Three hundred years of Laundry Culture

‘Airing Our Dirty Linen’ was our display at the Highland Folk Museum in 2018, combining items from Our Linen Stories with items from the Highland Folk Museum and Inverness home collections including a wooden washing machine, a glass scrubbing board and a cast iron mangle…

Washday Monday
Why are Mondays traditionally set aside as washday? Old habits die hard it seems: most dirty linen was produced at the weekend, after guests  had left and weekend pursuits were over, in the Great Houses of seventeenth century Europe so Monday was given over to the arduous task of laundering the linens by women in service. At that time this work would often encroach into Tuesday with the labour of drying, pressing, folding and storing of treasured table linens (napery).

‘A Woman’s Touch’
Laundry has been tasked to women from early times and as such also offered a social component when other opportunities for women to meet together where limited.

This Laundry Culture is well marked in Scotland, from the blether of riverside scrubbers and ‘Talk of the Steamie’ to the banter shared in all-electric Launderettes. Chat out on tenement drying greens and over the suburban garden fence have allowed a community spirit to persist.

As washer/dryers at home have replaced more public laundry spaces can we note that a welcome liberation from household chores may have led to relative isolation for some?

Material Sustainability
Also on display is the embroidered linen Auchtertool table cloth, featured during our tour to Kirkcaldy and on private loan from Fife: it’s seen almost 200 years of regular use and laundering. How’s that for sustainability?

Valuable Skills
We may love linen but we don’t always love how devilishly difficult it is keep laundered and particularly to keep crease free. Laundry skills are not to be underestimated in particular where ceremony and ritual is concerned.

As noted in our tour to Lisburn, alter linens need specialist care. When in Selkirk we exhibited the Duke of Buccleuch napery kindly on loan from Bow House: no grand dining occasion could proceed on anything but the most pristine of pressed linen.

Many generous attendees during our tour dates in Scotland have brought treasured linens from wedding chests and old family presses: it’s clear that our more modest Sunday Roast Dinners often demands a well-pressed damask!

‘Laundry Tub/Culture Hub’
It’s a great honour to be collaborating with HFM in our latest exploration of how our Museums can contribute to the cultural life of their local communities. A big Highlands thank you in particular to Rachel, Matthew, Maureen and Jo and the great team at HFM.

In 2019 we are linked with key museums for our European tour dates in Holland, Belgium and France.

Of particular note must be the income generating service operated by Textiel Museum in the Dutch town of Tilburg: this canny institution offers a specialist linen laundry service for its esteemed clientele…

I hope your Monday washday was not a bad one and perhaps even as busy and productive as Our Linen Stories first day at The Highland Folk Museum.

Emerging from Our Linen Stories at Highland Folk Museum 2018.

Project Proposal: Scotland in Europe, Shared Material Cultures

  • Highland Folk Museum (Newtonmore, Scotland)
  • Govanhill Baths Community Hub (Glasgow, Scotland)
  • Texteil Museum Tilburg (The Netherlands)