Goodreads Giveaway

I am giving away ten copies of Death of a Dyer, my second Will Rees mystery on Goodreads.

In this book, Rees returns to his hometown and tries to settle down. Lydia accompanies him as his housekeeper -both are not sure where their feelings might take them. David also returns home although he and his father are still at odds.

Rees has been home for only a short time when he is asked to look into the murder of a childhood friend.

9781250033963

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Housekeeping – Laundry

Housekeeping  – 1790s – Laundry

Another really labor intensive and, to my mind, awful job was laundry. Water was heated in one of those large heavy kettles and the wet laundry was stirred in it. Water had to be carried from the well and if no well had been dug, from the nearest spring. Clothing was scrubbed clean on a washboard.

washboard

This is an antique. I am probably the third or fourth generation to own it. This is a small washboard, probably used for lingerie. The washboards used for heavier clothing would have been much larger.

Of course the laundry detergents we use now did not exist. Usually soap was made from wood ashes and fat. The wood ashes were soaked in a barrel. Why, you may ask. Because wood ashes contain lye. Mixed with fat, lye makes a hard and very harsh soap. Getting one’s mouth washed out with soap must have been incredibly unpleasant!

On the frontier, this lye soap was also used to wash bodies. Lydia, since Rees travels regularly to cities like Salem and Philadelphia, and also because Maine was not the frontier in the 1790’s, would have access to other soaps. Castile soap was made with olive oil and was first created in Spain -thus the name. One of the first manufactured soaps for skin was Pears soap and it was made with glycerine. (Ivory, the so pure it floats soap, was not produced until the 1840s. But I digress.)

Since clotheslines had not been invented yet,  laundry was usually draped over bushes or shrubs to dry –  that must have been fun in the winter. The Shakers invented a variety of methods to dry clothing indoors. If you visit Hancock Village you can see one method with a kind of folding screen like contraption. We can also thank them for inventing clothespins – the kind whittled from one piece of wood with two prongs.

Wealthier women hired a laundress who washed the linen – and later the cotton – sheets and clothing. (For those literary people, Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was a laundress as was Emmett Otter’s mother). Until calico came in vogue, (since it was cotton it could be washed) only the body linens were laundered. The silks and velvets were not. (Can I say yuck?) After a few wearings they were passed down to a favored servant. Contemporary accounts describe how these pieces of clothing, gowns mostly, were cut up and the still wearable pieces added to other dresses or made over into other clothing.

Monday was wash day, Tuesday was ironing day. (Wednesday was sewing or mending day for those interested.) Flatirons were heated by the fire and when it reached the proper temperature was used. When it cooled it was put back into the fire and another iron was taken from the hearth. The Shakers also invented a chemical to put into the clothing before ironing to reduce the wrinkling: this was many decades before it was used in the World.

When I think of how much laundry my small family generates and imagine trying to keep up with a large family I shudder. And on laundry day, cooking meals still had to be done. Any free time was spent on spinning or, if a loom was owned, on weaving. Since looms were very expensive not every household had the money to purchase one – that is why itinerant weavers like Rees had jobs. Looms of course were passed down – and that is the genesis of the word heirloom.

Many women – I read one statistic that put the number as high as 50% – could not read or write. Girls did not always go to school. They were too busy working in the home.

I think it bears repeating also that women worked usually with a heavy infant in their arms or a toddler at their heels and were probably pregnant besides.

 

Gloves

One of the things that fascinates me is the history of small homey items. They all have a history.

Gloves, for example. They have been around for millenia. Truly. A mural from Knossos (Crete) shows two boxes. One has something on his hands that look like boxing gloves.

People wore gloves in the middle ages. The word glove is from glof.

Elizabeth I used gloves as a fashion statement, wearing gloves ecorated with lace, as above, jewels and embroidery. One source claims she took them on and off to draw attention to her beautiful hands.

 

Unknown Lady from Elizabethan Period with Gloves - Courtesy Wikipedia ...

Queen Elizabeth 1 gloves are seen for the first time in public and on ...

 

During the Regency period, as women’s sleeves got shorter, gloves got longer, going to the elbow and beyond.

During the Colonial and Federalist period, gloves were a popular wedding gift.

Even now, in our contemporary period, gloves can be important. Think Michael Jackson and his glove. Or, in a more sobering example, the importance of the glove in the O.J. Simpson trial. So the humble glove has had quite a history.

Horses, buggies and wagons, Part I

Think about this fact for a moment: humans have used horses and wagons for millennia. Yet, in the space of 100 years, less, actually, the use of horses had ended.
Most of us no longer have a connection to these beautiful animals or the really elegant inventions that shaped the wagons and buggies that were used for most of human civilization. True, the advances made for the creation of the humble axle did set up the use of axles in cars. How many of us think about this tool which was really the product of many years of trial and error investigation?

First came the wheel?
Not exactly. Remnants of sledges using rollers, not wheels, have been discovered n eastern Europe. There is a lot of discussion about the dating of these rollers and some estimates put it back to about 4000 B. C. (To my amazement, when I began researching wagons and horses, I discovered that Eastern Europe and the steppes were actually the home of many inventions that today we take entirely for granted. Axle is actually an evolved word (aks) from some Proto Indo-European tongue that spawned of the languages from Greek to German, Iranian to Celtic that we are familiar with today. Honey bees. Pigs. Sheep who were domesticated first for meat – they were short fibers so the wool was unspinnable. No one is sure whether it was a mutation or human intervention that created sheep with the wool we use today. )
But I digress.
Sledges had to be pulled by teams of oxen and were very heavy. Also, and this is where the axle comes in, they didn’t move smoothly. Drag is very important in the movement of objects since it pulls back. Think of trying to move something through heavy mud. Later wheeled wagons and of course our current cars don’t have drag – not from the wheels nor to this degree – because the wheels and axle and all the other pieces are constructed in such a way that the vehicle moves as though it is much lighter, without the clutch of another force holding it back. From mud to a smooth asphalt road, for example.
Are we to wheels yet?

Goodreads Giveaway

Last call for the giveaway of my second book, “Death of a Dyer

 

“.9781250033963

 

The giveaway ends Sunday night. In “Death of a Dyer”, Rees goes home to Dugard. He is trying to mend fences with David, his son. Lydia has accompanied him as well, as a housekeeper. Both have baggage from previous relationships and are hesitant to begin again.

Rees is home for only a short while when he is asked to look into the death of Nate Bowditch, Rees’s boyhood friend. A weaver like Rees, Nate has become a dyer. This is a time before the coal tar dyes. Besides indigo and cochineal, most of the dyes used in Dugard would have been natural dyes: some madder, black walnut, butternut and so on. And both indigo and cochineal were very expensive.

I had a lot of fun with this book since I got to include tons of stuff about dyeing and weaving.