Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Walking through East Harlem the other day, I happened upon a once-iconic New York scene that has mostly disappeared in recent years - clothes hanging out to dry on lines strung between apartment buildings. Thank goodness I had my camera with me and could document the clothes flapping in a cool autumn breeze.

You don't see clotheslines much anymore. England's about the only place I've seen "working" clotheslines in recent years. English-mum Jeannie always hung clothes outside to dry, no matter the temperature. Only a dowsing rain would cause her to use her clothes dryer. But I never see clothes a-wave on lines in the United States. Not in New York. Or Atlanta. The closest we come to fresh-air drying anything is a wet towel thrown over a hotel railing at the beach.

Growing up, we had a clothesline that spanned our backyard (which was pretty wide). There was a wooden pole used to prop it up in the middle so the wet clothes wouldn't drag the ground. A nostalgic sight - the various materials flapping back and forth.

A few months ago, Bro sent an email with basic clothesline rules. Thought I'd share:

1. Wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes - walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth.

2. Hang the clothes in a certain order; always hang "whites" with "whites," and hang them first.

3. Never hang a shirt by the shoulders - always by the tail! What will the neighbors think?

4. Wash day on a Monday . . . Never hang clothes on the weekend, or Sunday, for Heaven's sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines to hide your "unmentionables" in the middle (perverts & busybodies, y'know!)

6. It doesn't matter if it is sub-zero weather . . . Clothes will "freeze-dry."

7. Always gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes. Pins left on the lines are "tacky."

8. Line the clothes up so that each item shares one of the clothes pins with the next washed item.

9. Make sure the clothes are off the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket, and ready to be ironed.

10. IRONED?! Well, that's a whole 'nother subject!

Still, I wouldn't trade a clothes dryer for an outdoor clothesline. The dryer just asks me to dump the clothes in and set a timer, then delivers fresh, warm, fluffy clothes in a matter of minutes. A clothesline requires a lot more time and energy. The clothesline is a romantic notion for painters, photographers, and nostalgic types. But in the real, work-a-day world? No thanks.

Do you still use an outdoor clothesline?


petercmoore said...

Yes, we've got a 'whirligig' type line - they're the most common over here. You get a lot more line in a small space.

We often hang clothes out only for it to start raining later. I'm happy to leave them out and wait for a dry day. The wind dries clothes more quickly than the sun. And I think they smell fresher when they've been hanging in the weather for a couple of days.

My washing-line rules:
1. Wooden pegs before plastic ones.
2. If you use plastic pegs, you must use the same colour pegs for an item.
3. Hang socks first.
4. Always hang underwear so they all face the same direction.

In winter we hang our washing on clothes-horses in the spare room. I think a dryer is still seen as a luxury item here, more so than a dish-washer.

MaryB said...

PT - Yes, Jeannie's line was the whirlygig type as well. I didn't mind the clothesline-drying except where jeans were concerned. Took forever to dry. Thanks for adding to the clothesline rules!

Anonymous said...

Bill's rules are true! Gaungie taught the Branum girls how to hang clothes and we followed them strictly! Many, many days...warm weather and cold...we hung out the clothes on the line that ran down our driveway...in full view of the Fraziers and the Addisons. We hid the underwear, too!

Great memories of days gone by on So. Moore Rd.


MaryB said...

So true, so true, Va. We were fortunate to have all been neighbors on South Moore!

Anonymous said...

I strung up a clothesline about 2 years ago. I use it mostly for sheets... talk about good smelling sheet!!
They fold nicely too. I don't like towels or underwear dried on a line, too scratchy. It's 31degrees here this morning. Think I'll use the dryer.

jomoore said...

The flats where I live have communal clothes lines strung out in the back yard, so they're 'public'.

I do feel slightly shamefaced if I leave my washing out overnight (though that doesn't stop me doing it), and I do 'group' the washing - towels, tops, bottoms, etc.

I used to be pernickety about matching peg colours, but I actually kicked the habit when PT blogged about it a while back and I decided it sounded slightly, er, 'special'.

(I've just remembered: I have a photo somewhere of PT, in full freezing weather gear - hat, scarf and gloves, hanging out the washing in the frost...)

Liz Hinds said...

Yes, I do. I have a proper line and a twirly one and I prefer the proper one. Sometimes I think I have turned into my granny as I watch the clothes blowing on the line and sigh happily!

I have wondered whether Americans hang out clothes. It's not something you see on television. It must be an art to get clothes strung between buildings like that. I'm glad you had your camea too.