April 9, 2010

19th Century Wash Cloths

There is a lot of curiosity about what types of rags were used to clean dishes and wash faces. The difference between wash-cloths and wash-rags in period writing is that wash rags were not finished while wash-cloths were hemmed.Wash-rags were often just scraps from left over cloth and were not meant to last as long as wash-cloths. Wash-cloths were frequently knitted or crocheted for better cleaning quality and for longevity. Many 19th century books mention cotton as the best material to use for wash-cloths but there is mention of using coarse hemp and even candle wicking for cloths used to scrub dishes and exfoliate the face.

In the South during the Civil War, the blockade prevented the South from getting many daily essentials. Yarn was hard to get during the war because although the South grew a lot of cotton, it sold it to the north and to Europe where it was carded and spun and then sold back to the South as a finished product. The Southern women were said to be and proved very frugal and innovative. The lack of yarn was so huge that a knitted wash-cloth in the South would most likely have been unraveled and knitted into clothing. As nasty as this seems today, it was probably a lot more gross because the South also had a severe shortage of grease and soap. Could you imagine wearing old unraveled dish rags?

This brings to mind the classic scene in Gone With the Wind, when Scarlett parades up to Rhett in her dress made out of curtains. While the dresses in the movie are generally incorrect, many women were noted to have dresses during the war that used to be curtains. It is very grim but some of the ladies recorded in their diaries that they had been okay with the shortages as being innovative and creative gave them no time to brood.

I love being creative, I am not sure how I would fare if I had to be creative. I would probably brood and complain. I look up to those women who had to "make do or do without."  I think about this every time I want a new reenacting dress. They are expensive and I feel most reenactors have a wardrobe unheard of during the war. But with all of those pretty clothes, it is easy to understand why we all have so much. I try to reason with myself that no matter how much I am sick of the dress I have now, they had to wear clothes they were sick of for years. So I am going to wait a while and when I get a new dress, I will appriciate it that much more. Perhaps I will even unravel a worn out dish rags and make trim for it. I wonder if anyone would notice?  :D


  1. I find it hard to imagine you complaining about anything. I think you're very cheerful and good-natured.

  2. Hey Jodi, I hope you are feeling better. I'm sure I would be very complaining. :D I get very irritable when I am hungry. You wont have known that because you always have plenty of delicious food for us to eat. I hope Bron is feeling better too.


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