Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb

Crafts/Women's Work

My current default channel on my cable system is WLIW's "Create". WLIW is a Long Island public television station, so the line up are various public tv series - cooking, gardening and crafts,plus some travel.

Crafts are...a strange thing for me. I see the appeal of making cute or useful objects (and the emphasis does seem to be on CUTE) and certainly on using one's hands to create things. But, I don't know.

Take the hobby called "scrapbooking". These are, from what I can see, collections of collages - they use a variety of materials and techniques to create a page centered around a photograph - but you have to use "archival" materials. They *must* be acid free. So you can't just, I don't know, cut letters or pictures out of magazines or other found materials. You have to buy them. In kits. And use as many as you think will fit on the page - I haven't yet seen someone show how lovely a simple page can be. But that won't sell kits, and so the sponsors of the shows won't get more money.

So they say that one doesn't need to be an artist to use these materials, so *even* *you* can create these very busy pieces, whether it's painted glass or embellished cardboard office supplies.

And that's, I think, the crux of my biggest problem. There are two textile shows - one about sewing in general and one about quilting. And both emphasize tools and sewing machine techniques - these are not projects to be done in the tv room so your hands are busy, or to keep from boredom on a plane trip. These are programs so your machine can embroider for you, or long-arm quilters that let you applique in fun ways, and the more you add, the more you add.

Because it's how fast you make the quilt or the poncho, or the embroidered pillow (cook dinner while your panel is being embroidered!) Or,really, it's how many sergers and quiliting machines the shows can sell.

And there are people who prefer this,and who produce lovely quilted works of art. But they don't show any alternatives - I've seen many a woman at conventions hand piece quilt blocks, or stitch away at hoops and they don't show that. Because that won't sell machines.

And they don't show any other textile crafts. No one knits or crochets, no one weaves (hey, *that's* a machine) or spins (they do still sell spinning wheels) and while they talk about "free movement" embroidery, no one does it. There's nothing to get your hands on. And I think it's for several reasons - one is that knitting needles and crochet hooks are not quite the money makers that a serger is. And once you have a serger, you need to use it or it's a very expensive dust collector. Another is that knitting, by its nature, is simple - but hard to show on television. It's also slow. There are knitting machines, of course, and people enjoy them. They're great if you're impatient or want output or don't take pleasure in the act of knitting.

I've been taking pleasure in the act of knitting - of taking string and two sticks joined by a plastic wire and making something appear. It's magic in its way - it's also engineering and design. It's the feel of the wool on my fingers and the weight of my growing scarf (and twisting and untwisting it as I knit.) There's also the weight of family - my mother knits, her mother and grandmother knitted. There's the weight of history, too - women have been knitting forever. So have men, but it's traditionally a woman's job. It used to be taught in schools or be part of a girl's daily chores. How else was she to keep herself and her family in stockings?

And while I wouldn't mind being finished,I'm in no hurry. The process is cool by itself.

Along these lines, I'm rereading Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.

What has women's work been throughout most of history? Child rearing, and the work that can be done around and while watching small children. It needs to be safe, and easily left off and returned to, and boring enough that the mother can pay attention to the babies. That's textiles (except possibly dyeing), horticulture, cooking and shopkeeping.

And the most time consuming part of textiles is spinning, but sitting with a drop spindle, or walking, or riding is pleasant, and restful. It's like knitting is today - you're watching tv or attending a panel at an sf con, or just talking with friends, but you're also *making* something. And you don't even need much light, so you can sit by the hearth on a long, long winter's night and spin, and you *have* to spin because it takes a long time to produce enough thread to weave. Or you can bring it into the cool courtyard or on the roof when the house gets too stifling during Middle Eastern summers.

And everyone spun - servants, housewives, merchant princesses, noble ladies, queens and high priestesses. Even goddesses - she has a picture of the Venus de Milo, with arms on, and those arms are holding a distaff and spindle and it looks perfectly natural. Maybe the higher ranking women spun better fibers and wove tapestries, not garments, but they still worked.

I would not want to be responsible for every step of making my own or my husband's clothing. But being able to take fluff and make something out of it - that's something I can do. And it's something of real need and value, and I'd rather learn to use a drop spindle than a long-arm quiliting machine. YMMV.
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