From the Wash-Tubs and the Fulling Mills to the Laundromats
Traditionally, the washing of clothes was done in areas close to the sources of water, like the private wells in the houses’ yards, public wells in the village, the little streams close to the village, the rivers/creeks used to irrigate the farm fields and at the water mills, which were fed by rivers with plenty of water. In cases where water from their own private well was briny and was not appropriate to create foam, the women carried water from the streams and the public wells close to their houses.
They carried the water in tin containers with their hands or in vats loaded on the beasts of burden (mules, donkeys). The washing board/spot for the washing, rubbing down and squeezing the clothes was located in the environs of their house or outdoors far from their homes (e.g. in public springs or wells, streams or rivers and creeks). Washing outdoors, far from their homes, meant transporting of the dirty clothes and implements/materials needed for washing (e.g. caldrons, paddles, ashes and soap etc., as well their lunches for the day, again using the beasts of burden (the mules and donkeys).
The type of clothing (“light” or “heavy) and their condition (new or used and worn out) usually determined the place and the method of washing. Light clothes, that locally were also called “allaximia” or “allaxidia” (that the wearer changes often) (e.g. shirts, pants, blouses, dresses, sweaters, underwear, tablecloths, etc.) were usually washed in zinc tubs located in the house yard and using the water from their private wells or at outdoor washing spots they set up near public sources (e.g. the Kouveli well), at streams (e.g. Sourlas) or at rivers/creeks (e.g. Valtena). In outdoor washing spots, the zinc tub was replaced by a large flat stone which might be either natural or built by the users. To warm the water in the caldrons supported by a three rocks, they used “firewood” (often gathered from the surrounding area). In the caldron with the dirty clothes they also added “ashwater” (alisiva) for a better cleaning and a softening of the clothes. They washed the clothes by hand, using soap of their own-making, separately for the dark and the light color clothes. When necessary, before they rinsed them, they submerged them in clean hot water to decontaminate them (e.g. from lice etc.). Then they rinsed them in clear water, and depending upon the place of washing, they hung or spread them out on ropes, railings, bushes (heather or holm oak) or rocks to dry.
Heavy clothes, such as wool blankets made on the loom, blankets and capes made from male goat’s wool, could not be lifted and washed by hand. Washing of heavy clothes was done during the warm months (May-August) at outdoor washing spots or at the fulling mills of Valtena using the force of falling/whirling water. At the fulling rmills, they usually washed the new clothes, those that were destined for the dowry and the used (in good condition) clothes, being careful that every load had a homogeneous composition regarding the type of wool. The duration of the wash fluctuated between one and two hours. The heavy clothes washed in the fulling mill did not need rinsing, but only ringing and drying on bushes and rocks in the vicinity of the fulling mill. The drying took place on the spot when the women had farmland near the fulling rmills. Otherwise, they transported them to the village loaded on mules/donkeys for completion of drying.
Heavy, used and worn-out clothes, as well as shoddy doormats made on the loom, were also washed outdoors (in ponds) and then were beaten with paddles to remove waters and the dirt. In turn, they rinsed them and dried them in the environs of their homes if the washing-spot was within the limits of the village or spread them on bushes and rocks when the washing was done at streams, creeks or rivers far from the village. If the washing was done far from the village, the women left from the village early in the morning in order to have time to wash and dry them before they took the road back to their homes.
The photo materials are accompanied by relevant hyperlinks: a recipe and a brief soundless film (1975) about the traditional method of making soap, a second brief film (1975) that shows two generations of women (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) washing “allaximia” in a zinc tub, a narrative by Voula Kontogiannis to a Junior H.S. student about the washing of clothes (light and heavy) in rivers and streams of Vlahokerasia, and, finally, a narrative by Georgis Tsantilas to Kiki Katsafanas about the fulling- and flour-mills. The narratives enlighten us about the toils of women and the social ramifications of traditional practices while at the same time they evoke a nostalgia for the happy moments.
With the harnessing of electric and solar energy, the construction of dams in Valtena, the development of the central water supply, the arrival of the automobile, the aging of the older generation and the use of laundry machines in the village and the cleaners in nearby cities, the “fulling-millers” abandoned the fulling mills. Nowadays, the light clothes are washed in the laundry machines and the heavy ones (quilts, blankets and rugs) are washed in the bathtubs or the terraces and hung on the railings to dry. A relatively small number of Vlahokerasiotes wash their heavy clothes in the cleaners of Tripolis. Relieved from downhills/uphills of the streams, creeks and rivers, the loading and unloading of the beasts of burden, the washing and the paddling of heavy clothes, and having at their disposal all the modern means of laundering, transportation and communication at their feet, young women and young men who remain in the village now have more opportunities for a career, especially with the parallel development of the local and social equivalents lost with the traditional practices.
Nikos P. Petropoulos
VDM Committee Coordinator
Click here or on the image above to browse the flipping book.
 Our gratitude to Nikos P. Stathopoulos, Constantina Sarantakis, Eleftheria Margetis, and Constantina Kontogiannis for their contribution in the shaping of the present thematic unit. Nikos’ father, Panagiotis (“Koubatsas”) was an owner of fulling- and flour-mills.
 The water fell from a pond (basin) into a cask/barrel with a relatively large hang factor (6-10 meters), From the mouth of the barrel, the dashing water was thrown on the sides of a wooden vat with the clothes, in such way as to produce whirling (spinning). The force and the whirling of water were a function of the hang-height and capacity of the hanging barrel as well as of the diameter of the barrel’s mouth from where the water was catapulted into the vat. The barrel and the wooden vat were cone-shaped, with the wooden vat having a larger-diameter base. Both were built from wood, but during their last days of operation the wooden vats were replaced by cement ones.
 For more information concerning the operation of fulling- and water-rmills, the visitor may cruise through the “Dimitsana Museum of Hydrokinisis”: http://www.piop.gr/el/diktuo-mouseiwn/Mouseio-Ydrokinisis/to-mouseio.aspx (Recovered on 3/11/2015).
 The weaved-on-the-loom wool blankets have been replaced by the quilts, both in the village and in the winter settlements. They are stored in trunks and have mainly folk museum value.