It was a lovely day for putting the washing out on the line – blue skies, warm sun even in March, a slight wind from the right direction, but I had been doing other things and only realised mid-morning. No matter, clothes in the washing machine, detergent, press go, wash then spin and out the laundry went. In the old days, nice weather or not, washing was a massive operation. Many people – including my grandma, had to heat the copper, there weren’t he modern detergents we have now, clothes would have to be pounded by hand or with a dolly or a washboard, and then a mangle would squeeze out water. I’m always aware of past washer women, and men, when I blithely throw the washing into the machine.
I am interested in how people in the past coped – and how particular they were with specific items and how they should be cleaned. I am not completely sure what cretonne is, but if you have some and want to clean it in the old-style, here is some advice, from something I wrote a couple of years ago:
In many old cookery books there is a section at the back about household chores, including cleaning. How easy it is for us with our constant hot water, washable fabrics with permanent dyes, or expert dry-cleaners, all the detergents and sprays and soaps for every possible use! Just think back to when cleaning was such a chore, and there weren’t washing machines, tumble dryers, heated clothes racks and airing cupboards.
I’m looking at a book which is nearly a hundred years old, and not being distracted by how to remove blood stains, candle grease or creosote, and wondering if these days anyone has antelope skin bags, net veils, or anything made of stockinette, or trying to find out what repp is (a type of ribbed fabric made from cotton, wool or silk, I came across this complicated procedure for cleaning cretonne. According to Wikipedia Cretonne was originally a strong, white fabric with a hempen warp and linen weft; now it is usually coloured, unglazed and printed on both sides. . If by chance you have some which needs cleaning, this is what you should do:
Cretonne is best when washed in bran water. The advantage of this is that it preserves the colours to a great extent.
Half a pound of bran is required for each gallon of water. Put the bran in a large bag of butter muslin and fill his not more than half full then tie securely. Place the bag of bran in the copper with the required amount of water. Bring slowly to the boil and boil for half an hour. Then draw off the water and add cold water to make it tepid. Squeeze the bag of bran well in this and before adding dissolved soap to make a lather, keep some of the bran water for rinsing.
Wash the cretonnes quickly and use the water tepid, or even cold if the colours run. Rinse them in tepid water and finally bran water. When partly dry, iron on the wrong side.
So to complete this you would first have to light the boiler under the copper, dissolve some soap and then go through the boiling, squeezing, adding tepid water before you even start washing! We are so lucky!