Soooooo! In answer to my Call for Guest Posts I have a selection of posts for you from various sources. These fabulous people have been kind enough to take time out of their days to write up a little something for this blog because I’m so crazy busy! You’ll see these pop up over the coming weeks so be sure to keep coming back!
In the fifth post of the selection, we’re visited by Mary Rhoads. Another step away from writing this blog talks about clothes pegs with a level of detail that I had never considered applying to them before. Informative and humorous, this is Mary’s take on a small item often overlooked for its usefulness.
My home town, Philadelphia, is renowned for its public sculpture. One piece, the Clothespin, stands outside City Hall. When I was a teenager, my mother observed that it wouldn’t work as it doesn’t have the grooves for the arms of the spring that real clothes pegs do. The arms of the spring would slide against the wooden arms of the peg, and mean that the entire construction would fall apart when pressing against the spring. Actual use is improbable, of course, as the entire piece is a couple of metres tall.
My mother’s observation still echoes in my ears many years later. I grew up in a household that tried to save money wherever possible. That meant hanging out the washing rather than running a dryer. That included miles of washing lines hanging out cotton nappies, pinning the corners together to reduce the total numbers of clothes pegs used. The telling off my 15 year old sister got for washing and tumble drying a single pair of jeans is now the stuff of family legend. That was a country where gated communities of condominiums had (and have) by-laws against washing lines. I kid you not, at my grandparents’ condo in California when we spread out our towels in the sun after swimming, the neighbours called to complain!
To this day, I love the smell and feel of washing that has dried outside on the washing line. The fresh ozone scent from the disinfectant of sunlight and the stiff, rather starchy, feeling of cotton before the fibres relax again are the signals that my laundry is really clean. A quick once over for bird strikes as the washing is taken down and folded is all that is required, I often don’t iron. My friend Anne agrees that washing is always better after ‘a bit of a blow’, even if there is no sunshine. Hanging the washing out has become my favourite household chore as an adult. The process involves caring for the family, caring for the environment, quality time outdoors and meditation all rolled into one.
Clothes pegs are essential tools for this process, and I am always on the look out for new and better designs. I can never have too many pegs. I find, however, that the quality of the peg is essential to its performance, and enhances the hanging out ritual. Many varieties of pegs are now on the market, but my search for quality is never ending, and I have amassed several types of clothes peg over the years.
Traditional wooden pegs have a role to play, though they also have their limitations. Dolly pegs, from the left pegs 1 and 2, could arguably be the most traditional form of all, and are certainly still available as craft materials for children. The Preschool Learning Alliance in Leicester used to supply them for the creation of dollies, as evidenced by the middle peg in this photo, which has been put back to its formal use after a brief spell as a dolly when our daughter Alice was three. On a desert island, I could whip up my own examples of these if I found myself with clothes that required drying!
On the right is the traditional sprung wooden peg available in grocery and hardware shops throughout the Kingdom. They are relatively cheap, but their gripping power is limited. In addition, I have found that as they age they discolour, which tends to come off on my freshly washed clothes. This is more of a problem when pegs are left out on the line and get dirty (more of a tradition in the US than in the UK), so I bring my pegs and rotary line in when not in use. To get away from discoloured peg marks on clothes, I switched to plastic pegs many years ago.
Of the many plastic pegs on the market, few are up to the job; their purchase is very much a case of caveat emptor. All three of the pegs in this photo are based on the traditional sprung wooden peg (notice the grooves for the arms of the spring). Most plastic pegs are very flimsy. The peg on the left has a chip at the handle end of the clip which is the start of a split in the plastic. Plastic pegs where the handles bend rather than opening the spring have no place in my peg bag. The ideal peg must be able to hold the washing to the line without breaking or sliding along the line. The middle peg is a lightweight model in pretty, translucent colours which has been very reliable. The peg on the right is my husband Gilbert’s favourite. It is sturdy and has a soft grip lining on the handles and pincers. These were more expensive than some of the other examples, but well worth the money.
In the search for clothes peg perfection over the years I have experimented with less traditional forms of pegs. The top and right pegs in this photo are based on a one-piece plastic moulding, where as the bottom and left are variations on the two piece sprung wooden pegs.
Smaller pegs, such as those top, right and centre on the picture on the left, and the middle on the picture above are most suitable for smaller items of washing.
The one piece moulded pegs have a basic design flaw in that the plastic strut in the middle is regularly over-flexed. This leads to a single point of failure, and these pegs break. Call me fussy, I find it irritating to have a peg go ping and fly apart in three pieces just as I am wrestling with the washing in a stiff breeze. I continue to use the ones I have, but I won’t buy any more of this type.
The piranha shaped number on the left above is my most recent peg purchase, and is reserved for heavy washing such as jeans, towels and sheets. On initial appearance, it appeared to meet my criteria: it will not discolour my washing, it is sturdy so the handles won’t bend in use, and it does not have the known design flaw of the strut that snaps. Yet to my dismay, in practice I find it more difficult to use as it has a tendency to turn sideways in the hand when I am trying to open it one handed. A disappointment, after my high hopes.
Is the golden grail, perfection in a clothes peg, possible? Or is it subject to the constraints of the real world, and unobtainable like Plato’s Idea of Forms? Probably something of the latter, I am afraid. Like Gilbert, I have my personal favourite pegs, purchased when we married in 1993.
They fulfil most of my criteria: they are sturdy, they don’t discolour our clothes, I can apply them to the washing and line one handed with three or four tucked into my little fingers so I don’t have to keep reaching into the peg bag. We have used and abused them for the majority of 19 years, including digging them out of borders where they have lain buried and washing them off. They have doubled as clips for food bags, and have survived prolonged spells in the freezer. Sadly, the years have taken their toll on them and they are beginning to crack and break. If you see any in your shopping trips, they come highly recommended as good design and value for money. Please let me know where you found them, I would very much like some new ones.
As I write this, three loads of washing are flapping in the breeze in my garden, and more is visible over the fences in both directions. I draw comfort that a continent away, my mother and sister are hanging out their washing, including nappies, pinned corner to corner to save space on the line and reduce the number of pegs used. My search for the perfect clothes peg continues, and perhaps the point is that it is impossible and I will never find it. Pegs remain the tools for my favourite chore. Good design, even in something so small and everyday, matters and is worthy of honouring in public sculpture.