Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Aaahhh, two loaves of bread in the oven, one child asleep, other child miraculously keeping herself entertained...let's see if I can get a whole post written!

First, thanks so much for the awesome response to what I wrote on Monday. It was really a vent for me, and it felt mighty good to get it out. But I meant what I said, and I'm really changing my views on a lot of things lately.

One of the awesome things I read over at Down-To-Earth was the fact that Rhonda Jean doesn't view her knitting and sewing as "pleasures" per se. She definitely finds the activity pleasurable, but does not set out to knit or sew for the fun of it. Rather, she knits, sews, etc. to meet a need in her household, and then enjoys doing it, and takes pride in the accomplishment.

That really got me thinking!

Now, I know this is going to sound like about the hokiest thing anyone has ever blogged, but sometimes when something needs doing and there are several ways around it, I think...are you ready? Seriously? Ready? I think: What Would Caroline Do?

All right, get up off the floor and stop laughing. I'm completely serious here! What would Caroline Ingalls do, ladies? And the thing is, I know the answer. Oh yes I do, and not just because I'm an expert on all things LHOTP. I know the answer because I know the kind of woman Caroline was. She was a woman who could make do, I'll tell you what. Who remembers that chapter in The Long Winter where the Ingalls family runs out of lamp oil? And Caroline makes a light out of some fat, a scrap of fabric, and a button placed in a saucer - a button lamp!

And one of my favorite, favorite passages in any book ever is the chapter in Little Town on the Prairie ("Blackbirds") which describes the clothes Laura and Ma are making for Mary to take to college. Aaaahhh, swoon! I have loved this particular chapter of this particular book since I was a child. I've pictured, over and over, the lovely handmade brown cashmere dress with the brown and blue plaid overskirt, all trimmed in shirred strips of brown and blue plaid with red and golden threads running through it...the high collar of plaid with "a gathered length of machine made lace" fitted inside.

This chapter also describes how they made Mary four new white petticoats, two gray flannel petticoats, and three red flannel union suits. Laura carefully hand stitched the 6 yards of knitted lace she'd made to the bottom hem of one of the white petticoats, and she trimmed the flannel petticoats and union suits with pretty contrast stitching. They had no patterns for any of this - Ma had a dressmaker's chart, a measuring tape, and newspaper to make patterns from.

Boy, oh boy. I do so love reading and re-reading this chapter! I close my eyes and imagine myself having to walk to town, purchase the "dress goods" with what precious little money the family had (if you recall, a good portion of Mary's college money came from Laura working in town - can you imagine your children giving of themselves that way???), then coming home with no patterns, just the skills my mother taught make an entire wardrobe by hand for my child to go off to college. And though the items were so beautiful, these women took no particular pride in the making - they did it because that is what you had to do. There was no mall, there was no Target. Sometimes there wasn't even a mercantile that carried ready-made clothing. If you needed it, you had to make it, and cutting corners was not an option (ie: Laura giving 6 yards of handknitted lace to Mary for a gift, then stitching them on her petticoat...which no one would ever really see.)

It makes me look with different eyes on the overflowing drawers in Daughter's room, and the overflowing shelves bulging with little boy clothes in AJ's room. Made in Sri Lanka, made in Vietnam, made in China.

Made by mama.

Now that AJ is officially large and in charge, and we have so much less worry, I'm considering dusting off the sewing machine again. Because I can, and because my kids need and deserve some good quality, handmade, basic clothing made by mama's hands. I can find the time to do it - here's the important part - if I make it a part of my household duties.

Warm wool socks for Hubs.

There was a time when a woman wouldn't have been considered very good wife material if she couldn't cook, bake, clean, sew, mend, and knit for her family. I am thrilled to say I can do all of those things with some degree of proficiency, because I learned them at my mother's (and father's) knee, and I have practiced them to become proficient.

I am proud of my ability to provide these things for my husband and children. And there is no reason why it can't be a part of my household duties to make items that will be used and worn by all of us.

Future dishcloths.

Everyone has certain needs, right? We need clothing, shelter, food, heat...and we have been trained, as a society, for the past 100 years to outsource as much of that as possible. And for what, exactly? So we can play the Wii? So we can drive the kids to activities where they interact with other kids in the same way they SHOULD be interacting out in the backyard? So we can watch more TV? So we can sit at the computer?

What, exactly, are we doing instead of providing all these basics for our families? Back in the day, the Caroline Ingalls day, everyone worked really hard. But how many old stories do you read that say "we were poor, but we were happy?" Am I the only one who feels better at the end of a day when I worked really hard and got some stuff done, rather than sitting around in sweats watching TV? (I'm not saying we should never relax, I'm speaking in generalizations a bit here.)

I don't think my kids need more plastic toys. I think they need a lot less. Of everything. Except time and attention. I think my kids need to learn to cook, bake, sew, knit, mend, and fix things (and yes, that goes for both genders). I love the passage in one of the Little House books where Laura goes to sleep watching Ma's knitting needles flashing in the firelight as she knits red woollen socks for Pa. My kids will look back on memories of falling asleep to the sounds of goofy sitcoms on the television. And maybe that's not terrible. But at least they will be falling asleep under handmade quilts and blankets, with a tummy full of warm, homemade foods. Of that, at least, I think Caroline would approve.


HangerMom said...

Nathaniel JUST read the button-lamp chapter to the girls a couple nights ago and he right afterward to wow me with ma's ingenuity. She's amazing. I think that sometimes, too, but I am missing some of those skills. Still, I totally hear you. WWCD. Awesome.

Mrs Lemon said...

Well said, Kate. That was lovely to read.

Karen said...

You're a woman on fire, Kate! I love it, so well said, and thought and provoking. Bravo, friend.

Shari said...

Wow! Loving these posts! I got a new baby yesterday and he needs a hat. I was thinking that I needed to get out today and buy him one. Silly really because i do knit. Every single day. Usually for pleasure. But there is absolutely no reason on earth why I can't knit him one and have it done by the end of the day. I'm saving money and gas. Thanks for reminding me that I don't need to run to the store for every little thing.

April said...

Uhmmm, yeah - a fire indeed (Karen)... one I'm enjoying warming my hands up to!