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Monday, June 11, 2012

Dreaming of an Old Fashioned Clothesline

There is something sweet about the image of a mother and child hanging laundry at the clothesline together.

It reminds me of simpler times when life wasn't so complicated.The image of white linens flowing in the breeze on the line is such a classic one.

Of course the reality is dragging hot, wet laundry outside on a hot summer day is probably anything but glamorous. I don't know because I have always had a clothes dryer. I am installing a clothing line to dry delicate things and linens but I don't think I would have the energy to dry all of the laundry on the line.....Although dragging it outside and all the lifting and such is probably good exercise.

 Modern housewives are so lucky to have a choice. 

I have always thought it odd that in warm and mild Southern California where I live there are so few people who use clothing lines outside to dry their clothing. There are  laws and ordinances here that ban visible clotheslines from certain suburban neighborhoods. Things like clotheslines and chickens roaming in the yard are considered unsightly  in a lot of California areas.
 But people's attitudes about these things are changing thanks to the urban homesteading and green living movements. Did you know the clothes dryer is probably the biggest electricity waster in the home besides the refrigerator?

 I have been lucky enough to have lived abroad and have traveled to several foreign countries. 
And everywhere outside of the US, the clothesline is seen. 

My dad used to describe growing up in New York City in the fifties and this is what it looked like:

You will find clothing hanging outside small apartments in Europe, Japan,and Mexico. Few homes abroad have a clothes dryer at all.

When I was buying appliances for our place in Pezenas, France ten years ago, and asked about a dryer, the salesman explained most people didn't have dryers but pointed me in the direction of the meager stock of clothing dryers which were very expensive. I guess he wasn't on commission because he wasn't too concerned about selling us one. 
We opted to dry our clothes on the line too. Electricity in France is so expensive compared to the US. 
Apparently clothing dryers were thought of as a wasteful luxury. 
Sort of like the big, American cars we drive. I'm not sure if attitudes about clothing dryers have changed in the last 10 years in Europe or not. However, one of my best friends moved to France and has a baby and husband there. She does have a dryer but tells me not many families have one.

 I grew up in an old 1920's bungalow in Los Angeles.We had an old galvanized metal clothesline in the backyard.  There were two T shaped poles with attached hooks to hold the line. 
We used the electric dryer.
Homes aren't built with clotheslines anymore but I did find a steel T shaped bar online through Wal Mart similar to the one in my childhood back yard. I bought two of them but they don't look nearly as strong as the old ones.
I am looking forward to installing it. It will look so vintagey.
 I can't wait to photograph my creations on it! 
Now if I can only get my husband to help me dig some holes and mix some cement to install it.... Pin It


  1. Hey Justine! Thanks for this post, I enjoyed reading it. I got an outdoor rotary clothesline myself a few months ago (one of the Juwell ones with the retractable covers so I don't get dust lines all over my clothes), and I have to say I love it. While I always had a dryer growing up, my grandparents all dried their laundry outdoors while I was a kid, so I have these fond childhood memories of helping them hang out the wash. I find that it doesn't really take that much more time to hang out the wash than it did for me to dry it in the dryer. The little extra exercise is great, the outdoor cats keep me company, and I get a little more vitamin D than I otherwise would. I don't mind the days that are 90+ degrees, either. I also like watching the weather map to see if there's a rain shower coming up.

  2. I was in Italy last October and clothes dryers are still scarce in the home. They did have laundrymats, so not everyone had to hang dry. But there was laundry hanging outside of windows all over Italy. It was rather inspiring. We have decided to stop drying sheets and blankets.

  3. Most people in Europe still don't have a clothes dryer and very few of them would even consider buying one. I do have one and use it in the winter, because with 9 people in the household I don't how could keep up. But in summer I dry all our clothes outside. It's not an easy job, but it seems like a complete waste of electricity when there is heat for free outside (plus the dryer warms the house - which is good in the winter, but foolish in hot summer).

  4. I love this post! My grandmother has always had a clothes line, and she still uses it in the summer, though not as frequently as she did many years ago. I loved helping her hang clothes out on the line as a child. She always tells anyone who will listen her story of when she was first married and went outside to bring the clothes in. She got back in the house and started getting them out of the laundry basket, only to realize a garden snake had crawled in with her laundry! So, watch out for the snakes, lol.

  5. We always had a clothesline growing up (in suburban Canada in the 80s and rural New England in the 90s), and though we had a dryer to use if there was a really long stretch of rain, sunny days were always laundry days because you could hang up the wash. In the winter, we'd dry things indoors by the wood stove, because of the added bonus of humidifying the super-dry winter air. I mostly remember tearing outside to bring in the clothes every time it rained (because you know there are ALWAYS clothes being laundered!) and occasionally having to chase one's shirt or underwear into the neighbor's property because the wind ripped it off the line. I wonder now if it was money or just tradition that made my mom so determined to line-dry when we had a perfectly good dryer in the house!

    I wish I had that option in the urban apartment I have now, because the effort to hang it up and take it down would SO be worth the effort I spend rounding up quarters for the laundromat! I wish we still had those clotheslines strung between buildings!

  6. Justine - Loved your comments about line drying washing. I take great pleasure in pegging sheets on the washing line and hearing them snap in a wild wind. An old tradition here in Scotland (and probably elsewhere in the UK) was to lay your washing on a "drying green" or "green" on finer days. This was just a grassed area of your garden.
    A couple of years ago on a visit to New Hampshire,I remarked to a relative on the distinct lack of washing lines in her remote country neighbourhood and her condescending response was "Oh, that's so Third World. Well, was I insulted, but she thought nothing of using up the nation's energy when throwing her washing to dry in an energy guzzling machine. I was positively insulted !!!
    In my younger days (1970's)when living in Aberdeen in a tenement flat 4 floors up, I was allocated Monday as my wash day and had sole use of the entire "green" to dry my washing. I remember it was a long hike up and down those stairs with a load of nappies. The things you do when you're young and fit .....

  7. Great post Justine! We had a T type clothesline growing up, and it had ?3 lines on it. There were 4 children, and lots of laundry. I remember running in between sheets and smelling that fresh scent. Every Easter, there would be Easter eggs in the T and the bigger kids got them first.

  8. These are such lovely stories . The clothing line seems to bring back such fond memories. I would love for my kids to have memories like that someday.

  9. Hi Justine, U have the best topix and pix. Reminds me when I was wee and would hand my mom clothes pins out of the special clothes pin bag, fabric of course! We had a straight line in the back and 2 in our basement for winter. No dryer. There's nothing like the smell of laundry dried outside. People don't realized that things like laundering and ironing are becoming lost arts.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  10. I remember my mom and my grandmas having clothes lines in the '60s and '70s. I wish I had one now. I may need to talk to hubby about that, since I like the "fresh air" scent!

  11. I used a clothesline of some sort all the time when I lived in Europe. I loved it. We have a washer and dryer here at our home in California. However, I do want to use a line dryer. We want to purchase a couple of y-folding line dryers :) :)

    Yeah, I think it's really silly that some towns have laws against this stuff. My cousin lives in a neighborhood with rules like that.

    Oh, i can't wait to see your clothes line once it's all set up :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  12. WHOA. I just strung a crappy clothesline across my driveway in the back to hang the pile of blankets I have been putting off washing. Why in the world does everyone act like one blanket is not enough and then they pile about five on themselves and who has to wash them????? Even the dogs and bunnies get their own blankets. sheesh. I was wishing for a good old fashioned clothesline like the kind I grew up with in Monterey Park and East L.A.
    Man, in this Oklahoma heat and sun, things dry super fast. I love the way sheets and blankets smell after drying on the line.

  13. Lovely post! I've never owned a clothes dryer, and with all the rain vi get here on the west coast of Norway I should certainly one. I swear to outdoor drying when the weather permits. I remember my childhood from Englad, the washing on the line in the back yard, and the prop ( a large wooden stick to lift the line up. When it was wet outside we used something called a pulley, which was attached to the ceiling inside the kitchen.

    Thank you for reviving memories!

  14. I have been dreaming about clotheslines too...we had one growing up....and used it all summer.

  15. Here where I live in rural, cool-weather Washington, clotheslines are common. The smell of air-dried linens is so sweet! When I was in Mexico we dried everything on the line, on the few rainy days that we had we had to bring them inside and dry them in the attic. Make sure to dry everything inside out so that they don't fade. I use the less-romantic option--a rope tied between two points, that way I can move it when I need to.

    1. Hi jaime! Thanks for the tip about turning clothing inside out so it doesn't fade. It's one of those things you don't really think about until it happens to you!

  16. Justine, loving the new look of your blog, we live in Alberta, Canada, home to the 6 month winter and we've been in our house a year and not bothered with a Dryer, even a cool Spring breeze can dry your laundry so we hang out all our washing whenever we can and indoors during the winter, even with a little baby we still haven't missed having a Dryer. Nothing beats the smell of laundry dried outside and the Sun on damp whites acts as a natural bleach too :)

  17. Just thought I'd write a post from England! I'd estimate about 40% of people have what we call a 'tumble dryer' here. I used to have one and I loved it, but then I moved and there isn't space for one in the new house so now it's outside clothes line when dry and indoors when wet. It's funny watching people race to hang up their washing when it looks like it won't rain for once. I miss my dryer, but then again the clothes smell fresher for longer when they're dried outside on the line...

  18. Hello Justine! I'm writing you from Switzerland. The building I'm living in didn't have a tumbler dryer until two years ago. I'm used to clothes lines but the dryer comes quite handy with a small kid.


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