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Paul Sandy, The Laundress, 1780. British Museum, 1904,0819.624

Paul Sandy, The Laundress, 1780. British Museum, 1904,0819.624

This print makes me think of Gertrude Stein, “Irons on the grass alas” because I think I would be pretty alas if I were ironing on grass. Still, I’m glad to know that ironing in camp is plausible, because it’s one more thing I can do, though also one more heavy item to pack.

I continue to chase laundry in my spare time, with a Pinterest board of collected images, which will give you a sense of the timeless drudgery of washing clothes. There will be stooping.

A Washerwoman, by John Varley (1778-1842). Tate Britain, T08695

A Washerwoman, by John Varley (1778-1842). Tate Britain, T08695

In this sketch by John Varley, he has helpfully given notes to supplement the lines.

“neckhandkf
spots Drab stays
blue check apron”

The symbol in front of ‘spots’ suggests the neckhandkerchief’s pattern, a dot in a square, much like the ones you can today from Burnley & Trowbridge.  “Drab stays” suggests a very utilitarian pair of wool stays, and that the washerwoman has stripped off her gown or bodice, and is working in shift, stays, and petticoat(s). This seems to be the same woman is in the “Woman with Wash-Tubs” drawing, and I’d guess her hat is straw.

A Scotch Washerwoman. Crayon drawing by Pauil Sandby after 1745. British Museum, Nn,6.61

A Scotch Washerwoman. Crayon drawing by Pauil Sandby after 1745. British Museum, Nn,6.61

There’s a remarkable consistency in the English drawings, though Varney and Sandby are about two decades apart. The tubs, the tools, the stooping: laundry is hard and unglamorous work, Sandby’s Scottish laundress aside. I can guarantee you that the 10th Massachusetts would have to outsource laundry in that style. (In any case, Scotland typified poverty and backwardness for late-eighteenth century Englishmen, so Sandby’s drawing, in addition to being titillating, is perpetuating English stereotypes of Scottish dress and practices and is, thankfully, not a reliable source.)