Hanging out the wash – oh how I remember the drill. With clothes pegs (or pins) balanced precariously between my teeth, I hung shirts and skirts, hankies and socks, sheets and towels, all in neat and ordered rows.
In the Ireland of my youth the clothesline dance was learned at an early age. Today electric clothes driers have all but replaced the line, and as a result, we’ve practically forgotten the long lost art of drying the wash.
Hanging clothes on a line! What skill is involved you may ask yourself?
At first glance it may seem like an easy task of pinning clothes on a taut rope, but I’m afraid laundry is not so simple after all. Long ago there were clear cut rules for clothes drying, that dare not be broken.
And so, today I thought I should share some of these long forgotten rules. You never know, in years to come, my little ones may live in a time when hanging out the wash comes back into vogue.
My boys may be delighted to find their mother’s rambling blog post outlining their great-grandmother’s family secrets and unwritten rules of the Irish clothes line.
1. Check the skies before exposing your wash to the elements ….
My mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother, and the whole long line of mothers who have gone before me, were expert sky watchers.
Weather watching is a long lost skill. My ancestors knew the exact shade of Irish grey which inevitably foretold rain.
My Skibbereen granny would say – “Look to Mount Gabriel for rain.” When the mountain appeared closest, rain was on the way. Or maybe it looked further away, when a downpour threatened. I wish I had paid better attention to her weather warnings.
The fresh and airy scent of sun dried clothing just off the clothesline is amazing. But let’s face it, a rain free spell is required, if this “solar dryer” is going to help save money and energy. So only hang out the wash if a few dry hours are guaranteed.
And whatever you do, don’t hang clothes outside when it’s icy. Freeze dried clothes are a no, no. They lose their shape and get baggy. You see, water expands when it turns to ice, so fabric fibers are stretched in harsh winter weather.
Finally, be cautious of very windy days. Nobody likes to retrieve their undies from a neighbor’s yard.
A dry day with a light breeze is perfect for hanging out the wash.
2. Clean the line before hanging a single shirt ……
Remember birds love to leave their calling card, so wash that clothesline.
And don’t remind me of spiders, who love taut ropes to anchor their webs.
In October, Irish spiders go crazy weaving their sticky traps, and a multi-corded rotating clothesline is like spider heaven. So trust me, always wipe down the rungs of your line.
3. Do not waste pins or pegs:
Efficiency is key. Try to line the clothes up so that each item does not require two pegs, but instead each adjoining garment shares one peg with its neighbor.
Now this may seem like a silly rule, but trust me, if rain is coming and getting those dry clothes off the line in double quick time is essential, then you’ll be extremely glad of your peg economy.
Pegs are what we call clothes pins in Ireland, and try as I might I can’t seem to change to the term pins.
4. Never hang an item with a stain ….
Every item must be inspected prior to hanging. God forbid a stain should slip past your diligent eyes, and be hung upon the line.
What would the neighbors think? Even if you live in the back of beyonds, far from the madding crowd, never let a stained item adorn your clothesline. You may not lay eyes on a visitor for months on end, but the very moment a stain is displayed for all to see on the washing line, you are certain to have a caller.
Stains are simply not allowed.
5. Sheets and towels to the outside to conceal the “unmentionables” on the inside.
Always hang sheets and towels on the outside lines with any “unmentionables” hidden in the midst of all the hanging layers.
Long johns and Y-fronts are hung with the front away from the line of vision. Eyes may only rest on the back side of said garments.
Rotary lines allow small items to be placed on the inner strands. Long straight lines should have at least three parallel ropes. Hide those undies on the middle line.
6. Clothes off the line by dinner time:
Never leave your wash on the line overnight. Dark skies can bring any kind of weather, and who knows you might awaken to wet, soggy laundry in the morning.
I don’t care what the weather lady says on the television. She’s wrong most of the time, and she has no clue when Ireland’s infamous scattered showers are going to scatter their love around the country.
And don’t forget, you need to miss wake up time for the birds. As the sun rises, our feathered friends love bright, clean shirts for target practice.
7. Hang shirts as they are worn, pinning them by the shoulders.
Now this little family rule of ours may be a little controversial since I’ve heard others advise to always hang a shirt by its tail.
But granny’s rational was this. If the shirt is hung upside down, then the arms dangle down and might get dirtied on the ground if the line is not high enough. The sleeves are sure to get dirty if you’re doing the wash for a man with mighty long arms.
8.Know thy fabric. Never hang stretchy woolen jumpers on the line.
Dry all of your woolies flat. A soggy sweater will stretch to the ground and never, ever, ever return to its original shape.
9. Never leave clothes pegs or pins on the line:
Remove your clothes pegs as you take down dry clothes. Wooden pegs left on the line rot in Ireland’s wet climate.
And worse again, metal clothes peg hinges go rusty in the rain. They deteriorate rapidly in the elements. So be fair warned, rusty pins will rip and stain your clothes.
10. Do not grumble about stiff, dry towels.
Towels dried outside feel a little rougher than the plush, velvety finish of a tumble-dried towel.
Our ancestors were not as “soft” as we are today. But they did have some tricks for decreasing the exfoliating factor of their towels.
Adding a little vinegar to the rinsing water also helps.
A windy day is a towel’s friend. Now gale force winds are not a good idea, or your poor towels will blow to kingdom come.
Give your towels a good shake before hanging them on the line. My granny loved to hear a towel “snap” when she shook it, before pegging it in place. We had great fun standing in the haggard by the clothes line, giving our towels a snapping-good shake-down.
And there you have it, my golden rules of the clothesline. Little did you know hanging clothes could involve such intricacies.
Alack and alas, many communities in the United States have adopted deed restrictions limiting the unsightly practice of hanging out the wash.
My mother laments this every time she visits the US. She always praises the dry air of America.
“It’s a great country for drying clothes,” I have often heard her exclaim. “It’s a shame nobody hangs out the wash.”
And so, after the stress and strain of writing this blog post, I’m off to throw another load of laundry into the drier.
Slán agus beannacht!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom