No doubt, there was a time before clotheslines, when laundry was spread out on bushes or other flat surfaces to dry in the sun and, in some parts of the world, that approach continues. However, the concept of hanging washed items from a rope or wire to increase air flow and speed drying was adopted a long time ago. In 1911, Australian Gilbert Toyne invented the rotary clothes hoist, as he called it, developing various models and patenting his final one in 1945. This kind of clothesline became very popular, especially for those without the space to hang a line.
(Toyne went on to invent various other laundry-related aids; claiming that, as one of 13 children, he was all too aware of both the importance and drudgery of laundry. One of these is the intriguingly named “Eezewac,” some kind of clothes-lifting device. I’m sorry to report that I could not find any pictures of it, so I am left to imagine just what it might have been.)
My mother had one of Toyne’s rotary clotheslines when I was a kid. Much to her frustration, my sisters and I took great pleasure, especially on the day she washed all the bed sheets, in playing hide and seek among the laundry. She soon turned this to her advantage, though, insisting that, if we were going to turn the clothesline into a game, then we could also hang and bring in the laundry.
I love clotheslines – my own and any others I stumble across, and I take pictues of them everywhere I go. The strong winds along the coast of Newfoundland mean the clothes dry almost as fast as they get hung on the line.
In fact, in Newfoundland fishing outports, fish are hung on a line to dry.
On narrow streets in Cuban cities, people often hang their clothes on lines strung from one apartment to the one across the street, creating a kind of canopy overhead for anyone out for a stroll.
In Morocco, we saw clotheslines sharing space with livestock, but we also saw women drying the household laundry by spreading it over nearby bushes and shrubs after having scrubbed it clean on river rocks.
There’s beauty in that line
My partner and I have never had a clothes dryer. Every time we move, we make sure there is a good spot for a clothesline, and getting that line hung is always one of our first priorities.
In the winter, we bat our way through drying laundry every time we walk through the basement. We need 24 hours to get clothes from dirty to clean and dry; 24 hours I often didn’t have back in the day when I spent much of my life on the road. However, knowing we are not using electricity to dry our clothes usually makes up for this inconvenience.
Then, there is the joy of the first day in spring when we can hang our laundry outside. This year, that day arrived earlier this week, when my partner filled our line with clothes and other bits and pieces. I spent some time admiring the look of the clothes on the line and, when they were dry and in the laundry hamper, I spent more time soaking up the smell of the outdoors.
Unlike my mother, I favour the clothesline over the rotary hoist model. There is something about that long line of laundry, especially when it is well organized, that is just beautiful.
What do I mean by well organized? Well, when I hang out the laundry, I group it by category: all sheets together, then the dish towels and cloths, followed by placements and napkins and finally the clothes, with each person’s hung together. Not only does this make the clothesline look tidy, there’s no need to paw through the hamper later to find something, because like things are already together.
Banning the ban on bans
Not everyone shares my fondness for clotheslines. Until 2008 in Ontario, it was not uncommon for condominium corporations and some neighbourhood associations to limit or ban clotheslines because they were seen as unpleasing to the eye. Obviously, those behind such policies had never seen my well organized clothesline blowing in a gentle breeze.
“There’s a whole generation of kids growing up today who think a clothesline is a wrestling move.”
He also noted that reducing the use of electric dryers would save people money, cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce demand on the power grid.
Ten years later, when he got rid of Ontario’s Green Energy Act, Doug Ford, no doubt motivated by a desire to keep his family’s copious dirty laundry out of public view, banned the ban on clothesline bans, leaving neighbourhood associations and others free to restrict people’s ability to dry their clothes outside.
Smelling the lilacs
Happy as clotheslines make me, there’s also a lot going on outside to give me hope this week.
Our backyard garden is beginning to take shape for the season and, the result of two days of hard physical labour by my partner’s son, the front garden looks downright lovely, crisscrossed as it now is by small paths among the flowers and shrubs.
At my son’s farm, a miniature donkey has joined the menagerie, and there are fresh eggs aplenty.
Bleeding hearts are in bloom, the sidewalks are pink with falling cherry blossoms and, best of all, the lilacs are out. This morning, I had to stop several times on my morning walk just to take in the intoxicating aroma, and I hope to carve a bit of time out of my work schedule today to drive to our secret lilac cutting spot just outside the city, so I can enjoy their colour and scent in the house for the next few days.