Bath from the Past: Using an Ewer and Basin

By , July 21, 2010

The ewer and basin Aly and I made for Michelle in 2000 (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

Our family first learned how easy and pleasant it is to use an ewer and basin long before we moved to the homestead. We tried it while visiting friends who served as winter caretakers for a summer camp near Juneau. They spent most of the day without power, firing up the camp’s generators for only an hour or two each day. No power meant no pumps, so they used an ewer and basin for personal washing most of the time, and we learned to do likewise.

Despite what one used to modern convenience might assume, “sponge bathing,” as my parents called it, is not a bad way to wash. The thick porcelain or crockery of the ewer and basin holds heat surprisingly well, allowing ample time for a thorough, even leisurely wash without the water getting cold. Further, even I, who at the time depended on gallons of water for an “adequate” shower, found a pitcher full of water more than enough for my needs with very little strategic planning or frugal usage.

We liked it. As a gift for Michelle, Aly and I went to a local ceramics shop, chose, cleaned up, glazed, and fired an ewer and basin set. Of all Aly’s and my various projects, this one might be the most fun so far. We worked together on it, and Aly, who was 5 at the time, made a doll-sized set for herself, which she decorated with hand painted flowers. Even if the set never proved useful, I’ll always cherish those hours. We were very sad when the ceramics store closed. We’d have gladly gone back to make something else!

Now that we’ve moved to the homestead, even though we can make hot water for showers, we don’t always choose to do so; instead, we heat water on the stove and fill the ewer. Or, we may use hot water from a thermos that’s cooled too much for hot drinks, but not for washing. It can easily be carried to any room for greater privacy or convenience. We’ve acquired another set  for the guesthouse (they’re a common thrift shop or garage sale item). We’re always on the look out for more, just in case.

Once again, we’ve discovered through use how practical an “outmoded technology” can be.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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