Posted by Caroline on July 20, 1997 at 12:46:28:
In reply to Laundry days -- Dorothy Wordsworth and the 7-week wash posted by kathleen (elder) on July 18, 1997 at 15:35:09
"What are those dear, sort, fluffy things?" said Lucie.
"Oh, those are woolly coats belonging to the lambs at Skelghlyl"
"Will their jackets take off?"asked Lucie.
"Oh yes, if you please'm; look at the shoulder. And here's one marked for Gatesgarth, and three that come from Little-town. They're always marked at washing!" said Mrs Tiggywinkle. Beatrix Potter "The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle."
Apart from the above book, ( I wasn't being flippant, it actually says a lot about washing clothes), you can find a lot of information about Laundering in the FABRIC OF SOCIETY book listed in our new BIBLIOGRAPHY. I have an article that appeared in the English Magazine "Traditional and Period Home" (Maybe April , definitely 1997) that deals with Laundry and cites as sources all the National Trust books that I listed under the post "Have you read this?"a couple of weeks ago.
What I am about to say is a summary of what I believe happened in the times before washing machines, tumble driers and polyester-cotton. It is very hard to be date-specific, but I think this covers the period 1750-1900.
Washing clothes, and any other cloth things, was a real big deal. To clean something made of linen involved these steps.1. Pre-soak with soap rubbed on stains, or more sophisticated treatments.2. Wash in warm, not hot water, to avoid ‘setting' the dirt. 3.Rinsing, at least once.4. Boiling, with more soap , if necessary, in a large copper cauldron. 5. Rinsing, at least twice, in clean water and "blueing".6. Starching, if necessary.7. Hanging out, on flax lines, or on a clothes-horse in front of a fire. 8.Ironing, with a flat iron, and maybe a goffering iron on the frills. Silk has to be dealt with in a different manner. Washday caused big disruptions of household routine, and it made sense to do big washes occasionally, rather than small washes often. That meant having a lot more underwear, caps, nightwear, sheets etc. as compared with today , and storing various huge piles of clean and dirty stuff somewhere in the house ( in special cupboards called "presses", quite often) It also meant, that if you were on your own (e.g. a single man, or a widow)and rich enough, that you sent your smalls out to be washed rather than go through the rigmarole of doing it all yourself.
So, to (finally,) answer Kathleen's question, about Great and Small washes. Contemporary washing bills (remember Catherine Moreland and the secret compartment?) seem to show that people washed their "smalls" , or had them washed, about twice a month. This was personal linens, caps, nightgowns, handkerchiefs, stockings, shirts. I presume this is a "Small Wash". The "Great Wash" (Elizabeth Watson was "so busy with my poor dear father and our great wash that I have had no leisure to tell you anything") would therefore include bigger things like sheets and holland covers and the like. Great washes would take place only about four times a year, if that.
And would depend on the weather, I suppose.
I have instuctions for cleaning all kinds of things like stockings, removing stains, etc. if anyone wants it.....
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