Who needs a washing machine?

Who needs a washing machine?

Long before the advent of washing machines and washing powder, when I was a child, the necessary ingredients for fresh white linen were green carbolic soap, two buckets of ash straight from the hearth, a clean basket (handwoven from local rushes), hot water, and a nice big rosemary bush!

The linen would be left to soak overnight in a big barrel called a “mastelo”. The next morning, Nona would scrub the linen with a thick, flat piece of wood known as a tavlomastela. After both linen and barrel were thoroughly rinsed, she would place each item of clothing into the basket, spreading each one flat over the previous one. Then an old tablecloth or other piece of linen went on top, and finally a thick sheet of hessian covered the whole pile. Then she would empty a large cauldron of hot water, in which she had previously boiled the ashes, over the entire basket of clothes, and lave it to drain. After a couple of hours, she would spread the clothing over the rosemary bush and allow it to dry naturally in the sun. This was a weekly chore for all families, and was not seen as something out of the ordinary, though what was very important was to agree each family’s washing day in advance, as the rosemary bush could only accommodate a few items at any one time, and each load of laundry would take the best part of a day to dry. Despite the extraordinary amount of effort that went into the process – or perhaps because of it, the result was sparkling white linen, softened by the ash and scented with sunshine and rosemary, a wonderful combination for both bed linen and clothing. My mother washed everything by hand well into the 1960s, since washing machines were rare in Greece until then.

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