Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Fine Art of Hanging the Washing

How many of you find this an activity that leads to conflict in the household?
Who taught you how to hang washing? Why do you do it the way you do? 
Have you ever considered these questions? 
I’m going to right now. Well, first I’m going to explain why.

As many of you know, I live with David and because I moved in with David who already had a washing machine, and because he is the most super of house-hubbies, he has been doing the washing ever since. Okay, one day I might learn how to operate his digital washing machine, but until I develop the courage to take that on, I’m happy enough to leave things as they are. Well, this morning some washing had come to the end of its cycle (or so I thought) so I said I’d hang  it out. I was just wanting to promote the ‘we’re in this together’ feeling and he was busy with something else…

So I dragged the load out of the machine, impressed that it could hold such a big load too! I started to hang things…the way I always hang them…the way I’ve been hanging them since I was probably knee high to a gnat and my mother began training me in the Finer Art of Hanging Wet Clothing on a Washing Line. I hang tops right across the line with the pegs placed on the seam under the armpit area where the sleeve joins the body. The reason for doing this is that the top dries nice and flat and either 1) needs little ironing in the case of more traditional cotton based fabrics or 2) just needs folding with more modern poly-cotton models. You can see this is based on sound science and generations of experimentation and discovery. House-hubby noticed what I was doing and commented, “Don’t you think it would be better to hang them from the end? Wouldn't they dry better then?” or similar. I smiled (I think…maybe not) and said, “Let’s see what happens shall we?” 

Notice that I swiftly avoided conflict in the outer world but my inner world was piping up in protest!
  • “Well, don’t you think that if I thought they would dry better some other way then I’d hang them some other way??”
  • "I’m 55 years old. I've been hanging washing on the line since I was knee high to a gnat. I think I know what I’m doing, don’t you?” (insert raised eyebrows here)
  • ”My mother showed me how to hang washing and I've always done it this way…and it works just fine!”
  • I've dried washing on boats in ten days straight raining…don’t tell me how to dry washing!!!”
After I got my brain to settle down a bit I did the only sensible thing a girl could do (you may argue with this point and that is fine)…I went back along the line and hung his stuff from the bottom. Ah, great compromise girl, and no feelings hurt. Then I noticed him getting the clothes horse set up inside near the fire. Hmmm this is not over yet I thought. He popped out the door and came back with an armload of quite soggy clothes. “I think you took them out before they’d finished spinning,” he quaffed.

I smiled to myself. I don’t mind if he brings it all inside to dry. That’s okay. I did wonder about whether I’d pulled them out too soon. The machine kept beeping a little digital song at me while I was getting things out and I noticed a light flashing alongside rinse (after I’d finished hanging them all), but they all smelled clean and not soapy (yes, I checked by rinsing a small item under the tap because they did seem a bit soggy; no soap came out!) and it seemed to have finished doing whatever it was doing. It was still and quiet. Now I think it was sitting quietly waiting to add more water for the second rinse. Right now I’m thinking I won’t give up my day job! I may well be banished to the computer to keep doing something I understand better; writing!

My cousin has a special way of hanging washing too. She likes to use matching pegs; each item has two red pegs or two blue pegs or two orange pegs. Or she did some years back – don’t know if that’s changed. I’m not sure if it’s something she learned from her mum or just something she does…must ask sometime!  

When I lived in Southern Tasmania a long time ago I used to boil all our handkerchiefs.  I used a pot specially reserved for that job, and I’d hang them on the lines I had strung up inside near the fire…and I used to count them. I know, it’s weird but I did. Do you know we had somewhere in the vicinity of eighty handkerchiefs? That’s ridiculous!

How about this one! I once read that towels actually dry more quickly if you hang them over the line rather than from the end. There was some scientific explanation for it in the article, but I can’t remember now; something to do with air flow…like with sailing boats. I hope someone out there might test it with a timer and get back to me with the results so I can use the data to shore up my reasoning for hanging stuff across the line.  It seems probable that the Hanging of Washing has forged habits and fostered theories world-wide…and no doubt conflict and arguments.

I remember once doing a Positive Parenting course and the presenter used the Fine Art of Hanging the Washing to explore and expose the different ways that we do things…all sorts of things…and how we can be so sure we do things the ‘right’ way or the ‘best’ way. Really, we just do things differently. I might struggle with the intricacies of the digital washing machine, but in the end we get clean, dry clothes to wear and that’s the main thing. It’s not worth arguing about.

I’d love to hear about how you hang the washing; maybe I’ll learn some new tricks from you!


  1. I love hanging out washing! Someone was watching me once upon a time and they commented on how long I took to hang out the washing, making sure socks were in pairs and evenly spaced etc and why would I do that. My response was "each bit of clothing I hang up belongs to one of my family and I think of them as I hang up each sock, each pair of undies, each shirt, each pair of jeans etc. It makes me feel good that I'm doing this job for them"....suffice to say, that someone thought I was odd and said so! ha! but I don't care!

    1. I agree with you Kaza. It can be a meditative thing to do and it is nice to remember that all the small things we do out of love for our family really are the big things in life <3 Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. There is something very evocative about a washing line full of washing flapping in the breeze. I do have to match the pegs or its not right. If I am stressed or anxious then I go as far as white pegs for whites, yellow and red for colours and green for black. Ridiculous, I hear you cry! But if that helps me in a ',moment', it is cheaper than therapy. Folding can also cause problems. I like the towels and tea towels folded in thirds, they stack better that way, this causes big problems when my Mum comes to stay. " I don't know where you get such silly ideas, Margaret!" Oh well, I will never match up to my Mum's expectations in anything, let alone the washing. There is a sense of great satisfaction when all the washing is clean, dry, ironed and put away. There is always the knowledge that we will do it all again next weekend, regardless of the weather.

    1. Do you think Maggie, that the sight of a line full of clean washing is kind of reassurance that all is right in the world (at least the immediate, close to home world)? One of my great joys is the smell of clean it! Have to say your peg habit under stress is interesting...funny things we do! I was reminiscing the other day about boating days with all the washing hung in the rigging. Most places don't allow you to do that now...many places you're not allowed to anchor, and marinas don't allow washing to be hung. It's a shame really...I used to like hanging the washing up to dry in the rigging. It was home for us. The only downer was that the salty air sometimes didn't allow things to dry quite properly. Happy washing days! Kerry xox