Thursday, 1 September 2016

1 January 1881 - 'How to Wash and Iron' by Ruth Lamb - Chapter Three

Technology, f**k yeah.

Amateur lace-washers should not stint time or patience on their work. Soaping, soaking, and many changes of water, with gentle pressing and working about, should take all the dirt out. If rubbed at all it ought to be between flannel; or, if necessary, the lace may be stewed in a slow oven, and with abundance of water in a covered jar.

No blue must be used, as it ought always to be dead-white; but it should be passed through the thinnest of cold starch - only a remove from water; say a teaspoonful to half a pint, just to set it. Squeeze out of this and straighten most carefully upon flannel, picking out every little point. Lay another square of flannel over, and pass the lace under the mangle. Afterwards iron it through flannel, taking care that it is well dried, and pausing to examine and adjust any little rumpled point. Done by this process your laces will look only second to those which have passed through the hands of a professional cleaner, and in the wearing will repay the trouble you have taken.

I mentioned that time and patience are needed, and, as I wrote this, I was reminded of a friend's troubles over a beautiful piece of Honiton point. She had seen a recipe for washing lace, and thought she would try it. Having washed the collarette, she found it was to be stiffened in water with a lump of sugar dissolved in it. But how much? I cannot tell what quantity she used, but certainly far too much. The iron was wrong, somehow, and stuck to the lace; another moment and she had scorched it. A hasty pull was followed by a tear, and a beautiful spray was rent from the rest. Then, wherever the iron touched it was stiff as buckram. Vexed at her failure, and too impatient even to see whether the mischief could be repaired, she flung the costly lace on the fire, put away her ironing materials, and vowed never to have any more to do with lace-cleaning. My friend owned to a "good cry" afterwards and a feeling of shame when she thought of her want of patience and the wanton destruction of her collarette - a birthday gift, too, from a distant friend!

Just a little inquiry as to the quantity of stiffening. A rinse to take out what was superfluous, a trial of the iron, a little pains in arranging the lace, and ill temper, wanton waste, and after repentance would all have been spared.

Take warning, dear girls. It is possible to fall into sin and suffer sorrow, even over the washing of a collar.

Now we will suppose the ironing finished. I hope all the strings have been carefully straightened, so the materials may be neatly put away If irons are not likely to be used for a length of time, rub them over, while hot, with a lump of mutton suet. When wanted heat them, to melt the grease; rub it off, then wash with warm soap and water and polish with a little fine brickdust.

I will now say something about those newer mechanical appliances and laundry fittings which are so valuable when the work is done on a large scale. Indeed, I should be glad if every mistress of a cottage could have her washing machine on a scale suitable to the requirements of her home and family.

Nearly all the good domestic machinery for diminishing and lightening the work of the laundress has been invented and brought into use within the recollection of middle-aged housewives. The washing machine, of which there are now so many varieties, was, like the sewing machine, a thing almost unknown in my childish days. Certainly modern inventions have done a great deal  for the relief and assistance of girl and women workers in these, their special departments of labour.

I once heard a young girl, who was not very fond of hand sewing, say to her mother, "Mamma, if I were going to be married and were poor, you know, I would save and scrape to get a sewing machine." I say the same about a washing machine, and if I were a girl, with the prospect of living in a little home and having my family washing to do, I would save and scrape beforehand in order to have this valuable help at the commencement of my married life, even if I earned its price in pennies.

But there are machines and machines. Seventeen years ago I was induced to buy one of the wrong sort, and it has been a piece of useless lumber nearly ever since. Labour was increased by its use, the clothes injured, the result unsatisfactory. We found out subsequently that the much-puffed article was an untested invention; that only three beside ours were ever made; and that the thing, which cost a good many pounds, was worthless. I want to save all young housewives and intending purchasers from a similar mistake and disappointment, and I will therefore describe what should be the characteristics of a good washing machine. It should be light in action, and involve little labour in the turning, simple in construction and easily adjusted, as well as not liable to get out of order. It should combine economy in soap, &c., with diminished labour. It ought not to tear or injure the more delicate fabrics which require cleansing. It should combine with it, in a compact and portable form, a wringing and mangling machine, unless you prefer the mangle to be separate.

If you want your combined machine to answer both for wringing and mangling it must have wooden rollers.

The little India-rubber Wringer is only intended  for the work implied in its name, which is does admirably.

The machine should also be cleanly in operation, and not involve the disagreeable accompaniment of a sloppy floor whenever it is in use, especially  for the wringing.

Let me now suppose that I am advising some dear girl who is preparing for married life, and about to select a washing machine, either for her own use or that of her servants. We must prepare for a little tour of inspection; for we do not mean to choose such an important article in a hurry, or take the first that comes to hand. We will find out the names of the very best makers of domestic machinery; ascertain how long their inventions have been before the public; if they have stood the test of time and public competition; and what position they have taken on such occasions. We will not ignore the medals that may have been awarded at the various great exhibitions. Then we will think over and compare notes as to the merits of two or three machines which, after due examination, we have fixed on as the best, or it may be, the best which our means will permit us to purchase. I shall, however, whisper to my girl companion if she has only a small sum to spend, "Better wait a few weeks and go on saving, than make a hasty purchase which you will afterwards regret. Have a strong, well-made article, however plain in appearance, and be sure it is fit for the purpose you want it, and will do its work thoroughly."

In machines of the same price we must then compare strength, size, economy, cleanliness, amount of work accomplished, b test of time and labour expended; also probable wear and tear of linen and of the machine itself. If possible, we must either obtain permission to test the machines we fix upon before purchasing, or else we must obtain information where we can see them in actual use. After such a careful investigation I think our young housewife can hardly be disappointed when her purchase is put to work in her new home.

Just one more caution. Most good makers improve upon their machines. They find out little defects in the first construction and remedy them by degrees. So we must mind that our machine has the latest improvements which have been tried and found to be really such.

I will briefly describe a couple of machines of undoubted excellence amongst many which possess considerable merit. The "Vowel," made by a firm famous for domestic machinery, and boasting one hundred and seventy prize medals, is in shape an unequal octagon. The bottom is corrugated by means of wooden bars studded with what look like large, smooth wooden buttons, against which the linen rubs as the barrel is turned. It can be had in as many sizes, with movable wringer, or combined wringing and mangling apparatus. The roller pressure is self-adjusting, and adapts itself equally to a stocking or a blanket. The front board, down which water is carried back from the wringers, reverses, and becomes a smooth table for holding the clothes as they are passed u mangle, and a roller at its edge acts as a revolving "carrier" to take them evenly forward. AS they go through at the back they are received on a bracket table, which can be lowered as soon as the mangling is finished, and thus adds nothing to the space occupied by the machine when out of use. The little India-rubber Wringer can be bought separately, and will fasten to any tub.

Machine number two, the invention of another firm, is called the Hexagon Eccentric, and if any young student of geography has been puzzled to understand how the earth moves round upon its axis, and why its poles are alternately elevated and depressed, a glance at this washing machine will instantly make it plain, since it moves round in precisely the same manner as the earth does. The inner surface of this hexagon barrel is perfectly smooth, and I asked the question, "How can clothes be cleaned in this, when there is nothing rough to rub against?"

The exhibitor invited me to come in and hour and I should see. I did so, and found that some warm suds had been prepared, to which a little dry soap was added in my presence. Then some dirty towels and greasy cloths were hunted up from a neighbouring refreshment room, and simply thrown in; the machine was set in motion, and three minutes afterwards the towels were wrung out quite ready  for the second water. Then I remembered that when visiting a great industrial school I had seen a larger machine of this kind worked by steam, and doing the washing for four hundred persons admirably and satisfactorily. It has a reversible motion.

In another little and very cheap machine the clothes are worked backwards and forwards between two rollers; others are semi-rotating peggies while one; a comparatively new invention, imitates hand rubbing to perfection; but the arrangement appeared rather complicated. Beside these, there are many other varieties; but leaving the washing machine proper, I will tell you something of sundry modern laundry helps that may be obtained, and in various sizes, prices, and styles.

The "laundry fork" is very useful, a smooth stick, with two blunt prongs of galvanised iron, to turn, stir, or lift clothes out of the hot copper. A double trough, with one partition for rinsing or blue water, and another for starch, with a wringer between, for facilitating this part of the work. Drying cupboards, ironing-stoves, and the old-fashioned box-mangle; but the latter so vastly lightened and improved that it has become a comparatively elegant article with continuous motion.

It is most interesting to see the part which gas is made to play in connection with laundry fittings. Whilst the electric light has been threatening to put out gas in one direction, invention has been busily engaged in turning it to account for cooking and as a motive power of great value. The little gas engines are used for coffee-grinding, book-stitching, silk-winding, braid-making, printing, and only a few days since I saw one working a large washing machine.

There are pretty little gas stoves which can be placed on a table and connected by a few feet of india-rubber tubing with an ordinary gas bracket. A single worker can heat her three irons on this, without any fire in summer. On its perforated centre she can also boil a  small kettle or pan of water, toast bread, &c., and all these at a trifling cost in gas.

There are also box-irons, heated by gas; a polishing iron for finishing and glazing collars, cuffs and fronts; egg-irons, shaped alike at both ends for working in and out amongst gathers, narrow trimmings, &c.

Goffering tongs are inexpensive, but comparatively slow to work with. The machines do beautiful work and very rapidly, having been much improved of late.

I must mention one more little article, called "the lady's gas-iron," which any girl would like to possess and use for straightening ties and ironing laces. It is nickel plated, is heated over a gas burner, and if it were not so useful we might almost call it a pretty toy. A young friend of mine was delighted to have one, and constantly turns her iron to account in getting up lace really beautifully.

I think I have now mentioned most of the laundry articles that are likely to be used in private houses, and some that are perhaps better suited for large laundries, schools, and business establishments of various kinds. But then, wherever washing is going on, whether on a large or small scale, girls are sure to be engaged in connection with it, so it is as well to know what articles can be obtained to improve the work done and to lighten the labour of those who perform it.

Glancing backwards at the various materials emmunerated and modern inventions in the way of machinery, we are led to wonder how people managed to purify their clothing in times when even soap was unknown. No doubt, in primitive days, the women used to take their linen to the nearest running stream and there cleanse it by rubbing, stamping, and rinsing in the clear water.

To this day the Hindoos carry their garments and wash them, without soap, in their sacred river, the Ganges; but when the practice was a common one the streams ran unpolluted between grassy banks. Neither garments nor the wearers were exposed to the dirt and smoke-creating agencies of the immense factories which produce so many articles of luxury and comfort, but alas! Foul sadly the fair face of nature, make our streams like rivers of ink, and now only fitted to wash all the white out of our linen.

Paris laundresses first soap and soak the articles, but complete the cleansing in barges on the Seine. Laying the linen on the flat edge of the vessel, they beat it with a wooden utensil, rinsing, rubbing and beating in turns, until it is clean. It does not appear that the fabric is injured by this process, or by a somewhat similar one which prevailed in country districts in Scotland.

Scotch lasses prepared their garments as above, and then beat them on a flat stone with a wooden mallet, rinsing frequently in the brook, and, with bare feet, treading them alternately in a tub of water.

Another mode of preparing white cotton or linen articles  for the river process was by means of steam, and this has been most practised in France. The clothes were first soaked in a ley of potash, and then hung in a steam-tight vessel, communicating, by means of a pipe, with a boiler. The steam loosens the dirt in half an hour, and little subsequent labour is needed. This mode may be carried out on a small scale with a copper kettle and a strong cask.

If any girl-reader thinks washing a contemptible and menial employment, let her peep over my shoulder at one of the most charming word-pictures imaginable. It is from grand old Homer's pen and Pope's translation, "Odyssey," Book VI. Read how Pallas is said to have appeared in a dream to fair Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous. The goddess bids the princess take all the state robes and wash them in the river, in preparation for her marriage.

The blushing princess goes to her father to ask  for the loan of his royal car, in which to convey the robes to the river -

"Say, with my garments shall I bend my way,
Where through the vales the mazy waters stray?
A dignity of dress adorns the great,
And kings draw lustre from the robes of state,
Five sons thou hast; three wait the bridal day;
And spotless robes become the young and gay."

The request is granted. And then we see the collecting of the garments, the packing of viands under the queen's direction, the preparing of the golden cruse  for the bathers to -

"Sleek the smooth skin and scent the snowy limbs."

The mules are harnessed; they start -

"Swift fly the mules, nor rode the nymph alone -
Around a bevy of bright damsels shone;
They seek the cisterns where Phaecian dames
Wash their fair garments in the limpid streams."

"Then emulous the royal robes they lave,
And plunge the vestures in the cleansing wave.
(The vestures cleansed, o'erspread the shelly sand;
Their snowy lustre whitens all the strand."

There is a picture of a royal washing day. Read the rest for yourselves, and you will wish you had been there to join in that delightful drive, and the fun that followed after the work was done!

Old Homer, however, says nothing about soap. The first writer by whom it is named is Pliny, who wrote in the last century before Christ. He tells about it as being of two kinds - hard and soft, and made of goat's tallow and the ashes of the beech tree. The famous German soap was not brought into Rome in Pliny's time for washing clothes wish, but - for what, think you, dear girls? For dyeing the hair red, the favourite colour in those ancient days.

But perhaps some young Bible student will ask, "What about that text in the third chapter of Malachi, written nearly four hundred years before Christ, in which it is foretold of Him that 'He is like fullers' sope, and shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, &c.?"

The word translated as "sope," many centuries after Malachi wrote, and when that substance had become common in all civilised lands, simply meant anything that cleanses - a detergent. Probably it referred to some kind of earth used by the fuller in the exercise of his business.

The labour of washing with nothing but water caused researches to be made, and various substances were employed as cleansing agents. The juices of what are called saponaceous plants, soap wort, &c., the gall of animals, still used for carpet cleaning and fixing the colours of stuffs; a ley or infusion of the ashes of burnt wood; infusions of meal or bran, carefully strained; and various kinds of earth, notably what we call "fullers' earth," from the purpose to which it is applied, were amongst the number.

Pliny tells us that in Rome cloth was first washed with Sardinian earth, then exposed to the fumes of sulphur, and lastly rinsed with a solution of another kind of earth.

Partially-cooked potatoes have been found an economical substitute for soap. In India rice-water is commonly employed for cotton and muslin articles.

Until the reign of Henry VIII, all the soap used in this country was imported, and London made none for itself until 1524. At that date the Bristol grey mottled was a penny a pound and black soap a halfpenny.

As a final piece of advice with regard to economy in the use of it; never waste your soap by leaving it in the water, and do not throw away your suds, if you have a garden.

They are a most valuable manure, and your flowers, fruit trees, even your little grass-plot, will be greatly improved by watering with soap-suds.

Starch, invented in Queen Mary's reign, came rapidly into fashion, as all the portraits of Elizabeth's day abundantly prove; but it declined in James the I's time, because a Mrs. Turner, the inventor of a famous yellow starch, wore a ruff stiffened with it at the time of her execution for complicity in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. The secret of preparing this died with her; but it was subsequently found that all starch had a tendency to give a yellow tint to linen. Hence the introduction of blue, a kind of salt brought into England in lumps, or as a fine powder. Starch is made from wheat, rice, and potatoes, the latter kinds being, I believe, inferior in quality to the others.

There is a great deal said in the Bible both about the washing of persons and clothing, especially under the law, as a means of purification from ceremonial defilement. And it is in that same blessed book that we learn the need of yet another kind of washing, even the purifying of the soul in that fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.

May we be led to desire that spiritual cleansing, and to use that prayer, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

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