Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb

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Fanfiction, Crafting and Women's Work (long)

I finally read the OTW entry on scalzi's blog. Be warned - 588 comments.

And I'm not going to say anything about legality or transformation - I don't have the background for it. I have opinions, of course, but as I'm rather bad at stating them, and worse at arguing them, I'm going to leave them be. But. I am a fanfic writer. And I am a filker. And I do think these are related.

One person compared fanfiction and the community around it to a quilting bee, and I *like* that image. I think the poster thought it was funny, but I don't.

Quilting is amazing. And I say this as a non-quilter who has only the vaguest desire to do any of it. I watch a lot of craft shows - mostly those dealing with fiber arts and cooking, including one cooking show that is really more of a craft show in that the hostess seems to thing that embellishing is a cooking term, and looks and ease of preparation is more important than taste. But I digress.

I watch a lot of craft shows. And most of them involve quilting and sewing. Quilting in its most common and basic form, the one before the "embellishment" (okay, I hate the term "embellishment"), was an artform produced by women. The basic form is piecing together odd bits of material to make enough to be a garment or a bed cover, and then layering it with a filler and another piece (often pieced itself) of material, and stitching that all together. This produces something warm, practical and long lasting. And, since it does use scraps, it's economical, too, plus it gave the quilter a chance to play with color and shape. Yes, you can sew the material any which way and produce something warm, practical and long lasting, but the women (mostly) who made them were clearly after beauty, as well.

Yes, you can create a beautiful quilt with two large pieces of fabric, batting and the stitchwork for the quilting itself, but that was something special and costly.

So, we have women, many busy all the time with household duties and children and farm chores, plus sewing and mending clothing, who took the time to satisfy their creative souls by making quilts. To create beauty out of color, fabric and geometry, but also out of bits and pieces of time and bits and pieces of leftover material. And they could only get away with it because it took only bits and pieces and produced something practical. (Others took the time to make their special occasion beautiful with ribbons and embroidery, but that wasn't practical.) And having established patterns for their quilt blocks made that a little easier - it gave them the geometry to use, knowing they could rotate these blocks in so many directions and chose the colors and fabrics gave them just enough creativity to make the quilt their own. Certainly, they didn't mind sharing these block patterns even if they did create them. And the beautiful quilts then, and now, were often gifts for others.

What also helped was, once the tops were done, was having the quilting bee - getting their friends together on an afternoon in winter when they could take the time and sewing the them together, gossiping and eating and threading needles and just being together for a time.

Other "women's crafts" have these things in common. When I knit something, I choose the color. I might also choose a different yarn, or adapt the pattern by adding stitch work or changing the ribbing. Today, I'm knitting a sock pretty much according to directions. Next time, I'll change things more. I acknowledge the source for the pattern or the heel or the stitchwork, but I put them together. It is my sock, but it comes from various sources. And I share it. And I get the most pleasure out of knitting gifts for others.

When I cook something, I use techniques and/or ingredients I've used before, even if I haven't put them into *this* combination until now. There are books written about cookbooks - not just about types of cookbooks, although those books are fascinating - but about women's cookbooks. Not ones they've published, but the ones they got when they got married, or for special presents or presentations, and gave to their daughters or daughters-in-law or granddaughters (or received from their mothers or mothers-in-law or grandmothers.) These are usually general cookbooks - Fanny Farmer, Joy of Cooking or even older works. The women used them to store cut-out recipes and newspaper clippings, as file cabinets for bills and letters and photographs. And they wrote in them - making notes every time they changed a printed recipe to suit their needs or tastes.

My mother-in-law does this. Her cookbooks are filled with notes. Because she's constantly adapting what she cooks, recombining ingredients and techniques, switching ingredients as her needs and tastes change. She's a wonderful cook, too.

I don't. While I use recipes, they're basic ones I know by heart, I don't bother noting changes. But I'm constantly adapting what I cook and recombining ingredients and techniques and switching ingredients. People seem to enjoy what I make them. And if I do that with a well-known source, I'll say so. Or even if it's just what my mom taught me, I'll say that. (I cook like my mother, btw. And she is a wonderful cook who taught me a lot.) And nothing gives me more joy than having people eat and enjoy my food.

How does this relate to fanfiction?

When I write a fanfiction story, I take familiar things and change them, put them in unfamiliar situations - I piece together the elements of the source material that mean the most to me - the characters, in most cases, but sometimes just the universe - into a plot because I want to explore something. I want to see how these things in these forms in this setting will work. I want to play them the way I play with yarn or food. I get pleasure out of that. And I get pleasure knowing that people read my stories and enjoy them. Or hoping so, anyway.

I can make up my own recipes. I can create my own patterns. I can write original stories. And doing these things give me pleasure, too. And I don't need to sell them to know they're good. But I also like taking inspiration from those around me and behind me. It's a different skill, but one I enjoy. And sharing them makes me part of a bigger community, and I like that, as well.
Tags: essay, fanfiction

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