Clean Clothes

March 13, 2009

My adrenals say I have some explaining to do after last month.  I picture them standing in a nipped-waist floral house dress, tapping their high-heeled foot.

I am almost too tired to write a post, but not quite.  The momentum will keep me going once I start.

One weird thing about this move is that it leaves me very uneasy in a way that goes beyond the boxes and the construction-zone-ness of the space.  Uneasy and guilty.  It’s as if I am waiting for the gods to send a lightning bolt.  The hubris of living in a house three times as big as our tiny apartment!  It’s weird, but consistent with my character.

Likewise, as I was shopping for a washer I felt I was doing something wrong.  Decadent.  (Roman aristocrats, not chocolate.)  As I searched for the ideal washing machine to coddle the products of my expensive, intellectual, upper-middle-class hobby,* I thought of the women all over the world who wash their clothes in rivers, on rocks.

Actually, my parents made us a gift of the washer, which was lovely.  But then I felt guilty for parents who could afford to make a present of a washing machine.  Isn’t it dumb of me to have combined the over-sensitive perceptions of an aesthete with Evangelical guilt?  It’s a recipe for discontent; the trappings of Pietism are too ugly to bear, but Epicureanism has no moral rigor.  Ah lack-a-day.

Nice things about the house:

  • small town
  • central heat (We had individually controlled electric wall heaters in the duplex, some of which didn’t work properly.)
  • the space (lots of it)
  • happier husband (eventually)
  • the yard (large enough to plant big plants and even select a tree or two–my most favorite game!)
  • no always-at-home creepy landlord stealing my shovel ‘n stuff

Not so nice things about the house:

  • small town (Der Mann’s very apt comment when we were walking around it after first seeing the house was, “R___  looks like it has a Hell Mouth.”
  • central heat (improperly installed, it sends all the heat upstairs to make the bedrooms sweltering, while the downstairs is cold)
  • the space (ugly and inconvenient new placement of walls and fixtures from a no-permits, down-to-the-studs remodel, ruined/lost woodwork)
  • the yard, which I’m trying not to think about.  Literal tons of mostly-gravel fill dirt which discourages plant life and causes drainage toward the scary basement, topped with egg-sized river rocks.
  • radon (not uncommon around here, but I sort of wish I hadn’t got the test since there is no way to reduce it when it is just barely within “acceptable” limits.)
  • costs more to live here
  • all the work we will have to do
  • long bus commute for Der Mann

Best things about the house:

  • troupe of half-grown wild kittens which provide constant entertainment when we look outside
  • my new washing machine

The washer guilt faded as I had my first gigantic laundry day.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for your comments!  They gave me good things to think about.  After we returned the first washer, I realized that I am a clothes-washing anomaly.  You could call me an “active launderer.”  Or maybe a laundry witch?  I own a laundry stick*, for heaven’s sake!  I like access and control at every stage of the process.  This is because learned my textile-care habits from my grandmother, who learned them in wringer-washer days from her grandmother.

Granny loves clothes and fabrics, and she taught me to wash them in a case-by-case intuitive way, like cooking.  She grew up in the depression, and has never had much money since, so she is very attuned to making things last. . .  Pre-treating with Fels Naptha and other strange preparations, checking the water temperature to see if it feels right and adjusting the taps, stopping the machine mid-cycle to check on things.  Repeating cycles.  Manual extra rinses.  Always machine drying on low heat and hovering over the dryer to snatch things out at just the right moment.  Drip drying.  Flat drying.  Blocking.  In fact, she still has her grandmother’s copper wash boiler, and I have seen her use it!  So, I ended up with a top loader.

Older, more primitive machines are better match for “active launderers.”  Their faults are just the same as modern washers–some of them are too harsh or too wimpy with everyday loads–but you can get more customized results with fewer settings.  It’s pretty clear what your machine is doing at any one time, and you can step in to alter the process without much trouble.

That’s what I wanted: a durable machine that would allow me to make my own combinations of temperature, agitation speed, spin speed, and cycle length; though I also liked the idea of useful pre-sets, like the alternating agitate-and-soak of a handwash cycle.

I would have liked a water and energy efficient machine, but it appears (unless you have a front loader) that these things are in direct conflict with having brilliantly clean clothes.  I took the Epicure’s route.

It turns out one U.S. company still makes old-style washers.  My Sad Washer with the “automatic temperature control” was a top-loading Maytag Centennial.  My Happy Washer is a Speed Queen.  It’s dreamy.  My only objection is that the higher of the two spin speeds, though it is more RPMs than a standard washer, seems to leave the clothes damper than I’m used to.  Unless that is in illusion propagated by the fact that they aren’t twisted around each other and plastered to the outside of the tub.  Perhaps the spin cycle is shorter?  Anyway, they dry quickly in the dryer I bought off Thistledown-who-was-kicked-out-of-the-duplex, and the fact that they come out less wrinkled means that when I get a clothes line I can line-dry a lot of things without having to iron.

I washed a handwoven gauze shawl (not my own weaving) in the handwash cycle, and it came out fine.


*Sorry for the stereotyping.  Most of us don’t totally fit, but I was thinking how weaving looks from the outside, and to my guilty conscience.

*Dyers probably already know this, but a laundry stick is a roughly 1″ x 1″ by 20″ piece of milled hardwood with the sharp edges sanded down.  In wash-boiler days you’d use it to lift the wash from the boiler.  Now it is useful when you want to open up the washer after agitation starts to stir in laundry spells I mean soap preparations and prod down things like wool shirts that have just enough water resistance to balloon or float partly out of the water instead of immersing.  Last time Grandpa made her a new one, Granny asked me if I wanted one too, and I said, “Yes!”  I’m afraid I lost it in the move though.  Maybe to the landlord’s lumber pile.


7 Responses to “Clean Clothes”

  1. allmycolors Says:

    I’m back. I am all caught up with reading your “adventures in moving” since my last visit. I can relate. So, if I understand it right, you WERE in Portland, or the Portland area, and now you are “closer to Seattle”, which means you are now in Washington state? Or…

    I semi-regularly get to the Portland area. Used to live in Forest Grove, OR, and the hubby’s brother and relations are in Portland. I miss it. I miss Powell’s Books, in a big way. I have heard OF a woman here on the island, who HAD two Bergmann looms, taught an acquaintance to weave with the smaller, 36″ table model, and gave it to her when she finished her one learning project on it. It (the 36″ loom) sits in my acquaintance’s garage. She won’t let me adopt it. I thought it might be easier to work with. I have tried to connect with the teacher, who still has the larger loom, apparently the same size as mine, but probably 8 instead of 4. Mine is 4, with room for 4 more, but where am I likely to find 4 more to match my loom? That is, if I EVER learn how to work with it!

    I do now have a blog. I started fiddling about with digital scrapbooking, because I am an inveterate photographer and love to play with Photoshop. Good intentions towards a couple of boxes of photographs and all that… it seems less boring than regular scrapbooks! I’m glad I gave someone a laugh over handwoven articles in the washer. I had a laugh, myself, reading her comments! I met Betty Davenport, and she was trying to convince me to get a rigid heddle loom, and get rid of the big one. I don’t think so…

    I AM a spinner, dyer of yarn, fiber, fabric, etc. as well as a painter. I don’t wash fleeces in the front-loading washer, true… that has to be done in the kitchen sink, or the bathtub. Usually the kitchen sink. When I feel unable to cope with the amount of fleece staring me in the face, I send it off to Shari to be turned into beautiful pin-drafted roving, which will cost me the earth to get back, but if I have no plans to comb it, that’s what I do. Then I sell part of it to pay for the processing… but I ONLY send to Shari, nowadays… I trust no one else.

    Still want to have some way of getting together and learning from the wiser heads amongst us. Um, that would NOT be me, not when it comes to this loom, and weaving. Might we start a ring just for Bergmann loom owners? Is it Bergmann with two n’s? I thought it was… Elaine in Washington

  2. A top-loader, and it works, Yay! You talk of guilt now, but let the feel of the clean clothes soothe those feelings away! Perhaps they are extreme feelings from working yourself to exhaustion? Having enough space to think is not a luxury if it helps you accomplish the things you were meant to do. So now fulfill your obligation to have a wonderful life there, and create beautiful things within it.

  3. trapunto Says:

    What a sweet thing to say, Spinninglizzy! You’re a good encourager.

    Hello again, allmycolors/Elaine! I googled around for your blog and couldn’t find it. Could you link to it if you leave another comment? I have added a links section for the other two Bergman blogs I know of (it is Bergman with one ‘n’, btw) at the top of the side bar. I’d love to add your blog, too, if you plan to talk about your Bergman! Spinninglizzy who left the last comment is one of those Bergman-owning bloggers. Maybe you’ve already found her? She lives more up your way. Both ladies take great pictures, and have interesting things to say. You’ll be inspired.

    36″ is a whopping big table loom! In my opinion, table looms both are and aren’t easier to manage. I learned to weave on a loaner table loom. Their mechanics are so straightforward that they’re really good at teaching you the basics of how weaving happens–and they’re great for sampling because they use a one-to-one tie-up (combinations of shafts are lifted individually by the weaver, rather than with the shortcut of a treadle). But that one-to-one tie-up also makes them really slow and user-mistake prone, and they can cause bad arm and shoulder strain. I also found it cramped and fiddly threading my loaner. Not that I wouldn’t like having a table loom of my own if it was dropped in my lap…

    Don’t worry! Nothing about the width of your loom should make it harder to use. Mechanically, it’s exactly the same as a narrower Bergman, but stretched. This way you’ve got everything you need if you want to design big! You can weave as narrowly as you like on a big loom, but you can’t weave wide on a narrow one. I think most weavers really love weaving on bigger floor looms; the only issue is space.

  4. Susan Says:

    I loved your post about ‘clean clothes’ Congrats on the move by the way….we moved Sept 07 and still making endless changes to our place ever since. I think we’re winning..
    I can recall my mother telling me about helping her mother do laundry by boiling clothes in the copper. This was in England in prewar days Using big wooden sticks to stir the mass. My Nana would not hang anything out to dry unless it was snowy white. It was a mark of pride to have such a beautful wash. I don’t recall the machines used in my earlier childhood. I would hang the wash and bring it in. (My chore) I know it had to be hung in ‘proper order’ with large items first and ending with smalls such as socks and hankies.
    We lived in NZ 1970-1975 and the house we rented had an old wringer washer. Saturday mornings would see me as a teen ager down there doing many loads of laundry and squeezing water out. It was fun at first but quickly lost its charm due to sheer repetition. After snagging my fingers a few times, I got better at loading!
    My current machine is a Maytag top loader with a steel drum. I’m an ‘active” laundress and have my cupboard of products to do the right job and will handwash blouses and delicates over a gentle cycle.
    If you like the history of the laundry process there are two books:
    Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens
    by Cheryl Mendelson
    The Book of Fine Linen
    by Francoise De Bonneville

    The first is entirely about doing laundry in a modern setting. I love it and refer to it when a problem comes up. The second is more geared to linen (and is a stunning book!) But the history of laundry in its pages is a great read. The rest of the book isn’t shabby either.

    I should do a post about this topic too… someday when I finally get my laptop back from the repair depot. I’m borrowing this computer today as I can’t stand being out of touch any longer!

  5. deborahbee Says:

    SpinningLizzy has managed to say what I was trying to put into words in my head.Like you I have times of feeling guilty that life is good for me that I am free to follow my interests,that I live with someone I like and love, and that like you say half the world and more is struggling. But the least I can do is appreciate it and enjoy it and not waste any of it,which is what you seem to be able to do in abundance.
    I enjoyed reading your post, who would have thought laundry would have such interest or that a washing machine could be a favourite thing. There’s something amazing about your country, I’m quite sure you can’t get hold of unusual washing machines over here!!!
    I am wondering where the loom will go in your new home, or have you transferred allegiances to the art of cleaning clothes and spin drying!

  6. Lynnette Says:

    I’ve left you a little surprise in my blog, here

  7. trapunto Says:

    Thank you very much, Lynnette!

    Wow, Susan, I never expected a fellow laundry bug to crawl out of the woodwork! Your comment is fascinating! As you can probably guess, I love laundry stories. Thank you for the book recommendations. I hope you do get around to doing a post about washing some time. I’d like to hear more about your nana, and the wringer washer–those machines are scary.

    Hi Deborah, you have a good sense of perspective and a beautiful way of putting things.

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