First Use of the Clothesline 5

The clothesline is basically my project. Amanda has never been excited about it. Whenever the question of laundry comes up, I’ll say something like “we won’t be using the dryer for long anyway.” And then Amanda always adds sweetly, “Well, we’ll still be using the dryer for some things.” I think some of her resistance to the clothesline is driven by that of her own mother, who has warned me constantly that clothes dried on the line will be stiff and uncomfortable to wear and use.

But Amanda was gone today, so I sneaked into the laundry area of the storage room (an area into which I am normally permitted only for the limited purpose of depositing dirty clothes), commandeered the automatic washer, and washed a load of my clothes and some old towels. Yes, I washed lights with darks and with some of our red shop towels, which is probably one of the reasons Amanda doesn’t trust me around her clothes.

When I finished washing I threw the clothes into a basket, grabbed two bags of clothespins I had been holding on hand for the occasion, and headed outside. It took me about eight minutes to hang out the clothes, arranging them carefully the way my friend Betty Weldon had coached me to do. “Amanda will be impressed that you know what you’re doing if you group all like garments together.” I wasn’t sure that what Betty said made sense, but after I got the clothes hung out I had to agree with her. There is a certain beauty to a line of boxers followed by a line of t-shirts. Okay, this is central Alabama in the hot summertime; you have to grab your beauty where you can get it.

The video runs less than a minute. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether “beauty” is the right word.

I hung the clothes out about 10:00 this morning. When I returned to check on them at 12:30 they were bone dry. I guess the next time I do this I will check on them sooner to see if they dry faster. I’m still working on the smoothest way to remove the clothes from the line. Clearly, I must learn to fold the clothes as I remove them, because they almost fold themselves. It took me about seven minutes to remove the clothes from the line.

How we built the clothesline. There’s an old saying that a good builder builds things strong; a great builder builds things just strong enough. By that standard, I aspire to be a good builder, meaning I lack both the knowledge and the confidence to scrimp on strength. The clothesline is a great illustration. Before we seeded the yard, Amanda and I (yes, she may discourage me, but she still pitches in and manhandles the auger to help me – another proof that I married well) set in concrete three 6 x 6 treated pine posts in which I had pre-drilled holes to accept bolts attaching the crossbeams. Each crossbeam is a pair of treated pine 2 x 4s laminated together to make them stronger. Yeah, there’s that strength thing again.

I wanted something like 200 feet of clothesline, and I ended up with slightly less, about 185 running feet. The line is a single length of coated aircraft cable that starts at the south end with a turnbuckle, continues through a hole drilled in the center standard to pulleys at the north end, then back again and through pulleys at the south end, then through pulleys at the north end, and finishing at a turnbuckle on the south end. I bought the wooden clothespins at Wal-Mart. I’ve forgotten the price, but it wasn’t high.

What I’ve learned so far.

  1. Amanda insisted that we pay special attention to the grass under the clothesline, because she didn’t want to drop a piece of clothing in the dirt and then have to re-wash it. I regarded this simply as part of her resistance to the whole idea of a clothesline but complied; now I’m glad she stuck to her guns. I dropped two shop towels today while I was hanging out the wash; it just happens, you know? I’m glad they landed on grass and that I simply had to pick them up and re-hang them.
  2. The clothes dried quickly because today was a sunny day. As we use clotheslines more and dryers less, we will learn to adapt our clothes washing schedule to the weather. Washing and drying four loads of clothes between the hours of 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm just won’t cut it.
  3. Another reason the clothes dried quickly is that we have a highly efficient front-loading washing machine that finishes each load with a spin cycle that sounds like a 747 warming up. It wrings every possible drop of water out of the clothes before we ever hang them on the line or put them on the dryer. If you’re in the market for a new washer and dryer, splurge on the washer and get the best you can afford, particularly a front-loader with an insane spin cycle. You can get by with any old dryer. The reason I say that is that the drier clothes coming out of the washer will make your clothesline work more pleasant for decades to come. You’ll be using the dryer less and less in the future anyway, so why blow a lot of money on it?
  4. I need to find a better way to handle clothespins. I started with 100 clothespins, which is enough for a heavy load and then some. I was trying to juggle the clothespins, the clothes, and the basket, and it didn’t work well. I think I’ll try to get one of those pouches you wear around your waist, but the pockets need to be fairly roomy.
  5. Concerns about clothes being too stiff are WAY overblown. As nearly as I can tell it, the core strategy used to sell Americans on buying and using clothes dryers 40 years ago must have been to convince them that clothes from the dryer are “SO SOFT” and that clothes dried on the line are harsh and stiff. I don’t see it. They feel about the same. Really. Yes, the ones dried on the line may be the tiniest bit stiffer, but they also smell fresher. I’ll let you decide which you prefer.
  6. Or not. Whether you like it or not, even if you prefer using the dryer, your days of using a clothes dryer to dry your clothes are numbered. You’re about to rediscover hanging them on the line just like I am. You may decide to do it now as we are, because you want to prepare your life for the interesting days ahead, or you may wait until electricity costs three times as much and gas four times as much and then change. Either way, we are all going to change.
  7. I didn’t save much money, not yet, anyway. Michael Bluejay says it costs about 50 cents to do a load of clothes in the dryer. I spent about 15 minutes hanging out the clothes and collecting them, so I earned $2 per hour for my work. Plus, I endured the inconvenience of needing to wash at the right time of day. When you’re working toward subsistence, however, you do whatever you can to reduce the money you send off the farm, and 50 cents a load adds up.

Leave a comment

5 thoughts on “First Use of the Clothesline

  • chuck till

    Virtually every house in Forest Hills was built with a clothesline in the backyard. Ours was. My parents didn’t get a dryer until 1970 or thereabouts. The clothesline lasted another 5 years ago before the then-forlorn galvanized posts and wires were taken down.

    Not only was it a good way to dry clothes, but one could also play a kind of long-distance croquet using the posts as targets. It was also a convenient way to escape tacklers while playing backyard football.

    I’ve thought about erecting a clothesline here, but there is probably a zoning regulation or a restrictive covenant to prevent it.

  • Lee

    It is amazing, isn’t it, how we all grew up with clotheslines, and all our parents stopped using them at about the same time. I remember playing under the pecan tree while Mama hung out the clothes. She must have had a lot of them, because it seems to me we would stay out there longer than 5-10 minutes.

  • Jonathon Meeks

    My own mother has always has a clothes line. She still uses one to this day as do lots of other members of my family. They all have dryers though, but they are only used when it’s wet out or something needs to be dried quickly or unwrinkled.

    Lee, I’m a little curios about your clothesline. It seems a little low to the ground compared to others that I’ve seen. My mothers was high enough that she could barely reach it. I have also seen people leave the line loose and raise it up even higher. I’ve used a 20 foot left over pvc pipe in the past. This was done I think mainly to keep the clothes out of reach of animals. We always had dogs and chickens and even without animals of your own I think it’s good idea. You never know what wildlife will come along(or strays for that matter). So why is yours so low(or appears that way on video)? Also, it seems quite close to the house. Every clothes line that I’ve ever seen was in some out of the way corner of the yard to prevent it from interfering with the view or other backyard activities, so what influenced your placement?

    In regards to stiffness, that all depends. It depends on the clothing; synthetic fabrics don’t seem to get very stiff. Blue jeans will get stiff enough to stand up by themselves and we always had to put them in the dryer for a few minutes to soften them up. Other cotton garments will also get stiff, but knits don’t usually get too much stiffer, and after a few minutes of wear there’s no noticeable difference. Also, how wet the clothes are when they come out of the washer makes a difference too. I think you did a good think by getting the 747 spin cycle, it’s probably keeping your clothes from getting unbearably stiff. The weather and humidity also make a huge difference in how stiff they will get, as well as if you let them dry overnight. Getting re wet by the dew makes them more stiff.

    Cheers Amanda, on being right about the grass. Anyone with a clothesline could have given you that good advice, but watch out when it’s freshly mown, that’s just as bad as bare dirt.

    One more thing, you can but a clothspin bag that has a wire hanger that will hang on the wire. Alternately you could make one from some cloth and wire, like an old clothes hanger. Everybody I’ve ever known that had a clothesline had one.

    I hope y’all find my comments helpful/entertaining.

  • Lee

    Hi Jonathon,

    Great questions!

    We initially planned to set the line at the height recommended for clotheslines, which is about two inches over Amanda’s height. But then we realized that it might interfere with the view from the deck to the west, so we lowered the height of the line by about three inches. It probably looks lower than it is because I was shooting from the deck. It works fairly well, but there’s no question that it could be a few inches higher.

    It is very close to the house. We like it that way, because it’s so convenient. It gets full sun from about 10:00 am on.

    Since I posted this, we have invested in not one but two clothespin bags, one “everyday” bag that slides up and down the line on a plastic hanger and holds about 100 clothespins, and another that we use only when we need more clothespins than that (which is rare).