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shifts and petticoats on a line

Living history laundry

We spent Labor Day laboring at home: even the Young Mr spent the day working on a five page essay (due Wednesday) for history class. I spent the day tidying the house and washing clothes from all centuries.

Of our historic clothes, I don’t often wash more than body linen (shifts, shirts, stockings) but the petticoats had not been washed in some time; in the end, I washed the tow and blue striped one, but only aired the Virginia cloth and madder linen. Since I may not wear these again this year, washing and airing seemed warranted.

It’s incredibly easy to wash in this century, with the luxuries of indoor plumbing, a hot water heater and a washing machine. At Walloomsac, though I didn’t do any laundry, we were always fetching water, and I think of how much water we use, and how easily.

chintz and checked clothes on a  clothesline

Red, white and blue

While I stitched a dress (new, though the mending pile is growing), I listened to biography of the Buddha, and thought about mindfulness and living history.

What is there to learn from sewing a gown, or hanging my wash on the line? How much does it matter that sunlight makes my shifts brighter, or that the dress in my lap is not a exact replica of an extant garment, but rather one made using period techniques, a close analog of a period fabric, and is cut to period style?

So little remains of the vast middle and smaller lower classes that it would be stifling to limit oneself only to exact replicas. And in any case, we can never recreate the mindset or worldview of the people of the past. We can only mimic their processes, read their words, and study the things they have left behind in our best attempts to understand them.