There are fewer tasks I enjoy less than laundry. That laundry ranks higher than dusting says little in its favor. First, there is the loading of the washer and adding a pod and fabric softener. Then wet clothing must be moved to the dryer, and, when dry, folded or hung; the latter is hopefully accomplished before the fabric cools to lessen wrinkles or at least not create more. The interruptions when I’m writing a fun scene feel too numerous. I’ve since decided that laundry has disrupted the lives of many through the centuries.
During the Regency era, laundry did not take an hour or two; it took two to three days to complete and was a task dreaded by all who took part, from the housekeeper to the lowest of scullery maids. All the female servants aided in the effort: collecting the water to boil for the laundry caldrons filled with lye soap that could burn the skin and rinsing and wringing the laundry in another pot. The chore disrupted the whole of the house. Delicates would be washed first, then the sturdier fabrics through to the linens for beds and towels for the bath. In more humble homes, while the women toiled away for hours with the laundry, hanging the items out to dry and hoping there was no rain? Meals often consisted of leftovers, though only those ladies from the more humble of modest income households aided in the task.
The question of how to clean a hem six inches deep in mud became how to avoid dirtying one’s hem. While I read in many novels of the era that there was excitement when the hero saw the turn of his heroine’s ankle, the truth is that hems were cut to the ankle to avoid dragging them through muddy roads and across a floor.
While lifts and pattens were fading in style, some of the lower classes used them. With little funds to replace clothing due to a little mud one is sure to encounter no matter where in England they reside, it was a cheaper solution.
Even at a ball, the cut of the dress was at the ankles or ladies held their hems up to avoid spoiling the gowns. To me, this makes the greatest sense in the world, anything to put off the laundry days for just a little longer. The real wonder is how the maid at an inn had the clothes of a lady, gentleman, or family refreshed overnight!
Sources for Your Petticoats are Again Six Inches Deep in Mud!:
Vic “Regency Fashion: Keeping Hems Clean” Jane Austen’s World April 12, 2014, Regency Fashion: Keeping Hems Clean | Jane Austen’s World (janeaustensworld.com)
Vic “Laundry, Georgian Style” Jane Austen’s World August 3, 2011, Regency laundry | Jane Austen’s World (janeaustensworld.com)
Vic “Every Day Chores of Laundry and Scullery Maids, and Washer Women” Jane Austen’s World July 24, 2007, https://janeaustensworld.com/2007/07/24/every-day-chores-of-laundry-and-scullery-maids-and-washer-women/