A reader asked about bleaching yards in urban areas. Not a good idea. Beau Brummell used to send his laundry out to the country (bear in mind that "country" could mean Kensington in his day). I did find another approach, although I'm still puzzled about where, exactly, the linens were hung to dry.
TO MAKE TOWN-WASHED LINEN WHITE,
In large towns, where linen cannot be exposed to the air and sun upon the grass, let it be steeped, for some time before it is washed, in a solution of oxymuriate of lime Let it then be boiled in an alkaline ley.* Linen or cotton thus treated will not become yellow by age.
--From The complete servant, by Samuel and Sarah Adams, 1825
As to the fine fabrics another reader asked about. . .
When the pile of velvet requires to be raised, it is only necessary to warm a smoothing iron, cover it with a wet cloth, and hold it under the velvet; the vapour arising from the wet cloth will raise the pile of the velvet, with the assistance of a whisk gently passed over it. For spots and stains in velvet, bruise some of the plant called soap-wort, strain out the juice, and add to it a small quantity of black soap. Wash the stain with this liquor, and repeat it several times after it has been allowed to dry. To take wax out of velvet, rub it frequently with hot toasted bread.
--from The New Female Instructor You 'll find a whole chapter on “The Art of Laundering and Scouring” in Frances Grimble's The Lady’s Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery, & Etiquette. It covers every kind of material and specific solutions for cleaning various colors and “reviving” colors.
For more, check out Susan’s blog about an old-time dry cleaning method.
*Ley could mean lye or it could be used more generally to refer to a cleansing agent. I saw some examples of ash-ley in receipts for cleaning.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.