A Day in My Life: Iowa Amish Clotheslines

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A reader wrote to me recently and said she was obsessed with Amish clotheslines. I had to smile. I had just returned from Iowa with dozens of pictures of clotheslines! There’s something about them that is so comforting, so visually appealing. Amish farmhouses tend to be rather sedate looking. Quiet, even, despite the fact that they’re filled with people of all ages. But the ever-present clothesline, flapping violently in the wind, belies the calm. Usually filled with simple clothing–all solids, no prints–colors of jewels so bright and cheerful they take your breath away.

I’ve always had some kind of a clothesline–even if it’s a humble wooden rack in the sunny courtyard. I love the feel of the pins in my hands, the scent of clean, damp laundry, the way the clothes dry so stiff and starchy and smell of the sunshine, the feeling of connecting to women who have gone before me. After all, this was how laundry was dried–up until the 20th century.

The Amish know the secret of hanging clothes in just the right way. They never let the unmentionables show!

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Two questions for you: Why do you think pictures of Amish clothesline are so compelling? And do you hang your laundry out to dry?


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About Suzanne

Suzanne Woods Fisher writes bestselling, award winning fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her interest in the Plain People began with her Old Order German Baptist grandfather, raised in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne's app, Amish Wisdom, delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone or iPad. She writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She lives with her family in California and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you can't take life too seriously when a puppy is running through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.

Comments

  1. Connie Saunders says:

    Many of the Amish in our area have clotheslines that can be reeled in. They extend from a window or porch to a tree or post and there is a pulley that allows the line to be moved in and out.
    I have been married for over 45 years and I have always had a clothesline. For many years it was my only way to dry laundry but even today, I prefer my clothesline over my dryer!

  2. Thanks, Connie, for commenting! Interesting to hear about the Amish in your neck of the woods. Would love a pix sometime! And I know what you mean about preferring a clothesline to a dryer. There’s something about the process of hanging clothes…it slows you down. One friend of mine prays for each family member as she hangs their laundry.

  3. Donna Bayar Repsher says:

    After watching a PBS special about the Amish, I fell in love with the T-post clothesline I saw. I finally tracked down the maker and ordered a set immediately. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, where all laundry was done in the basement of our apartment building. We had a summer home in northern NJ though, and my grandparents stayed there with me all summer–my parents drove out on the weekends. I loved to help my grandmother hang out the wash as a child, and when I got married, and we bought our first house, hanging out the wash was a must. Nothing smells as good as laundry dried in the open air.

    When we moved to Vermont in 1986, the clothesline was out in our front yard–and without realizing it, I started hanging out the laundry the Amish–no unmentionables showing from the road out front!

    We added a large sunroom to the front of our house, and are moving the old deck to the side of the house, where my T-post clothesline will find a new home, and where no one can see any unmentionables!

  4. Lisa says:

    I also love my clothesline. There is something about the fresh outdoor smell on my sheets that no dryer sheet fabric softener can compare to.

  5. Love to see clothiers hanging on the line I don’t hang out clothiers but my mom did

  6. Julie Sunne says:

    I was sad to realize I missed you when you were in Iowa, Suzanne. You were only 40 minutes from my house. :(

    I love to hang clothes out. I use my Grandma’s old clothespin bag (threadbare and in need of more patching) and her clothespins too.

    I think it symbolizes a level of peace and timelessness we all long for.

    • Oh Julie…so sorry to have missed a chance to see you! I was zooming fast…but I’d love to go back and spend more time. Next time I’m in Iowa…I promise to connect with you! Warmly, Suzanne

  7. Pam Fallin says:

    My mom raised me to hang out clothes and I still do. I remember having a line full of baby diapers flapping in the wind. The smell:)

  8. Lisa Combs says:

    I absolutely love my clothesline….Whenever I am in Holmes County and see clothes on the lines, makes me want to go to their houses and ask if I can help…I know, sounds crazy. I have some good talks w/my boys while hanging clothes and the most wonderful talks w/the Lord!

    • I can see why you had good talks while hanging laundry, Lisa. Kind of like driving in a car. You’re busy…but not. Somehow, those kinds of tasks make for easy talking.

  9. Michelle says:

    I live in rural Iowa and I hang my clothes out whenever possible. In fact, once when I changed my sheets this winter, I used a set that still smelled of sunshine. I don’t often use them for some reason, but that night when I got into bed , I didn’t want to fall asleep. I just wanted to lay there and smell the sheets and think of summer. I don’t like the stiffness of jeans or towels, so I throw them in the dryer on the fluff cycle after they come off the line. This really helps soften them up, and they still smell of the outdoors.

  10. Andrea Woodard says:

    I don’t use a clothes line now, but I remember growing up, even though we lived on the 5th floor of an apartment building, my mom would hang the clothes on a line that was on a pulley and attached to the roof of the movie threatre next door. When I was instructed to hang the clothes on that line, I always feared either I would fall out the window or drop the clothes and have to run downstairs to pick them up and hang them again.

  11. Connie Roberts says:

    I don’t have a clothesline now, I work everyday so I don’t have time to hang clothes out but I remember growing up my mom hanging out the clothes. They smelled so good & I remember we used to run through the clothes while they were hanging on the line being very careful not to knock them to the ground or we’d surely face my mom’s wrath! Amish clotheslines remind me of simple, quiet, country life like the days when I was growing up.

  12. Sonja says:

    When I was growing up my mother always hung the clothes on the line and as I became tall enough, I was the “assistant” hanger. In the winters she hung them indoors on a rack. She still does this, but my husband prefers softer towels, and nothing stiff. So…that is how it goes. I still have a umbrella style clothesline and hang out a few things now and then just for the smell!

  13. Donna Ratliff says:

    For several reasons clotheslines are compelling for me: they exemplify the simple, back to basics, less expensive than always using a dryer, letting nature work for us, and our clothes being sun-kissed, which I believe to be healthier than those coming from the dryer, and providing a quiet time when our thoughts and prayers can concentrate on our Lord. One visitor always remarks how fresh my towels feel, yet I do not like the stiffness when folding, but seems to provide extra absorption and exfoliation when being used.
    Our yard is small, so we have a retractable line, not connected to the house. There is a mocking bird who serenades me with his many songs, while hanging the clothes. I enjoy hanging clothes.