This past weekend DH and I took a long day away. We did a similar trip last summer too - maybe this will be a tradition for us? This year we hit the road and went west, toward the (say it with me...) M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i River.
We made many stops along the way, but our destination was Stonefield, a historic site dedicated to re-creating the agricultural life that dominated southwestern Wisconsin a century and a quarter ago. We mostly explored the rural farming village, wandering in and out of the blacksmith shop, the carpenter/undertaker shop, and the general store. Then, a small shop caught my fancy - the millinery. I loved stepping inside and seeing the fashion of yesteryear. Animal ethics aside, what I wouldn't give to wear a hat with a big feather sticking out the top!! And just check out those hat pins too. I loved looking at all the supplies in the shop, along with the homesteading staples found at the general store. For info. on the history of Clark's Mile End check here.
The following day a neighbor brought over a big box of hand-me-down clothes and inside was a lovely treasure - a hand knit sweater. I promptly asked my neighbor about the sweater, certain that it was in the box by mistake and she would surely want it back. But no, it was actually a hand-me-down to her from a friend and she said her friend didn't even recall where she picked it up.
The individual that made this sweater knew it would be worn by an active child and created it accordingly. The fit is snug, but not restrictive. The yarn is a washable wool. The buttons are securely fastened. Whoever made this also knew a thing or three about sweater construction - the seams and button bands are lovingly perfect. The design details and color are nice too; especially on my purple-loving girls.
Amazing that it should come to us on a cool, breezy summer day - the sweater was immediately worn and loved.
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Some slightly incoherent, dis-jointed, and not necessarily on-point thoughts:
I could wax and wane here about the history of art, the history of craft, the handmade and homesteading. However, I think that in even considering these ideas, and sharing photos, I am saying a lot about what I value from the past and what those actions/ideas/lessons hold for us in the current day.
I don't knit clothes for my family because I have to; because my husband will get frostbite if he doesn't have decent wool stockings. I do it because it brings me joy and a sense of fulfillment. The same holds true in our home for woodworking, gardening, sewing and preserving. So why do we do it? Because the process of doing...making, making do, mending, creating...ties us to the physical process, and resulting tangible goods, from our predecessors. When we make it brings forth their art, which so often doubled as a necessity, and places it centrally in our lives.
Do I live a less 'authentic' life then they did? I think you could make the case that is true. I don't always wear/eat/use the things I create, which means I have time to make things I don't necessarily need. I do these things - the things they needed to do to survive - as a hobby and artistic expression. But that doesn't mean that I honor or enjoy them any less. Indeed, our life is the fuller because of it.
I remember sitting at our dinner table when I was a teenager and my Dad saying things like, "This broccoli [or insert any number of other vegetables here] is from our garden!" I rolled my eyes, smiled awkwardly, totally embarrassed by my Dad's happiness. What I didn't know! How foolish I was! Much to his dismay, I am sure, I am repeating his phrase at our own dinner table now.
Admittedly my contributions are small in comparison but I still can say, "This salad mix is from our garden" and it fills me with a similar sense of joy (pride?). I hope our girls will be spared my teenage ignorance. I hope they will come to value the handmade and handgrown that surrounds them. I hope they will understand that our society didn't spring out of nothing, fully formed, fully wired. That we are who we are because of those that came, struggled, persevered, and created, before us.
And lest I forget to mention it, much of what I enjoy, specifically knitting, has traditionally been termed 'women's work.' The kind of work that for generations has been considered oppressive and isolating, either due to the shear physical labor, or by the hidden and subjugated nature of it, by my academic colleagues.
And as a feminist scholar how to I reconcile the apparent contradiction in what I study and what I enjoy doing? I know there is a new movement underfoot, you can look here, here and here, and I think I am a part of it. But my scholarship and my craft don't intersect on paper or in my pocketbook; I don't write about my craft, nor do I profit from it. But I do both. I write about gender diversity, equity and inclusion, and I knit.
Melissa has also written about feminism and aprons. You can read her thoughts here.