It is clear from the way that this is expressed that this is talking about the past, probably the 19th or early 20th century. Women who needed to earn some extra money to 'make ends meet', for example widows or poorer married women whose husbands didn't earn enough, would take in sewing. This is swork for other people which they would do in their own home. If a wealthy person needed some sewing or mending doing, they might take it to the poorer woman's home, leave it there for a short time, and then pick it up and pay her when it was done. Women who were even poorer, and maybe didn't have needlework skills, would 'take in washing' in the same way, meaning that they would do laundry at home for other people.