Memory of a Dollhouse
Laundry day - Dąbrowa Mazowieckie (1910)
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Our dollhouse pictures the utility room in the house of our Great Great-grandmother Juliana (1847-1919). We imagine this tiny room in 1910, the year my Książyk Grandfather was born. The utility room was located next to the kitchen. As for the pantry, this tiny room had a small window protected with iron bars. This precaution highlights the importance of the items that were stored there: soaps and detergents, candles, lamp oil, matches, ironers, and above all, the sewing machine. The utility room was locked and my Great Great-grandmother kept the key hanging from her belt.
The “big laundry” concerned all household linen such as bedsheets, towels, tablecloths or napkins, as well as some ordinary large pieces of clothes (nightwear, petticoats). Washerwomen from the village collected the bags of laundry once a month. Clothes were washed several times in the river. Then, they were left to dry under the sun on the grass. In winter, the “big laundry” was not possible, sometimes during several months. Dirty clothes and linens were stored in the attic. Hence the impressive number of items in the wedding trousseau of the bride. In our family, this tradition was passed down across generations.
Whenever using the services of washerwomen, my Great Great-grandmother had to provide the soap, a homemade product. We do not know her saponification receipt but we suspect that she used some cooking fat mixed with water, salt and lye. This soap had a strong washing power and was not recommended for a daily body hygiene. Still, there was a regular suspicion about washerwomen keeping the soap for their personal use.
The housekeeper did the “small laundry” of underwear and delicate clothes at home. In 1910, there was no running water in the house and the water pump was not installed before the 1920’s. In the utility room, the proximity of the kitchen stove enabled the transfer of hot water and accelerated the drying process. In the early years 1900’s, a washing cabinet replaced the traditional wooden tube. This piece of furniture had a washbasin but no water drain. The dirty water was collected in a large basin positioned under the washbasin. Emptying this lower basin all along the washing process was critical to avoid an overflow!
The “small laundry” involved the use of many specific ingredients and every family had precious secrets to remove stains. Starch (from potatoes) helped stiffen lace and shirt collars. Blue powder known in Poland as ultramaryna was widely used to whiten fabrics. Ultramaryna was sold in small pebbles and was pound into powder. Our utility room displays Morze and Sommer & Nower, two iconic brands in Poland during the early 20th c.
Born in 1909, my French Grandmother used the old word “cristaux” (from soda ash) for all laundry, cleaning or scouring powders. She had very personal views regarding the intimacy of “small laundry”, insisting that “une jeune fille comme-il-faut ne doit pas hésiter à prélaver son petit linge avant de le donner à laver”. (A well-educated young girl should not hesitate to pre-wash her small underwear before giving them to the housekeeper)
In 1910, the care of delicate fabrics (silk, velvet, lace) was a challenge. Paying for the service of a cleaning specialist in town was the best option to preserve precious and expensive clothes. Most of the time, this was money well spent that avoided irreversible laundry accidents. Moreover, the cleaning specialist also proposed dyeing services to renovate or change colors.
The book Poradnik porządku i różnych nowości gospodarczych written by Lucyna Ćwierczakiewiczowa was first published in 1876. This book became a reference for 5 generations of young homemakers, including my Great-grandmother Jozefa who was born this same year. In the second part of the book, no less than 28 chapters are dedicated to laundry care. The author also presents a series of monthly charts to manage the laundry sent to a cleaning service. Her listing Co dano do prania? (what was given to the laundry?) can still be used today.
My Grandmother used to joke about the laundry torment inflicted by my Książyk Grandfather. Until the first months of WWII, he wore detachable collars and cuffs, even though this fashion for gentleman had ended one decade before. Remembering this time, my Grandmother highlighted the difference between “vrais faux cols” (real stiff collars) made in starched linen and “faux faux-cols” (fake stiff collars) made with a white fabric glued on cardboard. Proudly, she insisted that thanks to her laundry care, my Grandfather never wore cheap rubber or celluloid collars.