Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
When I was a child, before we could do something more fun, like barreling our Radio Flyer wagon full-speed down a steep hill into a ravine, we often had to first help hang clothes to dry. All of the mothers in our rural neighborhood kept us busy with that chore.
Next door at Coenen’s dairy farm, with nine children at home, laundry continually flapped on four incredibly long clotheslines. Filled with sheets, we had enough curtains to stage a play. At the DeGroot farm, we entertained ourselves jumping from the chicken coop rooftop to the clothesline poles. And, Mrs. Wilson had a snazzy clothesbasket like a tall shopping cart on wheels that made the job more exhilarating when she wasn’t looking.
Ah, but we had the only wringer-washer.
To get more water out of the big stuff, two of us wrestled from opposite ends, twisting and twisting until we could twist no more. We surely distorted our clothes, but what does a child care about crumpled pantsuits or rumpled pedal-pushers?
Even without a spin-cycle washing machine, I don’t recall our clothes landing in a heap beneath the clothesline (unless we had something to do with it). Blankets and coats too big for the wringer were still dripping when we hung them up, but they stayed on the line – held snugly in place with sturdy, wooden clothespins – even on the windiest of Wisconsin spring days.
I miss those years. Not just the carefree country life of a youngster, but the quality goods we took for granted – like clothespins that actually pin clothes to the line. We’ve accepted cheap, imported junk for so long, we hardly even grumble anymore or try to find the quality items we’d really rather have. Inferior goods have taken over our homesteads – from tinny garden hoes to pewter-like screwdrivers and clothespins with wire springs not much thicker than paperclips.
I thought no one else pondered such things. But then I came across a website by a New England craftsman who has a vision to bring back the Classic American Clothespin. From Herrick Kimball’s blog, I learned the last American clothespin manufacturers closed up shop years ago.
It was Herrick’s wife, Marlene (another line-drying enthusiast), who first pointed out to him the aggravation of using clothespins that break, twist or fly apart in the slightest breeze. She compared flimsy modern pins to the dependable, old ones she inherited from her mother.
When Marlene told Herrick she couldn't find good clothespins anywhere, he headed to the Internet to track down some high-quality clothespins.
“I soon discovered that nobody is happy with the poor quality of imported clothespins,” Herrick told me when I inquired about his pins. “There was virtually unanimous agreement among the line-dryers of America that American clothespins were far superior to the imports.”
Herrick, a 25-year veteran woodworker and home remodeler, started tinkering with several prototypes for a quality clothespin months ago, and kept us solar-clothes-drying devotees posted on his progress through his Deliberate Agrarian blog. As it turns out, building the first clothespins from scratch in a home woodshop took longer than Herrick anticipated.
But, oh, the end result was worth it – and he now has construction plans simplified. Because I use so many clothespins and the finished pins are not inexpensive, I ordered two sets of the so-called “factory seconds.” (I could not find anything wrong with them.) They arrived by Priority Mail in less than a week with a personal “thank you” from Herrick.
Although it was snowing and ice coated my clothesline (chintzy plastic line, but that’s another story), I couldn’t wait to try them out under heavy load – a patchwork quilt I’d just finished. Sopping wet, the quilt was very heavy and certainly would’ve been on the ground in no time with regular pins.
Since it was practically freezing, it took hours to dry my quilt. All afternoon, I peeked out the kitchen window to check on the strength of those clothespins. Yep, they held, just as I knew they would.
I already like hanging clothes outdoors, but now it’s even more fun. It’s another one of those relaxing household chores, like shelling peas, that allows us to slow down a bit and get some fresh air. I can’t imagine why electric clothes dryers ever became popular among country folks.
Herrick says it is not necessary to coat the clothespins in anything since they are already smooth and made of good ash wood. But, since these pins are heirloom quality, I coated mine in boiled linseed oil. I know it sounds silly, but these are now the prettiest clothespins I’ve ever owned. I was proud to fill up one of my homemade clothespin bags with them.
I figure Herrick’s clothespins are going to revive the nearly lost art of line-drying, so I’ve been turning out my Granny’s Clothespin Bags as fast as my feet can treadle – another thoroughly enjoyable old-time skill. We found my old White Rotary treadle in a thrift store, but I prefer to picture it whipping up log cabin quilts a hundred years ago.
Herrick now has a vision is to bring the manufacture of heirloom-quality clothespins back to America, but not in the form of an enormous clothespin factory.
“The concept of small-scale, decentralized, community-based production appeals to me. It meshes perfectly with my agrarian worldview,” Herrick said. “I would love to see a network of craftspeople (something akin to an old-fashioned guild) all across the nation, supplying the market demand for high-quality clothespins in their area.”
Herrick says although it is a woodworking challenge to make a good clothespin, anyone with basic woodworking skills and power tools can do it. He supplies specifications and the stainless steel springs, making it relatively easy for an entrepreneurial woodworker to get started.
Herrick has written several articles and three books for "Fine Homebuilding" magazine. He owns and operates Planet Whizbang, a homestead-based business that publishes a variety of plan books (i.e., how to build a Whizbang chicken plucker).
“I love to create with wood, and inspire with words,” Herrick says.
To learn more about the Classic American Clothespin, visit the site, or read Herrick’s blog. Or to check out my Granny’s Clothespin Bag, visit us at our site or to see more pictures of Herrick’s clothespins, see our blog.
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.