Good Fences Make . . . Us Human

IMG_3058Do you have a fence where you live? I bet you do, even if it’s very basic. Did you choose it or was it there when you moved in? What is your fence for? Is it meant to keep your pets in the yard? To give you privacy from neighbors? To add to the “look” of your home? Is it your ideal fence?

I love a good fence. I don’t think of fences as “keeping out” or “keeping in” so much as establishing boundaries that humans seem to want and need. In addition, I think we communicate about who we are by the fences we build and maintain.

On the farm of my youth, it was different. We needed our fences. Some were made of stone, not because it was attractive or especially great wall-building material, but because the soil was poor and farmers needed to pick stone out of the fields, to prepare the ground for planting. Stone walls are often where they are because, simply put, the farmers needed a place to put the stones. The more miles of stone wall you see on a farm, the worse the soil used to be.

file0001006375413A lot of the fences on the farm were barbed wire or electrical fences, again for practical purposes. I remember lessons in how to cross a barbed wire fence safely, and how to help another person get through. Foot on the lowest wire, spaced between the barbs, push down. Hand on the next higher wire, spaced between the barbs, pull up. Watch other person climb gingerly through and place hand on head to protect head from barbs. My sister and I did this 1000 times as we rambled.

These fences were meant to keep the cows where we could find them, and the cows were always getting out. Snowmobilers and hunters were the bane of the farmers’ existence—they would cut barbed wire and electric fences to get where they wanted to go.

And then, in the spring, when the cows were let out of the barn and their long winter incarceration, they would find every hole in every fence. Usually in the evening, when Lost in Space was on TV. Right about the time the Robot would intone “Danger, Will Robinson, danger,” my sister and I would be called to go out and help corral the animals again. And we’d never know what happened to Will Robinson. I’ve been bitter toward snowmobilers and hunters ever since.

For most of us, in the 21st century, our fences are no longer meant to keep the cattle home or keep undesirables out—we have fences to mark our spaces, solve a problem, and to communicate about who we are.

At our house we use tall cedar hedges next to the road as a fence; they were here when we moved in but we maintain them carefully because we like the look and they give tons of privacy.

IMG_3229We use a stretch of fence along the driveway, made of old cedar split rails, to say, “enjoy our yard but from a distance” but also to communicate “we fit in” and “we like it ‘old-school’.” The split rail fence is very common in rural upstate New York, and traditional. We got the rails for an old farmer, who had been clearing a long-overgrown piece of land, and found them stacked up along the side. One of his ancestors had meant to build a fence and never did get around to it. We now enjoy the fruit of his labors, and that special look, at our place.

IMG_3234If you have any doubt about this idea that we use fences to communicate about who we are, check out the number of boards on Pinterest that are dedicated to fences. I don’t know why anything about Pinterest would surprise me, but I was astounded by the extent to which people are establishing fence wishlists!

My favorite fence, for sheer impractical exuberance, as well as for fitting into its environment and telling us something about the owner, is this spectacular Adirondack twig fence (here and at beginning of post).

IMG_3048IMG_3052On a small road, in the middle of nowhere, someone put a lot of energy into this cedar fence. This fence does what fences do—marks territory and says, “This is mine,” but it says so much more about the person who built it. He (or she) took a considerable amount of time to make a fence that communicates about a commitment to a traditional Adirondack vernacular of using limbs and twigs as decoration on furniture and homes. It’s rustic, but never plain. It also, to me, communicates a sense of humor and whimsy. It seems designed to make a statement and to make passersby smile. It is certainly designed to be noticed!

So, what does your ideal fence tell us about you? Are you homey and nostalgic, loving a white picket fence? Are you private and maybe a little introverted, looking for a high fence that blocks prying eyes? Are you creative and artsy? Laid back and rustic? Show me your fence and I’ll tell you who you are!

Why Vintage? Reason #1

vintage fashion-2When I mention to people that I sell vintage linens and house wares, they usually respond in one of two ways. They look at me blankly because it has simply never occurred to them to buy something that wasn’t brand new or they get it immediately and say, “Oh, and vintage is really ‘in’ right now, right?”

It does seem that vintage is really popular right now. I honestly think that, to some extent, there’s always an interest in some sort of vintage but currently a vintage look, or a variety of vintage options, seem to appeal to a LOT of people.

And, I’ve been thinking about why. Why vintage? What is it about clothing and home décor and cars of decades past that appeals to people? When we have an endless supply of new, clean, cheap goods available, why would some of us be drawn to the pre-owned, used, and recycled?

So far, I have identified 5 reasons why people are drawn to vintage:

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of fashion

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of ethics

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of finances and quality

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of nostalgia and sentiment

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of individuality

All five of these may motivate some of you, while others may incorporate vintage into your lives for just a few of these.

I’ll explore my 5 theories over the coming couple of weeks. Who knows, I may even come up with more as I go!

1) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of fashion

This is the one that I understand the least because anyone who knows me will agree that fashionable, I ain’t. If I can’t get it at LL Bean, I don’t need it.

But according to the magazines and blogs I read, fashion motivates a lot of people! Vintage is cool and, because it can come in so many looks, there seems to be something for almost anyone. Do a search in your WordPress Reader for the word “vintage” or go to Pinterest and search on “vintage fashion” to get a sense of how prevalent the interest is and the extent to which people go to create their vintage look.

Vintage-themed weddings seem especially fashionable right now and the vintage look can extend from the formal wear of the participants to the props. I’ve had people contact me, because I sell vintage linens, and ask for 100 blue and yellow vintage napkins for their wedding! It’s the sort of request I’d love to be able to fill but sellers of vintage can’t order their finds in bulk. We find napkins in sets of 4 or 6, if we’re lucky, and almost never see duplicate sets. I’ve often wondered what a bride would DO with all those lovely linen napkins once the wedding was over . . .

Some of the eras that seem to be most popular in vintage fashion group around the mid-20th century. The looks of the ‘40s and ‘50s tend to be chic and fairly conservative but then we hit the 1960s and can choose among bohemian hippie style or Carnaby Street mod or Andy Warhol-inspired Pop Art. Of course, movies and television add to the appeal. As a result, right now, anyone selling anything from the 1960s on Etsy or eBay seems to be using the phrase “Mad Men” in their listings!

Just an example from today!

Just an example from today!

And, of course, fashion isn’t just what we wear on our backs. Decorating a home with a vintage vibe seems to have a continuous appeal, it’s only a question of which vintage era is “in” right now. The cottage chic look seems to be fading now with more interest given to the clean lines of Danish modern or the kitschy look of the 1950s. I know I can always sell vintage dishtowels with a pink and aqua color way! And Downton Abbey is offering viewers a new old look to emulate.

What’s your sense of fashion, in dressing and decorating? Is it at all motivated by a vintage look of a particular era? Which era “speaks” to you most?

pink and aqua towel


Simply Human—We Don’t Have to Be Perfect!

quilting_amish_diamond_centerWhen I was more actively involved in quilt making, I remember reading that Amish women, the makers of some of the most fabulous quilts ever (if you ask me!), always made sure to include a misplaced patch of fabric or a few incorrect stitches in any quilt they made. The thinking was that only God was perfect and that it was arrogant for a human to attempt perfection. Including an intentional mistake was acknowledgement of human fallibility and humility.

In the “loving hands at home” world, mistakes and missteps abound—and the mistakes remind us that we are real and our products aren’t going to be perfect, and it’s okay to say, “Hey, at least I tried!”

In the world of Pinterest, where all the homes are beautiful and all the handmade projects above average, some people are celebrating their imperfection, and maybe, just maybe, creating imperfection for its own sake. Just type “craft fail” in the search bar and look at some of the boards with that title!

I love finding the imperfections that come, it seems, from busy, distracted hands at home. These vintage towels I saw for sale on eBay crack me up.

Firday towelback Thursday towelI can understand the accidental misspelling of “Friday” but how did the word Thursday get stitched backwards? Either the maker a) was majorly distracted, b) was sampling the dandelion wine, or c) had a wicked sense of humor!

I try to be pretty relaxed when I make something that doesn’t turn out exactly as I planned. I want it to be structurally sound (or edible, when it’s food). I want it to be worthy of the time I put into it. But if I make a mistake, I don’t quit the whole thing and throw it away and I usually don’t start over. I try to find a way to incorporate the mistake and move on. After all, I’m only human!

How about you? Are you a perfectionist? I hope you can laugh and accept the missed stitch, the runny frosting, and the little quirks that prove your items weren’t made by a machine!