Tuesday, April 8, 2008


There has always been something deeply satisfying to me about doing laundry. Though I may tease about it, I don't really mind that it's such an unending chore. The rhythm and repetition of it are more meditative to me than dull.

I love folding, for instance. When I was a teenager, I worked in a card shop that had a whole wall of t-shirts. I was more than a tad worried when, being the newby, I was assigned that quarter of the store on my very first day. (Wasn't that nice of them?) But, not to worry, a sweet Korean co-worker taught me how to fold those shirts in one, fluid, coordinated motion, ending in perfect, smooth, uniform rectangles every time. That wall-o-shirts was never out of order on my watch once I learned. I loved the action of the folding and the satisfaction of the order.

Still do.

And ironing. Call me crazy, but I love ironing. I love to take a basket of my husband's crinkled, twisted work shirts and my daughters' tangled church dresses and transform them to smooth perfection. I love the sound of the steamer on my iron with its helpful little kapuff of moisure. I love watching the point of my iron nosing away the wrinkles. And spray starch. Don't even get me started on the wonders of spray starch. If I could only take the wrinkles out of my life as easily as I can get them out of clothes, it'd be a perfect world!

Then there's wash-hanging time, when the world is almost perfect for me: Spring is here, the sun is warm, the breeze is light, the meadowlarks are singing... I have a basket (or two, or three) of wet clothes, a beautiful afternoon, and a cute little helper (or two, or three) to take care of it all.

One of my earliest memories is of helping my grandmother hang out her wash. She had a long, long line, like the one in the Dixie Selden painting (left), complete with the tall stick propping up the sagging middle. It was my job to hand her clothes from the basket and pick up clothespins that had fallen on the ground. It was an honor to be asked to help, and I can remember as clearly as if it were yesterday, my grandmother meticulously folding and pressing the creases into my grandfather's pants with her hands and carefully hanging them so the pins wouldn't leave marks. She hung all the cotton shirts upside down, placing the pins on the seams, again, to avoid leaving pin marks. All the towels were hung together; all the washcloths were hung together. Whites together, colors together. It made it easier to gather, fold and put away that way. I would stand holding the next item to be hung, waiting for my grandmother to take it, watching her concentration. She lived in that moment to do that task as well as she could, and she didn't mind a bit. It was her job and her joy to serve her family.

Like my grandmother, I fold most of my clothes as I take them from the line (barring an emergency rainstorm clothing evacuation), saving only socks, underthings, and an ironing pile for later. I let the little girls take turns helping just like my grandmother let her granddaughters, teaching them, bit by bit, how to hang the wash, from the easiest washcloths up to the most complicated knit shirts. (You have to be careful with them, as the pins will stretch them oddly.) I leave my clothespins to bleach to grey on the lines just as my grandmother did. I watch the sky for rain clouds, ready to run, but I'm never very sorry when the wash occasionally gets a finishing rinse from God before a final prairie wind drying. Everything smells so good, just like when I was a little girl at my grandmother's house. Fresh and clean. And I always feel a little fresher and cleaner for the airing out, too.

Laundry is a job, one of many, heaven knows. But, it's one I don't mind, maybe because it has so many happy associations. And it has to be done, regardless. My family might rather I were a gourmet cook or a better math teacher, but my heart's in the laundry basket.

Lisa's Laundry List
of "Secrets"
  • Mrs. Stewart's Blueing for dingey whites.

  • Be very careful about using bleach, as it can damage the integrity of your clothes if too much is used or if not rinsed thoroughly. (This is an elegant way of saying: Look out! Too much bleach can eat out the toes of your socks!)

  • Go here for very useful washing tips, including cold vs. warm vs. hot water use.

  • For very wrinkled clothes (that a tumble in the drier can't fix), dampen the entire article of clothing with a spray bottle before ironing.

  • Iron button-down shirts on the square end of your ironing board, placing the whole inside shoulder on the right angle. Much quicker and easier. Use the pointy end of the board for the top of pants and the inside of upper sleeves and collars.

  • To iron tablecloths: Spread a blanket over your dining room table, dampen the tablecloth and iron on the table. Alternatively, you can often just dampen the tablecloth and smooth it with your hands to dry on the table (Of course only if it's a table whose finish will not be ruined by doing this...).

  • Never underestimate how careful you have to be with the iron and ironing board (a personal worry of mine...). My little sister pulled an iron down, right over her poor little nose when she was just a toddler ~ and in just the space of time it took my mom to turn around and pick up something. I only iron in my room with the door closed and put the hot iron up on the top of my closet shelf to cool off after I unplug it.(See the following You-Tube post for more reasons to be careful...) * Can you see, btw, how this really, really good reason to shut myself up alone in my room might cause me to appreciate ironing??

  • My all purpose stain removal trick is a dab of stain stick (pretty much any variety) or liquid detergent and a bit of Oxiclean rubbed in before washing (Hate to be a commercial, but it really does work!). But, if the stain's too tough for this product, or you want a ton of options, go here.

  • Knit shirts (and even sweaters that are not too "stretchy") can be hung on the clothesline by hanging them in half, longways, over the line. I try to avoid putting pins in them at all, so don't do it on a windy day. And I don't try it with my husband's best shirts, but it works especially well with the Littles' polo shirts and cardigans that can't be hung by the bottom seams.

  • It takes a little longer to dry, but I hang my big towels in half over the line to keep them "square." Hand towels and washcloths work fine being hung by their ends.

  • Matching socks as they are hung saves a lot of trouble later.

  • We throw our "odd socks" in an old pillow case hung by the washing machine and every so often have a sock matching party, with all the children spread out in front of a movie, matching socks. It's fun to put a basket at the far end of the room for them to try to pitch the matches in as they make them. We serve cheese and popcorn. It's an event. &:o)

  • Save the hopelessly unmatched orphan socks to make some of these... Or one of these... Or if that doesn't appeal, go here for lots of ideas!

Now, quick, grab your laundry basket and run over to Footprints on the Fridge for lots of laundry wisdom and know-how at the Simply Lovely Fair. Starting Friday Colleen will be hosting the latest installment ~ the Splendor of Spring Fair: Simply Lovely Laundry.


GrandmaK said...

This is a great Laundry Primer. I would always hang Polos and T-shirts over the line, as well as sweaters. so that they could be held on by clothes pins under the arms. Invariably,the wind would blow and they'd end up on the ground otherwise. Actually, I learned that from my mother so I really can't take credit for it. This was great. Thank you! Cathy

Kimberly at Echowood said...

What a great post! You put me to shame, though....I just came from my own blog, where I wrote about how much I hate putting laundry away! (I don't mind the washing or folding, though, at least). Your post reminds me of my mom; she always seems to take such pleasure in chores like this, and she also has neat memories of doing such things with her grandmother. I would love to have an old-fashioned clothes line (my grandma had one, too!). I'm not sure it would be "allowed" where we live. Did you know, in some neighborhoods you can't have a clothes line in your front yard? Crazy world. Anyway, I enjoyed reading about your love of laundry, as well as your great tips. :)

Marie said...

I'm paranoid about the iron for the same reason. A SAHD I know was ironing as his toddler son was playing at his feet. The boy took hold of the cord and it fell, landing square on his back. He had to go to the burn unit.

I don't mind laundry now, I do it every day. It gives me great pleasure that I don't have mounds of laundry everywhere, my hamper is rarely full. But when I had to go to the laundromat, ugh.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Am adding you to my blog roll by an oversight I don't seem to have done so..God bless..

Sue B. said...

Wonderful post. I've never had it in me to hang clothes outside. It's really encouraging to hear women say that they love laundry.

MaryM said...

What a great post - You have such a nice perspective on the laundry as a task of rhythm to our days. I love the memories from laundry days gone by (and the great pictures, too).

GB said...

This was truly lovely :-) It reminded me so much of my own grandmother and mother, who taught me exactly the same things (how to hang a shirt, where to put pins...) I've always loved the special smell the fresh air gives to laundry, if you can use a line outside (unfortunately, they're banned where I live now!)
A couple of things: you can hang t-shirts, polo shirts, or light sweaters on a plastic hanger and the put the hanger on the line, fixing it with a pin, so their shape won't change and you don't get that line across them.
Also, I've learned that the dryer is the worst enemy of my husband's nice shirts: they get all stuffy and I have a hard time ironing them. What I do is to use some liquid fabric softener when I wash them: I let them soak for a few minutes in it before the last spin and then I hang them on hangers on the shower rod! They turn out soft and fluffy and really easy to iron.
Thank you for this beautiful post!

Sue B. said...

Hey Lisa

I loved your post on the Laundry.

I am hosting the Loveliness of Spring Fair featuring Flowerpots over at my Attaining Virtue blog. So please send me links with posts and pictures of your spring flowers or send me an e-mail with your entry. Reflections on beauty and new life are encouraged and are also a personal need of the hostess.

The Fair begins tomorrow on April 16. So please let's celebrate the visit of our Holy Father with an April shower of flowers.

It is Colleen's birthday (http://footprintsonthefridge.typepad.com) on April 16. So you can wish her a happy day as well.

God bless you!

Susan Brennan

Christina Martin said...

Another hint: hang clothing on plastic hangers on the line. They get less misshapen that way, and they're already on hangers and ready to put away when dry. Plus, if you get sudden rain or something, they're faster to take down.

I've recently discovered that by saving money making my own laundry detergent, I'm also saving time. I combine two parts grated soap, one part borax, and one part washing soda. (Measure by volume, not by weight). It is very fast to make with a blender, and saves trips to the store. You use about 2 Tbs per large load, and it costs about 1/10 what storebought detergent costs, and is better for the environment.

If you can't find washing soda in the laundry section of the store, it is also called soda ash, and you can find it in pool supplies as PH+ or Sodium Carbonate.