Sunday, March 21, 2010

21 March 1956 “Clotheslines: We Can Do It”

bwclothesline Recently on the Forum began a discussion of clotheslines. Here, in 1956, clotheslines are a normal part of both urban and country life. Even the modern suburbs popping up still have their clotheslines, even though that great American invention, the clothes dryer, is yet another status symbol on the list of ‘must haves’ for any self-respecting middle class homemaker along with the latest Washing machine50swashingmachine  and Dish washerdishwasher2 .

Today, in 2010, the return to the clothesline is no longer for the vintage lover or the Green minded. The recession has lead to many ‘vintage’ ways of doing things out of necessity. Which, surprisingly enough, was the reason they were done originally. Not to recreate a time lost or to set an atmosphere nor to make your ‘carbon-footprint’ (whatever that is-says my 1956 counterpart) smaller. You did it because you HAD to and today, with increasing cost, the need to run that energy sucking appliance, the dryer, has lead to many needing to return to this habit.

Now, as I often believe, Form should follow function, and utility should be beauty’s bedmate. You can slap up any old line, throw some wet clothes over it, and call it a clothesline, but you can also take a very utilitarian object and make it beautiful. And, as there are different esthetics, one person’s idea of ugly is another’s beauty, so luckily there are SO many wonderful way’s to dry your clothes!

slumlaundry This was becoming an increasing view often found only in slums in urban living in 1956. The increasing Laundromats available to the urban dweller made such hanging of clothes become more and more a ‘working class’ act. Today, however, the return to it is increasing and no longer a ‘slum act’.clothesline3Modern cities are now gaining a ‘vintage’ look due to necessity and need to pinch pennies. As they say, “what goes around comes around”.

If you’re lucky enough to have a nice little suburban plot of land, or even acres in the country, a clothes line can be a permanent beautiful fixture, much like a trellis or arbor.clothesline2This clothes line is not only sturdy but a beautiful piece of architecture for your yard. I believe, as inside as well as out, that the main element of any design is ‘good bones’. Your yard needs some good architecture to be buitl around and to dicated where to plant and sit and relax. This type of utility combined with beauty is only increased, I believe, by the addition of the clothes. I think even a trailing vine or some lovely roses planted near by, a chair and side table and you have a chore with joy attached. And who doesn’t love the smell of fresh sundried laundry?

rotaryclothesline2 Even the old rotary clothes line of the past is making a comeback.rotaryclotheslineI recall pre 1955 when I was an avid TV watcher, I loved watching garden design shows and it seems every other one had the designers tossing out these old reliable work horses. Again, in the time of plenty and spend spend, why not have a flower bed instead of a place to economically dry your clothes. But, as in WWII, when flower beds and lawns became Victory Gardens, so too now are the yards getting a little more utility. And, there is not reason this old stand by can’t be situated in the yard in a considered way, so that there are flowers or better yet herbs (utility) nearby. Especially a lush bed of lavender planted nearby, so the wind carries the scent onto your clothes. It is like natures dryer sheets!dahlias-washing-line This woman has proudly made a space for her dahlias and her laundry, and with a bench to enjoy both!



This is such a simple and basic set up that can be so beautiful and can be easy for any homemaker. A post hold digger and some wooden posts, screws, drill, paint and line and you are in business. You can color it how you like, even plant a vine on one of the posts. HERE is an easy tutorial with costs and supplies list that is helpful.

If you like this set up but don’t want to build or use wood, you can buy good metal versions of these clothesline6 retractable and stationary metal clotheslines.clothesline7 You can find these in the Corner Store HERE. There are even Sweater dryers for the line!sweaterdryer HERE.

If you would like to construct your own , there are a few options. Here is a great TUTORIAL on building one.


 clothesline5This dreamy bucolic scene of washing can be yours. In fact, you can see how simply this homemakers line is, simply old tree branches set in the ground. It can be as grand or as simple as you need.clothesline5 This is a simple set up where one side of the line is tied to a tree and the other a post.

pulleyclothesline A pulley system line is another option.

Don’t let apartment dwelling get you down, however. They eve have lovely versions that can be mounted to the side of your house on a deck or simply out one window and then the other of your apartment building. clothesline1

clotheslinepulley The pulley system is nice as well. You can, as was done here, put it right out your back door or whever it is closest to your laundry room. This means, even in winter, you would not have to worry about walking about in snow. You could even have a summer and a winter setup, one in the yard the other the winter pulley system. They also work great indoors in basements and laundry rooms. clothes line tightener For the Pulley clothes line system  HERE is a great tutorial. And you can buy the pulley, line all those things HERE. There are also simple retractable type, that you can pull out, use and then put away, if you don’t have the room for lines in the yard all the time.

metalretractable I put a few in the Store, but I think THIS little metal one is cute for indoors or a small outdoor line. But they also have LARGER VERSIONS that work outside.

I actually thought this was a cute modern segment on someone making an ingenious clothes line with simple things.thnoodleA great use for the extra ‘swim noodles’ that often accumulate at summer time, or buy some for this purpose, as they are not expensive. If you slit on side and insert a wooden dowel the size of the noodle hole, it is great for drying rugs, towels, things you wouldn’t want clothes pin marks on.

I think this is a great little modern video about a woman who made her own clothesline.

It also brought up something that was discussed on the forum and that some neighborhoods actually will NOT allow you to have a clothesline! Again, another aspect of our modern society. The look or appearance is more important the saving money, environment, or continuing a valid homemaking skill. I hope that is not the case in your neighborhood, if it is, I say march down to town hall and find out what you can do, signatures etc?

Now, check out the new section on the CORNER STORE for any laundry ideas. And, if you have any good ideas let’s discuss them HERE on the Forum topic of clotheslines!

And check out today’s Video of the Day on the SITE (on the bottom of the page) from 1958 about the new modern synthetic fabrics and the ease of modern laundry with electric dryers and synthetic fabrics. Interesting parallel to today’s topic, I think.

The more we make little changes that are economical the more we find the ‘side-affects’ are often Green choices and choices that enliven or teach us skills. It might be quicker to pop that load in the dryer, but think of the extra time outside, smelling the air, hearing the birds. Even if it is a cool autumn day, what a better activity than just staring at the computer screen. I wonder, as people begin to see the benefits and tactile pleasures of hanging out one’s clothes, how long before we can get a ‘virtual laundry line’ for or computer or AP for the i-Phone?

Well, it is a lovely day outside, so I am off to dream and plan my own laundry solutions. Tomorrow I will return with some recipes, some photos of Martha’s Vineyard in March and just a good ole’ chat. I shall see you on the Forums, and Happy Homemaking!


  1. I LOVE clothes lines! My grandmother always hung out laundry even when she had a dryer. I have a nice little pulley line in my back yard from my deck to the garage. It's an absolute necessity if you wear vintage. After all you can't put vintage in a dryer!

  2. I wish we were allowed a clothesline here where we live. The community doesn't permit it, but does provide one near the laundry facility, i'm just too nervous to hang my good clothes there for everyone to steal!

  3. I love having a clothesline, but where we currently live, they don't allow them. What a waste! we have year round , and have to use dryers!

  4. We can't use them either. One more reason I loathe our current house! I set a clothes rack by the french doors and open them wide. I don't much mind running the dryer in winter anyway since it warms the house and it does mean I can avoid ironing a fair amount of things like t-shirts. Of course there are some things that really do need sun to look fresh and clean like white bras so I string those up in the window. Height of class ;-) If they won't let me have a clothes line I need to do what I can to get my clothes clean and dry!

  5. Same here...not allowed. I have spent many days stewing about it, too.

    Hubby installed a curtain rod on the walls in our bathroom in front of the window and I air dry clothes there.

    Such a shame when they could so easily be outside.

    Many people feel the "look" of a clothesline is actually peaceful and domestic. NOT an eyesore as the conformists would have us believe.


  6. Thanks for posting about this. There is also a petition going on to allow clotheslines in all areas, because sadly some areas are against this.

  7. I still can't believe that there are actual neighborhoods that don't allow clotheslines! I am glad that I do not have to live in a neighborhood 'association' that can dictate to me. I wonder, if your neighborhood associations could change the bylaws if you got enough signatures of people who would not mind that law being changed? Worth asking, I think.

  8. I love and do have a clothesline. I've had one for many years, even before moving to the country. It is a pretty site to see it full of flapping clothes and knowing that you're taking advantage of nature while saving money. I do dry my towels though, can't stand them off the line.

  9. As far as I know, in Australia, line drying clothes is the preferred option with a clothes drier as back up. I guess the exceptions would be people who live in flats and apartments without access to space for a line. Of course our climate is more moderate. Even here in Tasmania, considered the coldest state, most people line dry all year around though I sometimes have to finish the drying by hanging things near the fire.
    I couldn't manage without my vintage rotary clothes line.
    I find that conversation with more mature women shop assistants on days with unexpected rain often turns to whether or not they brought the washing in before they went to work - the clothesline is a great leveller.

    I saw a gorgeous photo recently of a block of flats in a Japanese city with the prettiest washing hanging from each window.

  10. This is near and dear to my heart, I want a clothesline in my backyard so badly, and have a perfect spot all lined up. Of course my hubby and my mom think I'm nuts :)

    However, I do have two clothes lines in my laundry room, and hang up all the shirts, pants/jeans in it. All adult underclothes go in the dryer with the towels.....but overall we do save money by hanging our clothing up to dry in the laundry room.

    I just pop the clothes into the dryer for five minutes to soften them up and away they go :)

    Of course the view isn't that great while I'm staring at out partly finished laundry room, I'd much rather be outside hanging up the clothes and listening to the birds :)

    Even if your neighbourhood will not allow clotheslines, no one is stopping you from installing one in the laundry room. :)

    Mom in Canada

  11. i had my husband put a clothes line out a few years ago, and i love it. it is so peaceful to hang clothes out in the morning, when it is still cool out. i just love the image that i get when i am hanging clothes out, with the kids playing around in the grass bellow me. i dont think that i could ever live in a neighborhood that didnt allow a line.

  12. Very true, the retractable versions are very easy to install anywhere, even in your living room-roll it out when you are home alone and dry the clothes, put them away and zzzzzip away the line goes.

  13. 50sgal,

    Very timely post! I haven't had a line in years and desparately want another. Our next-door neighbors let me use theirs several years ago until they decided to take it down. I would like a permenant one and just now asked Hubby what he thought. He said he likes the retractables, so we may have to compromise, but that's ok, at least I get one!

    And, 50sgal, what a marvelous idea to plant lavender near by! It is so beautiful and smells very pleasant along with being calming. I may have to try that IF I can keep the dog and cats out of it.

  14. P.S. We are fortunate enough to have two strong steel bars in our laundry room. One, I use as extra clothes-hanging space. The other, however, we drive shirts or jeans of my sons, and I dry blankets over it. We also have a dryer rack that we use inside. Now, if we can just get my outside lines, I'll be a happy washer woman!

  15. Texas Accent In SydneyMarch 21, 2010 at 11:20 PM

    My married-a-year parents moved into their new house in a new-built neighborhood in 1959 ... the clothesline was two metal T-bars and my folks put a fan shaped trellis at each end and planted morning glories ... I remember this when I was about four ... when they got prosperous enough, they bought a clothes dryer ... knowing them, they waited until it was on sale and they could pay cash on the barrel for it ... the clothesline was dug up and I grew up thinking a dryer was the only way to dry clothes ... in Hong Kong we had a tiny combination washer/dryer, front load with a glass porthole ... the dryer sucked the water out rather than blew hot air, took many hours ... we hung clothes to dry on a drying rack or on hangers in the doorway ... even though there were rods installed along the ceiling of the balcony of our high rise apartment, we felt the Hong Kong air was too polluted for us to dry our clothes outside ... when the baby came, I had to start sending laundry out, very cheap and quick ... now in Australia, every back yard has a clothesline ... we have the rotary style most folks do, called by the trade name Hills Hoist ... although my natural inclination is to put everything in the dryer, I have "turned from my evil ways" and I line dry quite a bit of the laundry ... not everything, I admit ... but I gotta tell you, there's nothing like line-dried sheets, taken down while the sun is still shining on them ... they smell good and they don't wrinkle like they do in the dryer ... 50s Gal, what a great idea about planting lavender near the clothesline ... Jenny, I know what you mean about women's conversations turning to clothes on the line and whether or not they'll get rained on ... I hear it from mothers at school and from women old enough to be my mother ... how I vary from them is that they let the laundry pile up if we're in a string of rainy days, whereas I shrug and put in in the dryer so I don't fall behind ... must go now, have three loads on the line to bring in ... I know this was long and thank you for listening.

  16. I’ve always line dried - during Summer outside (on a rotary clothes line, didn’t know it was vintage) and during Winter inside in my washing room in the basement. I have a drier but I only use it once a week during Winter for the Towels. During Summer they are dried outside although they become quite stiff.

    I’ve never seen such a sweater drier before – it is really smart. :)

    When I lived in the middle of Copenhagen as a child everyone had those pulley lines outside their windows. My mother always complained about the doves – they shit on her clean clothes.

    I’ve hung up bird houses in the trees nearby my rotary clothes line, this way I can hear the tiny sounds from the chicken in the houses – very nice.

  17. I can't think of anywhere in my house where I could really hang a retractable one without it being a total pain. The laundry room is too small; half bath where I practically need to stand on the toilet to get to the machine. I could probably do it across one of the bedrooms but I don't much fancy waking up in the middle of the night to the sight of floating shirts at the end of the bed!

    I have a decent folding rack from Ikea which folds up really flat when it's not needed but opens up enough to hold a full load of laundry easily or two loads if I'm putting undies and t-shirts in the dryer. I also have these neat little octopus things with spring pegs on the end for undies and socks which are also from Ikea but I know they were around way back when too. They'd probably be quite easy to make too, just hang a few spring pegs on a circular form (old embroidery hoop perhaps) and string it up somewhere. You could even just peg them to a clothes hanger if you have somewhere to hang up hangers for drying shirts and such anyway.

  18. It seems so many of you already enjoy the benefits of line drying, or would like to be cannot because of regulations! I do agree towels fell nicer in the dryer, but the sheets on the line are heaven! I really think lavendar is a good idea. It doesn't mind being dry (good for those with a brown thumb) it can be sturdy and if tread upon or brushed against, releases its lovely scent. If you got a large enough area planted with it, you could cut bunches, tie it and hang it in between the laundry on the line and it would probably 'scent' the clothes. Just a thought!

  19. We used to live in a "no clothesline" neighborhood and I loathed being dictated to in that way. Such ridiculous, faux-gentile snobbery! So, in a mild rebellion, I bought a wooden clothes rack from Lehman's non-electric catalog and put it on the back porch. Ha!

    We now live in a part of the country where the Amish stretch pulley clotheslines from the back porch clear up to the peak of their barns or a giant pole. I don't have a barn but my dear husband put up a clothesline in our back yard the first week we lived in our new house.

    Did you know that winter sunshine is especially good for whites? They get brighter than any bleach could manage.


  20. rebecca-so true and so much kinder to natural cotton and linen fabrics than bleach could ever be! And the scent, ah....More 'aromatherapy' you don't have to buy!

  21. I use that normally, even if I have a dryer we use it most of the time during winter or to dry towels because I like the softness of them drying in the dryer.
    Some times my daughter helps me to hang the clothes and I enjoy that because I remember helping my mom doing the same.

  22. I have an umbrella style clothesline. Nothing makes me feel more homey and cheerful than clothes drying on the line. We just moved into this house, and as soon as the ground thaws my husband is going to put it up for me. I cannot wait to quit using my dryer again!

  23. Ok, that's it. I've always wanted a clothesline and now I've decided I can't wait another day. Hoping to post pics of my very own clothesline soon.

    Great Blog!!!


  24. Brava! Susan! I love when we help other gals to finally say, "I always wanted to do/try that, so gosh darn it, HERE I GO!" I can't wait to see pictures! You will have to post them on the CLOTHESLINE topic on our Forum.

  25. I know there is at least one town on cape that has an old by-law stating residents are not allowed to have clotheslines/dry clothes outside. I am not sure how strictly this 'law' is followed today, but I also wonder how they dried their clothes, since I know it must be a pretty old law. Maybe it was after the '50s?
    I was considering a clothesline as an alternate mode of privacy until my hedges are tall enough!

  26. Haha! that is great Jen, you could get some old red woolen undies and big billowy pantaloons and underpants and let them 'wave in the breeze' while you frollick in privacy in your yard, I like that!

  27. How appropriate, Donna! I just bought a clothes line today as our dryer broke a couple of weeks ago and despite my folding drying rack I really could have used a line in the basement. So now I have one for emergencies but I may try it outside when the weather is better. I've never had clothes dried outside so it would be interesting. I have to figure out where to put it. We have a very large pine tree and the needles are everywhere it seems. Then we have a swing set for the kids and a large deck. So not much room. But I can't help but think what the past ladies of the house did pre the dryer era. I know our yard looked different and there was a patio, not a big deck. But the tree was always there. And what about the winters? I suppose that's what a big basement is built for. The other families had less things to store if they were typical of their tome as my family is of ours.

    Very nice post. Thanks for the lovely pictures.

    Sarah H

  28. Texas Accent In SydneyMarch 22, 2010 at 10:39 PM

    More than once I've been to a backyard party and we're sitting around eating sausages or birthday cake and the family laundry is flapping in the breeze on the line ... that's casual Australians for you ... there's a lot to do to get ready for a party, but I'd take the time to get the clothes off the line so my guests aren't looking at our undies!

  29. Sarah H-They make some lovely retractable lines(even multi-line options-again you don't have to buy from the STORE but if you go to the site and click on the STORE button, I have a section on just clothesline things. Lots of good inspiration. I didn't even realize all the options until I researched writing this post.Fun to look)but you could hook it from your deck and stretch to the tree, dry the clothes and when done, zzzzip back it goes out of the way. I wonder if those who are not 'allowed' in their neighborhoods could get away with this, as it would only be out while clothes are drying. You could have evening espionage clothes drying.
    Texas accent-cultural differences, I supposse. We American's do like to have the 'surface smooth' as I call it. And, I agree, I too would have the clothes off the line for a party, but what I was thinking, is if you have a permenant line, especially like the one I posted with the lovely heavy wood like an arbor, you could string party lights or cute mason jars with wired necks holding tea lights, then it would do double duty for the party and look pretty. Even the square spinning type could be pretty hung with mason jars hold tea lights or fun decorative objects. If you had a 'HITCHCOCK' party, you could line the wires with inexpensive fake birds! Fun!

  30. I posted about this today too, as Rich built one for me! I need to get back over to the forum so I can read what everyone has said....

    Great post!!


  31. I wish we could have a line but there is just no way we could mount it outside the apartment. Even if it were archetectually feasable, the only windows are over the trash bins or in the airshaft. Not the freshest smelling locations! We've been thinking of having lines inside though as it would save a few quarters at the laundy mat as well as be generally environmentally better.

    *sigh* Yet another reason we want to buy our own place!

  32. The only way I could get away with drying outside would be to put the clothes on and stand on the balcony. One of the condo trustees lives a few doors down and he's a real jerk. Our screen door broke one time and wouldn't close properly so I took it down while I went to the hardware store to get new parts because it was windy out and I didn't want to damage the door or have it fly off altogether. By the time I got home there was an official letter on the door warning me that screen doors are required and threatening to fine me if I didn't put it back on. I did manage to get away with sunning my pillows after washing them last spring though because I propped them on the patio chairs as cushions. He did glare at me but apparently realized that he couldn't really complain because there are no rules about cushions on outdoor furniture.

  33. I asked my hubby for a clothesline for my b-day 50's Gal and sigh he thinks i'm nuts, as does my mom LOL.....

    She claims I will use it as long as I did with cloth diapers with my oldest. Cloth diapers for me lasted two weeks.

    I am just getting the urge to go out and get one myself at this point.

    Mom in Canada

  34. I have a rotary clothes line, and I use it a lot.Here in the Belgian country the clothes line is the standard, and electric dryer is considered as luxury (so only for the people who can afford one).
    I was so shocked when I red that clothes lines were not allowed every where sounds so weird to me.

  35. I read a cool tip in a magazine today about line drying. Take an old patio umbrella and remove the canvas top. Drill a few holes down each arm and thread a line through them all then secure tightly. Voila, a rotary dryer for next to nothing! You can even fold it up and store it indoors if you lack space or just want to take it in for the winter.

  36. Eef-isnt' that an odd law/rule?
    Rhonda-what a clever idea, another use for things often relegated to the dump!

  37. NICE. I'm a real fan of air-dried searching for an umbrella type that is made of 4x4 and other wooden bits with a metal thingamajig in the middle....I saw one at a history park in Kitchener, was cool.

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  39. My current house is the first place I've lived in, in years that doesn't have restrictions on clotheslines within the community. However, I seem to be the only one who does it?

    My darling Husband put up a clothesline for me while I was at work one day shortly after we moved in. I use it almost every time I wash, unless the weather is miserable.

    We didn't have a clothes dryer when I was growing up in Australia. Everything was line dried- whether it be inside the laundry on 2 lines strung up in there (for delicates or in bad weather) or outside!

  40. Alas, our neighborhood is also one that bans clothes lines. I personally don't think they are nearly as big an eyesore as satellite dishes.


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