Best Case Scenario Civilian Laundry

by Catherine Schirf

OVERVIEW and PURPOSE

This outline will focus on the best practices for laundry in a perfect situation, as if one had all the knowledge and resources available and they were being put into proper practice. This does not reflect the realities of camp life, or the practiced ignorance of people at all levels of society. But knowing this should help people develop demonstrations that suit their setting.

MATERIALS

These are what I am sharing today. I have done demonstrations without any of these things. Don’t panic, improvise. Things can be (and in many cases should be) added or removed depending on what you are portraying.  

  • 2 tubs. I have one large and one small. I have considered getting a second large, but they take up a lot of space and must be stored with water in them at all times.
  • A kettle. This can be as simple as a tin camp kettle. Research and read the debates.
  • 2 buckets and a yoke. Fun prop for the audience. Wonderful to use.
  • Laundry bats - Still doing research on their use in the colonies. They come in all shapes and sizes.  Currently unsure of the commonality of their use.
  • A bench or board (to work upon).
  • A hand mangle - A rolling pin without handles.
  • Soap - Lye soap. I have hard soap. Period soaps are soft unless salt is added.
  • A whisk for the soap
  • Starches - Wheat, potato or corn starch, Gum Dragon (tragacanth) and Isinglass
  • Indigo
  • A way to hold the kettle, a structure, chain or rope, hooks
  • Ash, Tallow, Suet
  • Firewood and a way to start a fire
  • A yard of cloth for bucking and to protect the linens during clapping.
  • Examples of fiber types and fabric types.
  • Vinegar

Things I wish I had

  • A nice iron
  • A smoothing stone
  • More bags and sacks
  • A brass kettle 
  • Another large tub
  • A dish for starching

Preparations

  • Dig a rectangular pit about a yard long. And 2 ft wide.
  • Set up your kettle and it’s stand.
  • Start a fire. Begin to heat water.
  • Make sure equipment is clean. Salt and sand are a big help in that.
  • Check for anything that is splintered or that could damage clothing.
  • Sort all of your chemicals in a way you would like to present them.

Presentation

What is washed?

  • Show fibers and explain fabric types. Focus on linens, cottons and hemps.
  • Explain what clothing is being washed, and house linens.

Marking and Mending

  • Be sure there is a laundry mark upon the clothing. Check buttons. Explain.
  • Sort clothing by fiber, use and filth. Explain.
  • Place a pin on the neck of any clothing that must be mended. Explain.

Prewash

  • Check for stains and resolve them, or be prepared to.
  • Presoak. Have a tub of water in front of you. Explain the use of lant, lye water etc.
  • Bucking- Place a cloth over a tub that has a bit of water and clothing in it, place the ashes in a large cloth over the tub (bucking cloth). Pour steaming water through the cloth and ash. Explain Bucking. Talk about lye.
  • The clothing can now be rinsed. Explain doing laundry near a waterway  or go straight into washing.

Washing

  • Whip some soap.  Add to the tub or the kettle. Talk about soap.
  • Pull out a piece of clothing. Wring it. Fold it carefully, explain.
  • Make sure there is a cloth upon the bench. Clap the clothing with a bat or with your hands dependent on the material. Continue the washing  cycle.

Bleaching, Bluing, Rinse and Dried

  • Take a piece of clothing from the wash cycle and lay out on the grass.
  • Share vinegar. It can be sprinkled and added to clothing.
  • Take a cup or bowl add indigo, add soapy water, make a paste.  Add to tub.
  • Put the fabric in the water, pull it out. Rinse with pump water.
  • If over blued, bleach with vinegar.
  • Rinse clothing in a tub. Fold into basket for starching, hang or bleach.

Cold and Clear Starching, Smoothing, Compression and Ironing

  • Generally done on the second day. Adds crispness, body and soil resistance.
  • Share the different starches. Mix up some starch. Clear or cold. When busy or anxious stick to cold. Clear is a lot of work, and you have to focus on it.
  • Clap starch into clothing.
  • Discuss mangles, irons and smoothing stones -  compression gives shine to linen.
  • Hand mangle example. Make sure to wrap very tightly.

Supplies