Yesterday I got out to hang out at Handmade 2012 for the day to help out at the Holland Road Yarn knit lounge (and to attend a spinning with a spindle class with the lovely Frances which I think is the subject of another post). As it does on such occasions when serious crafty people from around the country gather, at one point the conversation turned to the sociology of women and craft. The conversation was one of the triggers for how I have chosen to spend my time today and it has inspired me to comment on why I think women, in particular full time mothers at home, often use craft as an expression of their skills.
Each generation believes that their experience is unique – and in many ways they are right because the culture we live in and the options within our environment change. I still have one of the Vyella gowns and jackets that my mother sewed and embroidered for me in 1962. She chose to make my gowns rather than buy them because she had the skill to create something unique. Sewing our clothes for us as children was a way she used to make ends meet but she also used to make clothes that were different. The first sewing I did for myself when I was ten copied her’s – tracing a Burda pattern from a magazine (with all German instructions). Those skills in sewing and embroidery along with her talent for design led to the start of her first craft business. For those who are going to wonder – her spinning journey started a bit later but followed the same pathway to professional saleable skill.
When my first baby was born in 1982 – my grandmother made me an embroidered Vyella gown, my mother created his christening coat as the prototype design for what has become known colloquially as the Prince William shawl. In 1982 the fashion had swung from baby gowns to stretch and grows. I made some flannelette baby gowns but over the next few years I focused initially on stretch sewing and followed in my mother’s footsteps of sewing clothes for my children that where unique (with a little bit of help from Burda which by 1985 had English text). My environment was different than my mother’s though.
The difference is was that while my mother was seen as quaint and outmoded for not buying clothes for us – my peer group of middle class women valued those skills and enjoyed re-learning them. I think of my friends, only two of us had learnt to sew and embroider from our mothers, the rest learnt from community education classes. Knitting was a little different – we all knit for our babies and toddlers so they had woollen garments – but preferred using our sewing skills for easy care sweatshirts and track pants as they got older. The big changes in our environment – the availability of stretch fabric and the release of domestic overlockers and affordable sewing machines with stretch stitches. In terms of money saving, there wasn’t a lot (much as we tried to justify our fabric stash from that perspective) and we could all afford to buy the equivalent clothes we were making. Why did we do it? For the same reason my mother and grandmother did – the deep satisfaction of seeing your child in something you have made.
Once I was working full time I didn’t have the time or the creative energy for a lot of sewing. Crafting requires the luxury of time which is in short supply in most dual career families. Occasionally I would pick up a new knitting project but they usually ended up languishing unfinished. The ten plus years of clothing my children morphed into continuing to choose (or pay for) clothes which were “designed” rather than chain store. It never occurred to me that this was in any way different until during the speeches at my younger daughter’s 21st her friends commented that she had the best clothes to borrow because they didn’t come from Glassons.
So what is different today? The difference today is the internet, the availability of fabrics and yarn from across the world with the click of a mouse. The age of middle class mothers having their first baby who typically have had significant career experience and the confidence of their own disposable income. The traditional work of women to clothe and feed their families has new expressions. With each successive generation maybe it is becoming a more conscious choice and maybe there is more awareness of how under valued the work of nurturing is, but ultimately it is each generation re-discovering the quiet power of the work of our hands in their own way.
As for me – I decided to recognise having a long weekend and some extra time by digging out a Burda paper pattern, and cutting out two pairs of PJ pants for my 13 year old – one pair out of stash and the other bought from a local fabric store. I was thinking I would need to get some knit for the shirts but lo and behold there was some stashed from before he was born. And why – because he might be adult size but he is still thirteen and the flannel print reflects that, he is fussy about what he wears and the quality of the fabric is better – all arguments I have used 100 times before. Will it be cheaper than buying them at Farmers or Warehouse – at my normal business charge out rate…no, will it warm my heart (and maybe his) that I have made them because I am missing him being away at school… definitely.
When I had my first baby in 1982, my grandmother made me an embroidered Vyella baby gown,