’t… I guess a lot of people these days might be flummoxed as to the wrong or right side…
  • chintz (non-permantly glazed) wash in hot suds and treat with a thin starch solution plus a knob of beeswax or Japan Wax – Ruth tells us that for an average pair of curtains (??) the knob should be about the size of a walnut. ironing should be with a hot iron on the right side and ‘plenty of pressure, applied with a polishing movement‘.
  • cottons ‘those hardy old friends, seersucker, gingham, towelling and similar tubfast fabrics‘ It ll seems pretty straightforward to wash and iron these materials unless you want to starch them; then Ruth helpfully gives a five part sub-section on starching
  • Holland blinds – dust them then lay them across a table and scrub both sides with warm soapy water and ammonia; starching is best done in a small bathtub (it says bathrub but that must be a very unusual typo – mostly books of this era were brilliantly proof-read)
  • muslin and lace involved kneading and squeezing, except for elderly curtains which should be tied inside an old bag or pillowcase
  • net
  • rayon – there’s a paragraph of advice on ironing rayon… and if stiffening is needed don’t use starch use gum… stationer’s gum and hot water
  • terylene more squeezing and kneading but definitely no twisting or ringing
  • velvet – Ruth is quite severe on this; entrust to a dry-cleaner and if that’s not possible ‘much can be done by thorough brushing (the way of the pile) followed by an overnight repose hung up in a steamy bathroom‘ I misread the next instruction and though the velvet should be soothed with a soft cloth… however it was ‘smoothed’…
  • washable velveteens, chenille and similar pile fabrics – apparently, these can be tackled at home, in the bath with swirling and squeezing, much rinsing,hanging to drip dry, and then more smoothing. When it comes to ironing however,a helper is needed because you need to ‘draw the wrong side over a cool upturned iron‘… sounds dangerous and impossible – unless you are Ruth!

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