Come with me to yesteryear, let us float there on a river of laundry. Past the ancient twin tub, round the bend with the removable agitator paddle, over the poss stick falls to arrive at last in the calm and deep waters of the five o’ clock copper, the coopered half barrel, the corrugated wash board and the endless, endless oceans of starch. Poor Mrs Beetroot, every stitch from her separate-leg drawers to her over apron and morning cap was starched stiff as a board and ironed to the knife edge she was on even before the new laundry maid got started.
The indoctrination of newly arrived laundry maids.
A well conducted household is judged by all comers on the shininess of its freshly pressed linens and the crisp rustle of its starched cottons. The lowliest grocer’s boy cannot but fail to observe soft and floppy aprons on servants answering the door at the tradesman’s entrance; taking the servants to be lax by their appearance he is apt to develop the habit of bringing substandard vegetables as a matter of course. Bolted chard, hard peas, woody carrots and wormy cabbages could so easily fall upon the table of a household wanting in the starch department. The type of coals sent tumbling down the chute of a housekeeper with soft lappets can only result in spitting fires and none but the mistress to blame.
So it falls to the mistress of the house to indoctrinate each and every new laundry maid in the mysteries of starch and, having done so, to ascertain periodically that her instructions are being followed. When passing any servant who is wearing an apron, the mistress should take care to strike the apron with a carpet beater which she may carry upon a chatelaine for the purpose. An adequately starched apron should ring like a bell and bear the imprint of every detail of the beater for up to an hour afterwards. Needless to say, a properly starched apron will in no wise permit any harm to befall the wearer and is, in itself, preservative of life, as evinced by their invariable use as suitable garments for hospital nurses, who find that bile and all manner of effluviences simply slide off a well starched, polished apron on to the floor.
Mode Add half a pint of well water to six tablespoons of starch and stir for fifteen minutes with a wooden spoon in a japanned jug. It is important to note that freshly washed articles should be readied in piles for dipping. Any that have not been adequately cleaned in the first wash should be treated. Rust stains can be got out by covering with a paste of fuller’s earth and fowl dung rubbed in lightly with vinegar and wrung through a mangle over the sink to get rid of the residue. Ink stains can be almost made to vanish by covering the area with a flour and water paste, pounded in and rinsed off over the sink. Soiling on collars from proximity to the oils in the neck can be improved by covering with a pounded mixture of white clay and spirits of gin, which should be left for five minutes and after shaken off over the sink.
Meanwhile get the laundry maid to bring a quart of any water to a rolling boil over a sharp fire. It is of the utmost importance that the water is actually at the point of vigorous boiling when the maid tips it into the jug, having taken care that the mistress remove her spoon and hands first. If the maid is at all remiss in this the mistress may remind her by screaming once, sharply. At once the maid must let go of the kettle and stir the spoon with all her might in a clockwise direction and, in a few moments, the starch will thicken. If it does not the mixture should be strained through muslin and stirred over the fire. It is possible, but not very efficacious, to add a tablespoon of isinglass or two ounces of rice bran at this stage, stirring with vigour. If it still fails to thicken uniformly the entire mixture must be cast down the sink and the process recommenced.
At the inception of a new maid the process of starch making, so necessary to the well being of the household, should be repeated as many times as needed until the maid has the method by heart. A wise mistress will commence with a cheerful heart, a new maid and ten pounds of starch. Then the maid should be instructed in the method of dipping the clean damp clothes the very moment her hands are able to withstand the heat of the newly made starch. Upon dipping, the article should be held to the light, over the sink, and any lumps assisted from lace collars, lappets, goffered flounces, laced drawer edges, petticoat frills and bonnet trimmings by clapping them vigorously between the hands. A new maid who has not yet developed coarser skin upon her hands, as seasoned laundry maids and indeed common washer women are wont to do, may be distracted from the pain by a cheerful song. A round is suitable if mistress and maid work together and by singing more quickly the mistress can speed the task. I have known fully fifty articles to be laid upon the kitchen table starched by half past six on a Monday morning in a household that knew all the verses of the Halleluiah chorus. All the starched articles should be wrapped tightly in cloths and the rolled cloths laid upon the dresser in stacks to be ironed. This task the new laundry maid will be required to undertake alone upon the first occasion while the mistress, the footman, the butler and the cook work upon unblocking the sink with boiling water, spirits of ammonia, vinegar and flexible canes from the garden. The maid should easily have finished the ironing by the time the plumber has replaced the drainage pipes, enabling the mistress to assess if ironing instruction will be required the following week or not.
JaneLaverick.com – clean as a whistle, stiff as board.