1736 Giacomo Ceruti (Italian painter, 1698-1767) The Laundress
1736-75 Richard Houston, after Philippe Mercier Domestik Employment
1740 Pietro Longhi (French-born Italian artist, 1701-1785) The Laundress
Silk was cleaned by scourers, who fully cleaned gowns, usually only once a year. Mainly they spot-cleaned them, using salt, chalk, or fuller’s earth & solvents like turpentine, lemon juice, warm milk, or urine. The whole gown was not immersed in water or scrubbed. As a result, silk garments tended to last. They were loosely stitched, because sooner or later they would be taken apart & remodeled. In 1763, one of Martha Washington’s old dresses was sent to London to be retailored in a more contemporary style.
1765 Henry Robert Morland (British artist, 1716-1797) A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen
1770 Illustration from Basedow's Elementary Work
1774 Henry Robert (British artist c 1716-1797) Laundry Maid (after Moreland)
Janet Schaw, an Englishwoman, liked little or nothing about the washing methods in early America. She observed laundry being done in Wilmington, NC in 1776. She wrote that “all the cloaths coarse and fine, bed and table linen, lawns, cambricks and muslins, chints, checks, all are promiscuously thrown into a copper with a quantity of water and a large piece of soap. This is set a boiling, while a Negro wench turns them over with a stick.”..."This operation [boiling] over, they are taken out, squeezed, & thrown over the Pales to dry. They use no calendar; they are however much better smoothed when washed. Mrs Miller showed them [how to wash linen] by bleaching those of Miss Rutherfurd, my brother & mine, how different a little labour made them appear, & indeed the power of the sun was extremely apparent in the immediate recovery of some bed & table-linen, that has been so ruined by sea-water that I thought them irrecoverably lost."
Schaw also noted that North Carolinians were the “worst washers of linen I ever saw, and tho’ it be the country of indigo, they never use blue, nor allow the sun to look at them.” See: Janet Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776, eds, Evangeline Walker Andrews and Charles McLean Andrews, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921)