If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Market Day

coffee potDo you do your household chores on a schedule, taking care of one big job on a specific day every week? Oh, to be so organized!

It may not work for me, but, traditionally, American homemakers did seem to have set-aside days for the major chores of their week. Of course, meals had to be cooked and dishes done and beds made every day, but some chores could be handled less often.

According to American author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the chores in her day were set on this schedule. Ingalls Wilder chronicled her family’s pioneer life in a series of books, the most famous of which was Little House on the Prairie. In Little House in the Big Woods, she wrote:

Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.

The more pervasive list, which substitutes “market day” for the very rural “churning day” is this one:

  • Monday – Washing
  • Tuesday – Ironing
  • Wednesday – Mending
  • Thursday – Marketing
  • Friday – Baking
  • Saturday – Cleaning
  • Sunday – Day of Rest

Out of this “day of the week” schedule grew another tradition—the making of “day of the week” (DOTW) towels.

These towel sets were usually embroidered by “loving hands at home”—one towel for each day, one towel for each chore. Sometimes the sets include seven towels, with one designated for Sunday as a day of rest or church, while other sets include only six towels, presumably because, if Sunday was really a day of rest, a towel would not be needed.sunday

As a lover of vintage linens, I can tell you that there were dozens, if not hundreds, of DOTW designs, sold as iron-on transfers, that women could choose among to make their set of towels.

The towels were often created from recycled feedsacks, the cotton of which was highly absorbent and lint free. And you thought “upcycling” was a 21st century phenomenon!

Many of the DOTW patterns were very cutesy. Puppies, kittens, snails, piggies, and duckies abound on the towels.

puppiesThe ubiquitous Sunbonnet Sue makes many, many appearances (after all, that’s what ubiquitous means!)

sunbonnetMany patterns that would now be considered in poor taste were available, too. A recent search on eBay produced towel sets of stereotypical African-American women, Native Americans, and Mexicans with sombreros, all doing their chores.

If you like vintage DOTW towels, they are readily available on eBay and Etsy. You can even buy unused iron-on transfers and make your own. Single day towels of puppies and kittens are inexpensive, full sets of more unusual design are more expensive.

Some of the favorites I’ve run across in my years of collecting are these:

cowgirl mending cowgirl dustingI love these cowgirl towels because of the incredible detail in the embroidery and the fact that the scenes include the flirtatious cowboy as well.

girl cleaning girl restingThese towels have a sweet little miss who is much more authentic than that pesky Sunbonnet Sue. And she has a fashion sense!

printed bakingI love the bold graphics on this printed set. The scenes are not so “old-timey” and cutesy but there is a cat in every one!

applique

And these are my favorites, a set I’m sorry I sold. They’re done with wonderful, detailed appliqué and embroidery, they have a more modern vibe, and they include two chores I love—gardening and serving cocktails!

Now, let’s hear from you! Do you set aside days for your chores or are you just glad to fit them in whenever you can? Did your older relatives have a schedule? Is this an American thing or did your culture have similar traditions?

And, most important, will you be making your own set of towels now? I’d love to make a modern set. Monday is Blog Day, Tuesday is Listing on Etsy Day, Wednesday is Going Out to Lunch and Having a Beer Day . . .

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45 thoughts on “If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Market Day

  1. Love your DOTW version much more so! Gardening + cocktails are my top faves as well. Actually, I combine the two at 5 o’clock by having a glass of wine and watering my mossy rocks. Such fun!

  2. How happy I am to follow your blog.Vintage, linens and an interesting well written story: I love this post! And I belong to the almost extinct breed of women that got a 2 year training to become a House Keeper.( not be mistaken for a Cleaner, which is a noble craft as well!) And before I became a nurse ( and than librarian..yes I know it makes no sense) I worked for a company where people could hire housekeepers to manage the big households on farms etc. It included the whole package: budget, menus & groceries, cleaning, child care and often the sick mom! I can tell you, it demands a lot of organizational skills, people skills and as Laura Wilder says: ‘a clear head and a firm back.’ I loved it!! And being Dutch and therefore affected with the National Obsession for cleanliness…DOW lists and chore lists are Holy Items for me. Though serving cocktails after working in the garden, is indeed my favorite too.
    Thanks for this lovely post and have a wonderful weekend, Johanna

    • Wow–this comment is more interesting than my post was! It’s so neat that you were able to make a study of house keeping and the job sounds like it could be very rewarding (or awful, depending on the situation!) You’ve had a fascinating set of work experiences but always a helper, someone who makes the world easier on the people around you! And I have a Dutch question for you: I have something my mother brought back from the Netherlands and I don’t know what it’s called. It’s a wooden frame with a piece of lace stretched across it. She was told it was designed to be put in a window, to shield a plant from direct sunlight, as well as look pretty in the window. Do you know these items? Do they have a name?

      • Yes, I know what you mean. Often the frame is quite curly/ornate. Houses in The Netherlands have wide window sills and people love putting lots of pot plants in there along with pretty items and nice curtains.So indeed your item is a pretty plant protector but you do not see them in modern houses.

  3. My mother actually stuck to the “schedule” on the towels! Except she made us vacuum on Saturday too. Our house was vacuumed twice a week – Lord I can’t even get to it ………..

    • Vacuuming seems to have been much more important to my mother than it is to me, too! Or at least it was important to her when I was younger–she’s pretty relaxed about it now!

  4. Oh do make a modern set. That would be fun to see. I don’t keep a schedule at all but, for my grandmothers, Monday was always washing day. And Sunday, once the roast dinner was cooked, was a day of rest and relaxation.

    • I’m a terrible housekeeper–I’d rather do creative things. Luckily, my husband is as relaxed about the house as I am so we just postpone cleaning as long as we can. I’ll ponder making a modern set of towels–if I can figure it out, you’ll be among the first to know!

    • I think when more and more women started working outside the home, doing household chores became less regimented–we all did what we could, when we could.

  5. Ah, so now I know why they had those “days of the week” panties…if today is Tuesday I have to iron.

  6. Love the last set, I’m really digging the combined appliques and embroidery. I don’t have special days for chores. I try to do something everyday after work, before relaxing and what else needs to be done, I do on sunday.

    • It’s that business of working outside the home that changed everything–we can’t set aside a day now cleaning or ironing. We just have to fit it in when we can!

    • Your granny must’ve been Catholic, with fish on Friday? I grew up Protestant and always thought it was odd that Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Friday. But then the church seems to have changed those rules . . .

  7. I’ll join my voice with the others urging you to create a modern set – maybe it is time for the daily list to re-emerge! It occurs to me that with such a large proportion of younger parents having lost the skills of old [brought up in the dine-out, takeaway and throwaway society] and now enthusiastically re-discovering them, there is room for some fun and pretty reminders.

    I remember Sunbonnet Sue from my younger days – she must have been all over the western world as I also saw her when I lived in the UK. I always liked her and was fascinated by her mystery – what did she look like? I think I may have embroidered her once – but my embroidery was never very good and she may not have been finished……

    My mother certainly did her tasks on a regularly rotated basis – as did all housewives of her time and region. I stuck to a schedule when my kids were young – I remember hearing Elvis had died I know it was a Monday because I was baking! When I was teaching house and garden were attended to on Saturday afternoon [I was often in meetings on Saturday morning] and Sunday – big jobs waited for term breaks! Nowadays I do what needs to be done when I get around to it! Which is a lovely, relaxed way to live 🙂 But I’d still buy a set of your DOTW towels!

    • I think my farm grandmother rotated chores, too–I remember days when a LOT of bread got baked! My mother was a teacher and so chores just got done, as you describe, when she could fit them in (and put my sister and me to work). Me? I do as few chores as humanly possible–I’m pretty accepting of a messy house, if it means I can be doing something creative instead! And writing about Sunbonnet Sue reminded me of something funny–I’ll write a blog post about it soon!

  8. I’ve never heard of doing certain chores on certain days before, I wish I was that organised too! I loved little house on the prarie. My mum read all the Laural Ingalls Wilder books to me when I was small – I cried so much when their dog died! I think the towels featuring the cat are my favourite, although I don’t change my towels daily either. I think I’d have to have a towel a week! xx

    • I didn’t know if people outside the US would be familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her husband (Almanzo WIlder, whose story she tells in Farmer Boy) grew up about 30 miles from here. The farm still stands and is a museum–it’s really cool to see!

  9. I’m lucky if I realize that dinner is supposed to be served every evening, and if I get the laundry done before everything I own is in the hamper. 😉 But I have always loved those towel sets, and I can understand that you were sad to see those beauties go!

  10. Laughs at Michelle ( above) There are quite a few things I wish I had not sold.Specially from when I first started dealing and did not know what the hell \i was doing.

  11. Love the appliqué and embroidery ones. My grandmother kept ridgid days of the week for tasks even when she had others to do them. Monday was always washday and you ate the cold meat from Sunday roast to ensure there was no cooking! So my Mother tells me – all before my time.

  12. Love all of these. I thought of you last week in Hay-on-Wye: in a shop-front there were dozens of beautiful embroidered vintage linens. I suspect you’d have been in heaven. Apologies that I didn’t get a photo to post for you but the toddler twinnage was seriously playing up at the time.

  13. yes, my mother had a set schedule of chores – and a set of embroidered towels. no I don’t, always too busy doing more interesting things. It would be wonderful if you designed a new pattern, with a collection of old towels it would be fun to recycle them with a new pattern.

  14. Love love love that last set! Cocktails and gardening are chores I like! =) I am personally way too disorganized to do things by any kind of schedule. I tend to do them as they need doing so there’s constantly something that needs to be done but usually it’s not too overwhelming of a list. Unless there’s company coming to stay and then it’s two days of cleaning!

  15. Oh boy, it’s just enough to get to work on time…I guess it all get’s done but there is no serious plan. As a kid there was chores that took place on certain days and I remember my great aunt having a love for doing laundry (all the time). I do admit I rather love to vacuum…dog hair, need I say more. But, I love all the towels you shared, they are so charming!

    • I don’t like to clean a house that already looks clean–I like to be able to see where I’ve been when I clean! Or at least that’s the excuse I give for waiting until the cat hair piles up and blows around on the breeze!

  16. What lovely and charming items! Now if I had a set they’d be horribly inappropriate. Dusting? Only when I can write my name in the dust. Ironing? Only when I can avoid it not a day longer…. and so on. Still, at least if I had one of the sets you’ve showcased, they wouldn’t suffer from over-use…….

  17. Pingback: The Death of Sunbonnet Sue: It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Girl | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  18. These days everything I say refers to phrase “I used to”. I used to have a very rigid schedule for household chores but as the years zip by I am becoming more disorganized or should I say more focused on certain things and not others. I wish I could be that organized. Have a fantastic week!

  19. Pingback: The One That Got Away: Love on a Dishtowel | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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