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In a story titled "Prelude" written by "Katherine Mansfield", I came across the following paragraph:

After tea Kezia wandered back to their own house. Slowly she walked up the back steps, and through the scullery into the kitchen. Nothing was left in it but a lump of gritty yellow soap in one corner of the kitchen window sill and a piece of flannel stained with a blue bag in another.

Please somebody shed some light on the meaning of "a piece of flannel stained with a blue bag".

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The phrase is not idiomatic. It means literally what it says. I think it's a non-question. – Kris Nov 26 '12 at 8:02
up vote 12 down vote accepted

At the time Katherine Mansfield was writing, a blue bag, I recall, was put in with clothes while they were being washed to make them come out looking whiter. I imagine that if the bag stayed in contact with any piece of clothing for too long it would leave a stain.

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You just beat me ... Here is detailed instruction on the use of a blue-bag from The Teacher's Manual of Object Lessons in Domestic Economy, Vol. II, 1899. – StoneyB Nov 25 '12 at 18:40
@StoneyB. I know because my mother used them! – Barrie England Nov 25 '12 at 18:43
It's a Brit thing, I think. In this country housewives put a measured quantity of bluing into the water, rather than dipping a bag, or they purchased detergent with bluing premixed. – StoneyB Nov 25 '12 at 19:05
@WillHunting Read the link! – StoneyB Nov 25 '12 at 20:38
@WillHunting Speaking from my experience in the cleaning compounds industry, it's like mixing paints. Fabrics yellow over time; add a little blue dye and they look more like new. This also explains the proverbial blue-haired lady. She has had her slightly yellowed "white" hair tinted with blue dye to render it more of a silver white. – MετάEd Nov 26 '12 at 15:37

protected by RegDwigнt Nov 27 '12 at 22:56

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