humble clothing peg – portugal news

I’ll guess no one gives a second thought as to the origins of clothespins – or clothespins as they are sometimes called, until they break one by one, and you suddenly find you’re short on laundry and fasten the load of laundry twice. Your washing line. They have a myriad of other uses too – clipping the large, closed-back crunchy bags is a favourite, and I have a couple that hold the actual sack on my clothes ventilator – not to mention the ones that hold my wall calendar together as the holes finally rip “December” away from the coil.

Before the invention of pegs, women routinely slathered wet laundry on bushes or spread clothes on the floor to dry their clothes (risking making them dirtier, or worse, getting a creepy crawly making a home in the negligible stuff!). Some say that fishermen first thought of pegs to secure them into the nets, but I don’t know how true that is.

Early pegs were likely just V-shaped twigs that were pushed down over the corners of the elements to prevent the wind from plucking them away, but in the early 19th century a man named Jérémie Opdebec came up with the idea of ​​a simple clothes peg made of wood, with long legs and a rounded head to push clothes wetted to a clothesline to keep it in place. His timing for such an invention was just perfect as people were expanding into cities, drying areas and fences were disappearing, and washing lines began crisscrossing city streets. Even in those days, wedges were used for other purposes – it is said that when Charles Dickens had an epileptic fit, a clothes clip was pushed between his teeth to prevent him from biting his tongue.

When toy making stopped during World War II, children were making toys from items they found indoors and outdoors, and the tradition of making dolls stretched out of wooden clothes pegs arose from these times, using scraps of cloth and lengths of wool or thread at a time when people had Little money to spend on playing even if it was available. Clothespin dolls were often made by American Civil War veterans while they were recovering in the hospital, and were a source of income for them, usually selling for a penny each.

Gypsy wedges were a similar type of clothespin made by mobile farm workers, were made in the winter months when there was very little work on the farm, and were sold door-to-door to help increase their income. Gypsy pegs are traditionally made from hazelnuts or willows that were found growing wild on their travels.

From 1852 to 1887, the US Patent Office issued 146 separate patents for clothespins (146!), with the first design resembling a modern clothespin patented in 1853 by David M. Smith, a prolific Vermont inventor. It was made of two wooden ‘levers’ held together by a metal spring, and was designed to open and close by pressing, rather than simply being held over the laundry.

Modern clothes pegs are still made this way, but they also have downsides because they sometimes get screwed up and the two pieces of wood and the spring need to be fixed together (you need a good brains for this!). Plastic wedges are also now available, but even these wedges become brittle in Portuguese sunlight, as some have cushioned pads that are not characteristic of delicate fabrics. Others are made of stainless steel, some have built-in hooks, and others are designed for hurricane force winds.

It has even been reinvented in miniatures for drafting and image display, and musicians have been known to use to keep their musical notes in place. Most clothespins are now assembled cheaply almost exclusively in China, but high manufacturing and labor costs — and the use of dryers — aren’t the whole story. They say disposable nappies may have done as much damage to the industry as anything else, as before these were invented families would wash nappies all the time, and there was nothing more satisfying than seeing a batch of cloth nappies getting well ventilated on the clothesline!


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