Clotheslines & Haning Out Clothes
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 09:43:56 -0600 (MDT)
On clotheslines and hanging out the wash, I am fairly knowledgeable. Since
the art of clothes hanging and the social issues there to connected are
obviously next to lost, this is a long post. It also contains essential
information that may determine the future of cohousing, so I expect it to be
retained in the archives as I do not intend to repeat it (although I will
address questions).

CREDENTIALS: As a child I played under clothes hung out to dry, in my own
yard and the yards of many other houses on the block when I wasn't allowed
to cross streets. Every Saturday as a teenager, from age 12 to 17 when I
escaped to college, I hung out clothes for a family of six. I also spent a
lot of time listening to the housewives in the neighborhood analyze the
various clothes hanging behaviors of the other housewives. This is a
requirement to being considered grown up enough to be included in gatherings
over the fence.

Clotheslines of the normal, rope from  hook on house to hook on tree,
variety are strung loose enough so that they hang down far enough to be
reached to hang the clothes. Ropes can also be strung from poles one has for
the purpose--like telephone poles and electrical lines but houses and trees
are usually stronger and less likely to fall over--even if one's husband is
good at sinking poles. Wet clothes are very heavy.

The lines are left hanging all the time and must be cleaned with a wet cloth
before hanging clothes. The various contraptions for temporarily hanging
lines are not strong enough to hold a week's worth of washing, year after
year. New ropes are less expensive and more reliable.

A big basket is used for the wet clothes. These baskets are also used the
next day to hold clothes dampen to be ironed. More recently people have been
seen hanging wet clothes from stolen grocery carts but this is definitely
not recommended. Theft aside, these baskets rust when wet and cannot be used
to keep the ironing damp until the ironing is finished. All clothesline
dried clothes must be ironed

A clothesbasket must be large enough to hold a whole load of laundry, so one
isn't malingering by running back and forth for clothes, but small enough
that it can be carried. (Hanging wet clothes is a precursor to weight

Wooden pins are used to hang the clothes. They are either of the one piece
"push over the line type" or the new fancy clip type with a wire spring
holding two pieces of stick. These are usually very rough from being out in
the sun and rain. They are now probably produced in plastic--an advantage
because they are not so rough and may last longer--but the color
combinations have to be considered. Neon pins may be easy to find in the
grass but they do not match many plaids. One can also be accused of
malingering while choosing appropriate colors.

Clothespins are kept in a "clothespin bag" which is a bag designed to be
hung over a clothes hanger that is then hung on the clothes line and pushed
along the line ahead of the clothes as they are hung.

A clothespin bag can also be worn tied around the waist which has the
advantage of allowing one to reach up less often and relaxes the arms. One
is also more likely to remember not to leave it outside where the pins will
deteriorate more rapidly. Some are known to leave the pin bag hanging on the
tree between washings--very wasteful. Also interpreted as "being rich" and
showing off. Not recommended.

The clothes basket is either dragged along the ground beside the hanger when
the items in it are small--as in baby clothes--or placed to the side for
large items--as in sheets for which you walk back and forth.

When the lines are full, or for a long line, partially full, they are
propped up once or twice with long sticks with grooves in the top. Wives
with thoughtful husbands will have a variety of sizes of poles available so
they can prop as they go and have the lines as low as possible while
hanging, and then prop them much higher when finished.

There are now various varieties of technologically improved lines that have
a central pole with several lines circling the top in rows like an orderly
cobweb. The advantage of these lines is that you can stand in one place to
hang the clothes from your basket, and just turn the line. But these must be
anchored in cement which will require professional installation unless you
know someone. They also will not last a lifetime.

The copweb lines also confine the lines to a much smaller area instead of
clothes being  hung across the whole yard in every direction making it
unusable for any other purpose. They have other advantages that we will
discuss later.

Obviously a bright sunny day is the best day to hang clothes--but a breeze
is also required if you want the clothes to be either soft or unwrinkled. As
an alternative you can go around and shake out the wrinkles as the clothes
dry. You can also re-hang them in the opposite direction (upside to
downside) when they are partially dry. Since clothes dry slowly without a
wind, you have plenty of time to do this if you start the wash early in the
morning--dawn works best.

RAIN AND SNOW: In a light, clean rain or snow, a sprinkle when it has rained
or snowed the day before or earlier in the day, you don't have to wash all
over again. Just watch the lines so that they don't get too heavy from the
weight. If the line breaks, or droops down, the muddy clothes will have to
be washed again. Even really good grass or seemingly clean snow will get
clothes muddy.

A windy rain or blizzard is not clean and dirt will be blown onto the
clothes. As well, the first rain or snow in several days will also include
dirt and soot collected from the air or where ever.

One can hang clothes in all temperatures, even below 0, but they will
obviously freeze before they dry, and thus be fairly wrinkled, but they will
still dry. One can also hang clothes inside on lines strung up temporarily
for the purpose, but this is less than satisfactory and only recommended in
times of lengthy monsoons.

Clothes left out over night will be stolen. Clothes not propped up will be
dirty on the bottom edges from the backs of dogs, children's hands, and
leaping cats--all of which love clothes hung out to dry almost as much as
cohousers think they might. A fence and a locked gate are some
protection--but not enough. The cobweb lines, because the clothes are
compacted into a small space, make it easier to watch for children and dogs
and cats who will make quick work of a clean sheet or a draping sliver of
something. Vigilance is necessary.

Be sure to get the clothes off the line before the dew falls or they will be
wet again. If one leaves the clothes out over night, it will rain and the
clothes will be dirty in the morning. While bringing in clothes at night as
it starts to rain, be as quiet as possible so the neighbors won't be wakened
and make fun of you the next day.

THE HEART OF THE ISSUE FOR COHOUSING: For every item to be hung, there are
several ways to hang it.

A shirt can be hung from the bottom or the top edges. If you hang it from
the tail, the sleeves will be closer to the ground (and the cats), but it
will be less wrinkled. The wind will pick it up like a sail, un-wrinkling
even the sleeves, but blowing it away unless firmly anchored. Hung from the
shoulders, it takes less room on the line and does not hang down so far, but
will be more wrinkled. If you are very short on space, you can also hang it
by the collar but it will be very wrinkled and not at all soft unless the
wind is blowing very hard in which case it might be less likely to blow away
as it is less like a sail.

It is unacceptable to hang shirts by the sleeves. It is never done. People
will talk.

This kind of analysis must be done for each item of laundry in your basket.
I can't go into all the details in public like this, but I will mention one
area of extreme importance--underwear. Underwear must be hung on the
interior lines--those between the lines most visible to the neighbors. This
is one advantage of the new "cobweb" lines. No one will know what is on the
interior unless they are watching while one hangs the laundry. (More about
this later.)

How you hang the clothes is not only a matter of laundry safety, reducing
wrinkles, decreasing drying time, and maximizing space on the line but of
discretion. Who wants their neighbors to know what brand of shorts one's
husband wears--boxers or briefs, Klein, Jockey, or Fruit of the Loom? And
believe me, the neighbors want to know. (Even cohousers have inquiring

And then there is the issue of not knowing what one is supposed to do. For
example, no one has decided, really, which way panties should be hung. One
can hang them from the waist but then they take up a lot of room and reveal
in plain sight The Crotch. To Everyone. Passing  motorists, gas meter men,
teenagers driving around just looking at underwear, etc.

One can hang them with one pin, but then they will be wrinkled. And everyone
will know they are panties anyway and make fun of one.

Who wants to be having their mother in law over for coffee while a
neighbor's crotches are flapping in the breeze all day? Who wants the
neighbors to know that one is (or is not) wearing bikini panties?

Or to see one hang black lace slips? On the line? In front of one's
neighbor's husband. Seduction by clothesline? Advertising?

Women hanging clothes raise their arms repeatedly, for hours--revealing
their slips, or without a slip, their thighs. Women bending over reveal
their breasts down the necks of their dresses in front and you know what in
back.  When hanging clothes, one has to be very careful of cars driving by
slowly, especially cars with men in them, and glance frequently at the
neighbors windows. One never knows what lurks....


If anyone is suggesting that we return to wringer washers and rinse tubs, I
know a lot about those too.


Sharon Villines
MacGuffin Guide to Detective Fiction
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington, DC

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