My Life as a Washer Woman

I have to apologize to my dear readers for the long delay in finishing this story. I finally figured out that I was delaying writing this blog because I didn’t want to revisit the tedious process of getting the clothes clean. How silly is that? It’s not like I have to spend another 3 days with my hands in the sink. And yes, it did take the better part of 3 days! After some initial experimenting with different products and procedures, I finally came up with a method that worked for me. First I used Woolite gently squishing the suds through the fabric, then rinse, then a soak in Woolite and Oxyclean, squish, rinse, repeat, soak, squish, rinse, repeat … until the water was almost clear. An additional overnight soak in Oxyclean removed an amazing amount of brown stains and a few more cycles of soak, squish, rinse, repeat removed the rest on most of the garments. A very quick rinse in a weak bleach solution made the whites bright and removed any stubborn stains. I certainly don’t recommend this method because it was all trial and error and I was probably lucky not to ruin anything. This may not seem like it should take that long but multiply it by 15 garments all having to be washed individually and you can see how I ended up spending 3 days on this project even with all available sinks and buckets in use. I have to admit that I became somewhat obsessive about getting these clothes clean. (Note to self: next time check on the market value of items before spending 3 days working on something)

It became my mission to restore these clothes as close as possible to the condition they were in when they were packed away and an odd thing happened as I washed and rewashed each garment. As the dirt and stains faded a picture of the woman who wore these clothes began to appear in my mind. I wondered about the life she had led and why these particular garments had been saved. I thought about the little things I knew about this person. She was a tiny thing with a waist measuring only 21”. She was a skilled seamstress, most of her clothes were hand sewn with tiny stitches and embellished with tucks and lace. She had a fur shawl and muff that she may have made with furs given to her by her husband or sons as there were many hunting and trapping items at the auction. Judging from her kitchen items, she liked the color pink. She had at least two sons and one daughter. There is a store bought black blouse that appears to be a maternity shirt. Like most women, she had gained some weight over the years although she still had a tiny waist by today’s standards. I wondered had she lost someone when she was pregnant? And why had she saved a child’s pinafore? I felt that there was some tragedy involved. I have saved some of my girls’ baby clothes but back in those times, I think that everything was passed down or put to use in some way. In my mind, I saw her growing from a young bride into a hardworking wife and mother. I wondered about the chores that she did while wearing the two checkered skirts. I pictured her in the kitchen using some of the items I had seen at the auction or working in the gardens that once surrounded the house. I visualize her hands washing the same clothes that are in my sink and hanging them outside to line dry in the sun.

In some strange way, washing those clothes made me feel a connection to this woman from the past and an appreciation of how hard she must have had to work every day.