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Are Clotheslines Retro?

June 20, 2008

photo by tobyleah on flickr under a Creative Commons license

I hope not. I think they’re the Next Big Thing.

My mom used to hang out the sheets when I was little. I remember the fresh, clean scent of the fabric and its crisp hand. Why has it taken me so long to put up my own clothesline?

Years ago I took my laundry to the local and extremely crowded laundromat. One had to keep a hawk eye out for machines about to be emptied or for a folding table with an efficient folder. There were lots of dirty looks and pointy elbows at that laundromat.

This was before laundromats began having amenities like a television (although watching Jerry Springer would have made the experience worse), and wi-fi access was probably just a gleam in some engineer’s eye. For that matter, so was the internet. I didn’t own a Walkman. I didn’t know how to sew or knit. Reading a book meant missing out on newly empty machines, which wasn’t worth the time lost. I believe I graded papers to pass the time, which made the experience even more dismal.

Those details came back to me only at this writing. What I have always remembered about that laundromat is the sign on the wall extolling the virtues of electric dryers. Dryers are more hygienic — no more dust, dirt, or (horrors) bird droppings on your clothes. No more clothing faded from the sun. And the heat of the dryer magically eliminates wrinkles, so there is no more ironing. A happy housewife in dress and heels smiled at the shiny appliance. Didn’t I want to be like her?

Lord, no. Even though I smirked at the sign and lamented the lost clothesline, it sadly never occurred to me to use one. I want to go back in time and beat myself about the head and shoulders. (And hand myself a sewing needle, thread, and a bit of cloth.)

There is an art to clotheslines. A bit of experimentation, and sneaky looks at other people’s clotheslines, taught me to hang shirts from the bottom and pants from the top, unzipped and with pockets pulled out to allow air to circulate inside. Towels and sheets need extra clothespins or you will find them in the perennial garden. (It took me a week to find one of my son’s shirts behind the daylilies.) On sunny, breezy days I can put out two loads, but when it’s still or humid, there will be damp towels and wet waistbands at the end of the day.

And how on earth does one manage the clothespins? Take a shirt. I pin one side, which twists under the weight of the rest of the shirt, and try to get a clothespin out of my mouth and onto the other edge of the shirt. Then I have to re-pin the first side, which has wrinkled under the pin. Then back to the laundry basket for more pins before wrestling with a towel. The kids have a good laugh when they see me trying to hold the towel to the line with my head while reaching for a clothespin.

Thank heaven for free patterns on the internet. Life is now a bit easier, with a retro-styled clothespin apron:
Tied in with bow:

In keeping with the ideals of conserving time and energy, I tried to make the apron entirely from materials I already had. In the end I did have to buy two dollars’ worth of brown fabric at Wal-Mart (I know, I know) for the binding.

The pattern is from Lucy at My Byrd House and I love it. The only changes I made were to simplify the waistband and change fabrics at the bow-end of the ties.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2008 10:42 am

    What a lovely post! And a great apron! In our co-op, the forces that be have decreed that clotheslines are unsightly and not allowed – idiots!I use a folding wooden clothes dryer, but it won’t hold a whole load of laundry so I have to drape things over the shrubs and fence anyway.

  2. June 27, 2008 9:50 pm

    Ah, yes, retro and yet so timely. I prefer old-fashioned rope lines over wire (yuck!) but need the longest pole to keep it from sagging sheets onto the ground. The engineer in the household who put the latest line up says it can’t be tightened or it will pull out the hardware holding it from shed to house. And, Heather, you need to move!

  3. July 8, 2008 11:24 am

    We had one just like the one you pictured growing up. Really? You had the perfect clothespin apron fabric in STASH! How perfect is that?! Gorgeous apron.

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