Spinning Stories

From Washhouse to Art house by cqualmann
March 8, 2016, 2:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The project got a mention in the guardian today, check out the article here: Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 14.18.29




Walk Dates – Summer 2010 by cqualmann
July 12, 2010, 11:38 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Spinning Stories, a walk about laundry and the places people chat, tell stories, exchange tips and share news,

Saturday 17th July 2010, at 11am
Thursday 22nd July 2010, at 6.30pm

tickets £10, booking via the Women’s Library

tel. 020 7320 2222

The walk begins at the Women’s Library, Old Castle Street, London, E1, which is on the site of the old Goulston Square washhouse, and ends at the Boundary Estate Community Launderette, one of the few remaining facilities in the area. It includes a number of launderettes and public baths, past and present, and invites participants to think about changing attitudes to women’s talk, to public and private spaces, and to the role of informal chat in everyday life.

Big Draw workshop by cqualmann
October 20, 2009, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

photos from today’s ‘big draw’ workshop at the women’s library. The morning session was for children, the afternoon for over 12s and adults. We used commemorative handkerchiefs and napkins from the library’s collections as inspiration to create our own hand-drawn souvenirs.

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Spinning Stories walk by cqualmann

Some photos from this morning’s guided walk, thanks to Barney Hewlett for taking these.

If you’d like to do the walk you can pick up a printed guide at The Women’s Library,

or download the PDF version here you’ll also need the map PDF version here.

1. Setting off from The Women’s Library


2. Rothschild Arch


3. Bengal Cuisine, site of Cash Wash Launderette


4. Bangla City Cash and Carr, site of the Russian Vapour Baths



5. St Anne’s Church



6. Cheshire Street Baths, Abbey Street Laundry


7. Smarty pants Launderette and Dry Cleaners



8. Princess Launderette



9. The Old Laundry, Boundary Estate


10. The Boundary Estate Community Launderette


Gossip as virus by ebutterworth
September 3, 2009, 7:09 pm
Filed under: Storytelling, Uncategorized

Gossip and rumour are often described as a kind of virus, spreading unseen and unheeded through an unwitting population, sowing devastation in their wake. They infect people with a kind of fever – a mania to pass on what they’ve heard, to spread the news.

‘Within the social organism the bacilli of rumor are always active. Sometimes they move sluggishly in nonvirulent fashion. Sometimes they burst into a fever of violent activity. The fever, unfortunately, burns most dangerously when the health of the social organism is least able to withstand its ravages.’ (Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman, The Psychology of Rumor, 1947)

Laundry and Gossip in German by ebutterworth
September 3, 2009, 8:33 am
Filed under: Storytelling, Uncategorized

The etymology of gossip in German (Klatsch) suggests an intriguing connection with laundry, as well as reinforcing yet again the traditional link between gossip and women.

While a ‘gossip’ in English was originally a godparent, Klatsch has a more diffuse and even physical origin. It means at least three things: (1) ‘a resounding slap’, a kind of onomatopoeia; (2) a stain; (3) a pejorative word for prattle, typical of women’s conversation. These three meanings come together in the image of the communal laundry: washerwomen beat at their linen, washing and scrubbing away stains, while exchanging news, views and opinions on their neighbours. The dirty clothes retain the bodily dirt of their owner, so, in washing, washerwomen publicly reveal private and intimate secrets – stains, holes, worn-out places. They are in a privileged position to acquire morally dubious information about the laundry’s owners – hidden information about their private affairs – along with the power and opportunity to disseminate this information. The ‘resounding slap’ of their tools (mallets, mangles, scrubbing boards) signal to the rest of the neighbourhood what is going on: not just the washing of dirty linen, but the exchange of (dirty?) secrets. This privileged access to private information may well have appeared threatening to those not privy to it (especially men?)

The communal laundry appears in this image as the perfect place to reveal secrets about absent neighbours, and to discuss interpretations, memories and comments. The laundry is also a picture of the unequal distribution of power in gossip: not everyone has access to the places in which this kind of knowledge is exchanged.

Women have traditionally had easier access to these kind of places because of the division of labour between the sexes. This might help explain why women are also traditionally branded ‘gossips’, even if men and women are no different in their actual production of and participation in gossip.

(Jörg R. Bergman. Discreet Indiscretions: The Social Organization of Gossip, 1993)

Roland Barthes and soap by ebutterworth
August 28, 2009, 10:06 am
Filed under: Laundry Instructions and tips, Uncategorized

In his famous work unpicking some of the iconic symbols of 1950s France, Mythologies, Roland Barthes turns his attention to soap powder adverts. He’s interested in how each product describes its relationship to dirt: chemical fluids are dangerous substances that need to be carefully regulated; they ‘kill’ the dirt, but could also (if used too abundantly) ‘burn’ the object. Soap powders are less aggressive: they gently separate the dirt from the object, ‘liberating’ clothes from the invasion of grime.

Two examples of adverts from the fifties: Persil compared two towels of different degrees of whiteness, appealing to our vanity and our shame, and presenting us with a finished product, miraculously cleansed of dirt. Omo, on the other hand, involved the consumer in the process of cleaning, describing the means through which its powder gently coaxes the grime away from the fabric, infusing its rich foam into the clothes with a light, airy, yet powerful cleaning substance.

What both adverts did was hide the abrasive action of soap powder with a persuasive narrative of air, foam, luxury and miracle. And Barthes also points out that hiding behind both products, despite their rival status on the market, is one and the same multinational company: Unilever. (Roland Barthes, ‘Soap-Powders and Detergents’, Mythologies, 1957)