Grit Blogs > A Well-Worn Path

Hanging It Out to Dry

Lou Ann head shotWhatever happened to clotheslines? When I was growing up, everyone had a clothesline. Ours was strung between two steel Ts in the backyard and every Monday, my mother's wash day, the metal lines would sag with sheets, socks, jeans and the rest of our laundry.

I feel sorry for anyone who hasn't experienced pulling on a shirt that's dried naturally in the sun. And there was nothing like the smell of fresh, outdoor-dried sheets. I'd often help my mother get the laundry off the line, and as we folded those sheets I'd press my face into their crisp whiteness, breathing deeply of the sweetness that was now a part of them.

You don't see many clotheslines anymore. I suspect it's simply easier to toss everything in the dryer and be done with it, but I miss the smell of line-dried sheets, shirts and socks. I also miss seeing those large, white sheets snapping in a spring breeze like billowing sails on the prairie. If you've never experienced the smell of sheets that have flapped freely in the sun all day you've truly missed one of life's greatest pleasures.

There was a technique for hanging the clothes on the line. My mother taught me the proper way to hang them so they wouldn't blow off the line and would dry with a minimum of wrinkles. Sheets needed to be doubled over the line and clipped tightly so they wouldn't drag on the ground. We used wooden clothespins, never plastic ones and not the kind with metal springs, but the longer old-fashioned ones that slipped over the line and clothes snuggly.

Socks were hung in matching pairs, whenever possible, and with just enough toe folded over the line to secure them. Shirts were clipped at the side seams after being stretched tightly. My father's jeans were hung by the waist with metal stretchers in the legs to create a straight crease in each one. Everything smelled like springtime and innocence after hanging on the clothesline for a good part of the day.

I always knew when it was time to put away the heavy coats and sweaters. It was the day my mother first hung the laundry on the clothesline to dry. That was the sign that it'd soon be warm enough for outdoor play, mowing the lawn and going barefoot again.

It also meant a good night's sleep was ahead. Knowing that fresh, line-dried sheets were on my bed, I could hardly wait for dark so I could crawl between them, and when I did, the sweet smell of musky earth, hyacinths and spring breezes floated around me. I rarely slept so well.

There aren't as many clotheslines in use anymore, but soap companies try to replicate the aromas of laundry dried on them. They come in "Spring Breeze" or "Fresh Lavender," but as hard as they try, and despite all our modern technology, the delight of fresh, sun-dried sheets can't be captured in a bottle. For that you need a clothesline.

nebraska dave
6/20/2012 12:49:56 AM

Lou Ann, congrats for your blog being a featured blog in the July-August edition of GRIT magazine.


respectlife
5/28/2012 9:12:36 PM

I live 16 miles from the nearest town, at the end of a dirt/gravel road, with incredible views and beautiful quiet. When I bought the property, I immediately put up drying lines between three trees, then next year I bought an umbrella type clothes line. The laundry smells truly heavenly, and I even hung out my comforters every 2-3 days to air out. When I bring them in they smell so clean even though they weren't just washed. I read it somewhere, maybe Mother Earth News, Grit or Countryside that in many states you're not allowed to dry clothes outside, although can't remember that reson why. Too bad. To dry outside is free, "green" and while you hanging your laundry you can enjoy the outside, the sun and listen to the birds and the breeze through the trees.


mary pellerito
5/28/2012 1:05:55 PM

I hope to get a clothesline up this summer. Towels and sheets hung out to dry are so much more fresh. And I think our t-shirts and jeans can always use a bit more airing out, not matter how clean they are.


terra dei farm
5/1/2012 2:50:14 PM

Lou Ann, I couldn't agree more! I wouldn't trade our clothes line for anything. Nothing chases away "winter blues" faster than the first time you are able to sleep on line dried sheets in the early spring. In fact, I have a pile of bedding right now that I refuse to wash until this week's rain moves on so that I can dry them on the clothes line.


s.m.r. saia
4/30/2012 6:25:05 PM

Throwing things in the dryer is definitely easier, but I agree with you about those sheets. I don't have a clothesline, I have a laundry rack that folds up - but last summer with both my washer and dryer on the fritz I was improvising, draping sheets across patio furniture and the clothes rack. They do smell and feel wonderful, way better than coming out of the dryer. I have a few very old pillowcases that are 100% cotton, and those are the best, most crisp and fresh-smelling of anything I've ever dried outside.