Hanging Out

There’s nothing like slipping between sheets that have hung on the line the first spring-like day of the year. Usually I will be tired and freshly scrubbed after working in the garden all day. The scent of line-dried, sun sweetened sheets is like a soft lullaby, and I drift off while visions of summer breezes dance through my head.

Last weekend the weather was warm and dry enough to use the outdoor clothesline for the first time. As I pinned the sheets to the line, I thought about the long line of laundry-hanging women that I am pinned to. Of course, modern appliances have eclipsed the clothesline for the last century or so, but there are those who are dyed in the wool clothesliners (my partner is one and I am becoming a convert). With fuel costs being what they are and climate change an ever growing concern - to paraphrase Joni Mitchell - we've got to get ourselves back to the clothesline.

It's a simple task, but satisfying and even a little meditative when I get into the rhythm - pluck an item from the basket, shake it out, pull the clothespins from the bag, pin them on the line; repeat; repeat; repeat. My mind drifts to beaches, and tea with friends and the good sleep I will have that night. The smells of the neighbor's fresh cut grass and apple blossoms float around me. Finches and robins serenade me. (I appeal to them not to decorate the clean laundry.)

Sometimes the clothes come off the line feeling rough; I usually cave in and toss them in the dryer (on fluff) for ten minutes to restore the softness (OK, I'm a weenie). I did find this information about just such a dilemma in Umbra Fisk's column on the Grist website:
Oh, crunchy dungarees are the worst. Some suggestions for reducing stiffness: use less detergent (a good idea in any case), snap out the wrinkles when hanging the clothes, hang in a partially shady spot, hang on windy days (see if you can set up your system to take advantage of prevailing winds), and position clothes with the heavy part on the bottom (e.g., pants with belt loops down).

I did a little research on the history of clothespins. Up until 1853, patented clothespins were awkward and impractical. Then David M. Smith of Springfield, Vermont invented a hinged clothespin with two wooden “legs." Smith's patent letters explained:
By pushing the two superior [upper] legs together the inferior [lower] ones are opened apart so that the instrument can be safely placed on the article of clothing hanging on the line. This done, the pressure of the fingers is to be removed so as to permit the reaction of the spring C to throw the inferior legs together, and cause them to simply grasp the piece of clothing and the line between them. This instrument unlike the common wooden clothes pin in common use does not strain the clothes or injure them when it is used...[and] it cannot be detached from the clothes by the wind as is the case with the common pin and which is a serious evil to washerwomen.
I just never thought of it that way.

Collection of clothespins from the Smithsonian
(Photo from the Smithsonian website)

Did you know that some communities prohibit hanging laundry outside? It's an aesthetic thing. It's also a ridiculous, bordering on criminal, thing, especially when energy conservation is of the utmost importance now. There are some advocacy groups that address this issue - one of them is Project Laundry List.

And I bet you didn't know that April 19th is National Hanging Out Day (not to be confused with National Coming Out Day).
Every year, on April 19th, Project Laundry List joins together with hundreds of organizations from around the country to educate communities about energy consumption. National Hanging Out Day was created to demonstrate how it is possible to save money and energy by using a clothesline.
Unfortunately, if I hang clothes on the line tomorrow, they'll freeze solid!

Here's a lovely poem by Amy Benedict about hanging laundry.

Wood on cloth on cord

by Amy Benedict

If I'm to be caught in a wave of terror
My whole sky life, wiped out
Blown to a tiny, dirt speck end
Vaporized into my next life
Without the long goodbye
The eye to eye pull kiss ending

Then catch me hanging sheets out in the sun

Out in the yard with the worms in the dark
Beneath the green, beneath my feet
With the sounds of this small city murmuring around me
The smell of clean, of apple, of breathing earth
The memory of love pressing, sighing, sobbing
Airing out the rhythm of rising and falling
Of giving in and letting go
And rising again

Finding just one edge to secure
Wood on cloth on cord
Forming a waving wall, a flag, a sail
Catch me hanging sheets out in the sun
Exposed, unveiled and holy


Laura said...

Great piece! My favorite phrase is this one: a serious evil to washerwomen. What a hoot! I had no idea today was a special day ... thanks for enlightening me!

Christine said...

One of my favorite childhood memories is sitting out near the brook with my grandmother as she hung out the laundry. Thanks so much for making me think of that today (and on such a sunny day--here at least--too!).

Tui said...

I'm a fellow hanger-outer. I agree that one of life's sublime pleasures is putting a clean self into sun dried sheets with a good book; it just puts everything right. You become more attuned to weather, the laundry version of being a farmer, perhaps.

Jackie said...

You took me back. I used to love the part where I would hold the dry sheet above my head, fold it over, smoothing and compacting it more with each fold, the sense of order, completion. The feel and sound and smell. I guess I've lost that pulling the still warm sheets from the dryer and walking them back to the bedroom to replace them on the feeling refreshed while plunking it on the bed and fitting the elastic miters to each corner of the mattress. You're inspiring. I might have to consider putting up a line...but I bet our Homeowner's Association would require a permission slip...sigh.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to contact Amy Benedict because I would love to include one of her poems in an anthology (about washing/laundry) I am compiling - do you have an email address for her?

Many thanks