Monday, November 16, 2015

Doin' the laundry and makin' the bed by Paty Jager

Back before there was a Sleep Center or Laundromat people had to make do with what they had.

If the story I’m writing down for my new western historical series, the characters spend the night in a cabin that is for travelers in this road. In the cabin are two sets of bunk beds made with rope. This is how a rope bed is made. Many people used this kind of bed.

Making a rope bed:
If wood and hemp weren't available to make a rope bed, they would make a pallet on the floor. A rope bed consisted of a bed frame made of four posts and four side boards. Holes were bored through the sides every nine or ten inches and rope or cording woven in and out of the holes back to front and side to side making a grid. Then sacking or ticking was used to make the casing for the mattress and it was either filled with straw or feathers from ducks or geese. If straw was used they would take out the old and put in new every year at threshing time. If there wasn’t any grain to be threshed they might take it out and let it air in the sun for a day and then put it back in after they washed the ticking.
Washing clothes:

If a person found themselves traveling far from towns, the best way to clean clothes would be to beat them on rocks near a stream. Where they could be dunked, the dirt smacked out of them, and then dunked again and hung up to dry on bushes or rocks.

Did you know that dirt was rinsed and beat out of clothes before they were put in the boiling water? They did this to not set the stains with the hot water. One way to do this if there wasn't a washboard around was a rough board raised on legs. The garment being washed was dunked in water, placed on the board and beat with a paddle, shoving the dirt and water out of the cloth and into the grooves in the board. This was done thoroughly, the garment was rinsed, turned over and beat again, making sure the stains and dirt were gone before they were put in the soapy water and boiled. After twenty minutes  of stirring the garments to make sure the soap had filtered through it all, they were lifted out with a square, long-handled paddle and put in a barrel or tub of fresh clean water, rinsed and put in another tub of fresh water, then hung up to dry. 

photo taken by Paty Jager
A heavy cast iron kettle was usually used for boiling the clothes. A fire was built under the kettle after a bucket or two of water was added, so as not to crack the kettle from the heat. As the water continued to heat, buckets were added until the right amount was in the kettle and the water boiled. Wood had to be kept under the kettle to keep it hot.  

The long paddles were made of pine because it was a light wood. The long handled paddle for stirring the garments had a square handle. This kept the handle from spinning in their hands when they pulled a heavy object out of the kettle and less clean garments were dropped on the ground.  The paddle end had rounded corners to make sure the kettle could be scraped thoroughly to get all garments out of the water before it was dumped out.

I can say after reading about how they did laundry I'm thankful for my washer and dryer. Research and digging up how people did things in the past is one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical books.

Have you ever had to do laundry the old fashioned way?  I did when we were first married and the washing machine froze in the winter. I had a baby and had to do the laundry. I washed the cloth diapers and baby clothes in the bathing tub. I let is soak, smashed it around and used the side of the tub to smash and push the dirt out. It was hard bending over the tub but clean clothes were essential and we couldn't afford to fix the washer or pay at a laundromat. 

This information was taken from a Firefox book. They are great references for how settlers and pioneers lived.


Zina Abbott said...

Thanks, Paty. I kind of knew the general method, but never knew the particulars of the old pioneer wash day. It helps us understand why wash day was the dreaded day of the week. No wonder they did it on Monday so they could get it over with. Boy, am I glad for my washer and dryer.

Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

Alison E. Bruce said...

My mother had to do the washing by hand when I was a baby. Once my parents could afford a washer and dryer, she never let it break down for more than a day. The only things she'd hand wash were socks and underwear when we were traveling.

I remember playing with the washboard as a child. I used it as an instrument, never to play at washing clothes.

Paty Jager said...

Zina/Robin, I agree. They must have wanted to get the laundry out of the way on Monday. I think it was also because everyone took baths on Saturday night and they didn't want the dirty clothes laying around in the small homes, so they washed them up on Monday. But that's just my mind thinking! Thanks for commenting!

Paty Jager said...

Hi Alison,
The washboards in my post are mine. I have them hanging on the laundry room walls. ;) Thanks for stopping in and commenting!

Margie Vickers said...

I remember my grandmother doing the bedding that way. For regular stuff she used wash board until we got a gas Maytag wringer washer. That was heaven, but smelly because it used gas for motor. Good old days. Lol

Margie Vickers said...

I remember my grandmother doing the bedding that way. For regular stuff she used wash board until we got a gas Maytag wringer washer. That was heaven, but smelly because it used gas for motor. Good old days. Lol

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Next time I do laundry, I promise not to grumble...I also won't be remarking about how long I've had my nice, soft bed that has no ropes involved. *lol* Great post, Paty.

Krista said...

Thanks for the insite Paty ! I would love to try making a rope bed. Maybe if i make my kids sleep on one, they'll appreciate their rooms more lol.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Margie! Sounds like you have good and bad memories. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

Hey, Ginger! Yes, can you imagine sleeping on the ropes? I have my characters in my latest WIP sleeping on them. The hero ends up outside under the wagon. ;) Thanks for commenting!

Hi Krista! Most would put a ticking over the ropes but for the purpose of an overnight respite for travelers, the travelers would have to provide the padding between them and the ropes. Thanks for stopping in!