Home Ick

I was ironing from my stash of vintage linens recently and came across an apron that set off a wave of memories for me.

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The fabric is vintage 1960s, sort of cool and retro. The sewing is novice—the waist band is applied awkwardly, so the uneven stitching creates puckers and wrinkles. The colors—the turquoise ties that match nothing in the main fabric—would appeal to a young girl.

I’d bet a lot of simolians that the apron was a project from a long ago Home Ec class.  

I was a young girl, a novice at sewing in the 1960s, too . . . I took classes in this thing Americans called Home Economics. 

It must’ve been the late 1960s and I was probably in 7th or 8th grade. The boys took “Shop” and used woodworking tools and learned about car engines, while the girls took Home Ec and learned about cooking and sewing. 

For a person who now loves sewing and even quite likes baking, I hated Home Ec. Even then, as a 12- or 13-year-old, I thought of it as Home Ick.

I have these clear memories of the teacher showing us how to butter bread. She stressed that we needed to spread the butter or mayonnaise or peanut butter right up to the edges of the bread, very carefully right up to the edges, so that the bread would stay moist . . . for our husbands and children.

She told us to take two slices of bread out of the package and open the slices like pages of a book so, when we put them back together, with filling, they would fit and match perfectly . . . for our husbands and children.

She taught us that it was of utmost importance, when measuring liquids, to squat down and look at liquid in the measuring cup at eye level, so we would get the precise amount and our cookies would turn out perfect . . . for our husbands and children.

Ai yi yi.

The sewing lessons were just as lame, to my 12-year-old sensibilities. We sewed one seam up a length of cloth to make a tube, stuffed it full of batting, and tied the two ends closed with cord and called it a bolster pillow. Really?

We also did class presentations on makeup and I remember a classmate intoning that we shouldn’t use eyeliner because it was passé. I was impressed that she could the word “passé” in a sentence but that whole thing about eyeliner . . . ?

I like to think I was ahead of my time, a mini-feminist in the making. Maybe the attitudes of the late 1960s and 1970s were influencing me, even in the backwoods of upstate New York, but taking an actual class in how to make a sandwich struck me as ridiculous. 

Maybe it was because my mother and father both worked and I had long made my own sandwiches . . . but taking an actual class in how to make a sandwich struck me as really, really ridiculous.

Maybe it was because what we were being taught was SO basic, not to mention sexist, and I knew the boys were learning skills of value—changing the oil on a car, making book ends with power tools—and no one was ever suggesting that they do it just so, for their wives and children.

Home Ec died a few years later at my school. I believe it has since been reincarnated, in different forms, in some schools. Boys can learn to cook and girls can take Shop, or not, as electives. Maybe they’re also teaching budgeting and organizational skills, and useful life skills, beyond how to butter bread and disdain eyeliner.

Thinking about my own Home Ec experience has me wondering—was it just that my experience was a lame one? Did other teachers, in other schools, provide a better, fuller range of skills? The person who stitched the vintage apron certainly learned to sew more than a bolster pillow! 

Was Home Ec just a thing in the United States? Did/do schools in other countries use valuable school hours teaching such things?

Do tell—what experience did you have with Home Ick?

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So Shall You Sew: IBMDT #7, #8, & #9

Singer FWSerendipity swept down the street and stopped at my house yesterday,

It all started when I finally did something I’ve been meaning to do (IBMTD) for ages and, in doing that one, I managed to knock off two other goals at the same time. I hit the trifecta!

IBMT:

  • Call the sewing machine repair guy and have him come fix my mechanical machine
  • Kick my fancy computerized sewing machine to the curb
  • Buy a vintage Singer Featherweight sewing machine

I’ve had the intention to call Mr. P., the wizard of sewing machines, for ages. Every time I talked to anyone who sews, his name came up, and everyone raved about this man. “He’s kind.” “He’s sweet.” “He can fix anything.” “He’ll come to your house!”

I’d been meaning to call him but am so phone-averse that I just kept putting it off. But as I’ve been trying to work on my quilt project, the need became more pressing. Every time I used the machine, the thread was constantly leaping out of the take-up lever and jamming everything. I’m bad enough at sewing without having to deal with that!

So, I called Mr. P. and he came later the same day—all the wonderful things I had heard about him were true! He cleaned and spiffed up my mechanical machine, and now it works just great.

While he was here, I brought up the subject of my fancy computerized machine. I have had this machine for quite awhile and I LOATHE it. It has been a big computerized albatross around my neck for years and has generated quite a lot of family lore, in all of which I come across as a fool.

Everyone else who has this kind of machine loves it but I have not been able to reach any sort of détente with mine. Some will say the fault, dear Kerry, is not in the sewing machine but in yourself. Whatever.

The fact was, it was not working, yet again, and I asked Mr. P. about it. He, the sewing machine whisperer, couldn’t fix it.  The nearest location where it could be fixed is a two-hour drive away. Ai yi. Here we go again.

Fast forward in the discussion.

I was talking about how much I like a mechanical, as opposed to a computerized, machine. I mentioned how a Singer Featherweight seemed to be just about my speed and how I’d always wanted one.

Long pause.

“Well,” says Mr. P., “I have two or three refurbished ones.”

“Could I buy one?,” I pleaded.

And he, lovely man that he is, came up with a solution that made both of us happy—we could swap. He would take the evil, devil-possessed computerized machine and trade me a sweet, docile Singer Featherweight!

Yes! YES!

For those of you not familiar with the Featherweight, they were made in the mid-20th century. They are designed to be portable, fit neatly into a carrying case, and weigh only 11 pounds. They are small and quiet and have no bells and whistles whatsoever. They are especially popular among quilters.

It’s everything I could want! Mechanical. Old school. Sturdy. Easy to fix. Cute. Most important—it is NOT smarter than I, unlike some machines whose names must not be spoken!

You may think this is the dumbest decision you’ve ever heard and that I got the short end of the deal. But if you could have felt the joy and relief I felt when that computerized machine went down the driveway, maybe you’d understand.

So, today I’ll spend some time getting acquainted with my sweet new friend.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that, when you got it, all you could do is sit there and grin at it?

SInger FW2

 

Quilting Hands at Home: An Adirondack Quilt Show

A huge space, filled with of handmade quilts, on a brisk autumn day! When the biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild of New York opened a couple of weeks ago, the colors inside the building rivaled those on the sugar maples outside. But the colors on the quilts will last long after the leaves have fallen!

I’ve said elsewhere that I think quilting is, just maybe, the quintessential expression of “loving hands at home.” It conjures images of regular people, using what they have on hand, to create a practical item that transcends the maker and the purpose. The time commitment in making a quilt is not undertaken lightly and the finished quilt envelops and warms the recipient, and brings beauty to any space. To see nearly 300 quilts and other textile projects on display is to see thousands of hours of work and love made tangible.

The photos sort of speak for themselves. Like every quilt show, this one was pure eye candy.

Many of the quilters had participated in a “mystery quilt” challenge, in which they were instructed to choose fabrics along certain guidelines and then follow instructions that were communicated periodically, so the beauty of each woman’s quilt (and, yes, they were all women—no men in this guild at all!) would be revealed slowly. These quilts were displayed together and the range of colors choices was fascinating!

Probably every quilt show has a regional angle or flavor. This one was no different. These quilters are based in the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain region of upstate New York so many of the quilt reflected the colors and subject matter of the area.

I am pretty bummed to say that I did not win the raffle quilt but I did pick up a copy of the Quilters’ Guild cookbook, which they compiled a few years ago. I love these community-based cookbooks for their old-fashioned, and often downright quirky, recipes.

This recipe book reflects the region just as the quilts themselves did. It has far more recipes for desserts and sweets than anything else, with an emphasis on apples and maple syrup, of course!

I’ll leave you with their “Recipe for Happiness This Year” (slightly edited to match my writing rules!)

Ingredients:

Water, Meals, Plants, 3 Es, Books, Exercise, Family and Friends, Excess

Directions:

Drink plenty of water. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar. Large meals earlier in the day are healthier for you. Eat more foods that grow as plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants. Live with the 3 Es: energy, enthusiasm, and empathy. Read more books this year than you did last year. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily and, while you walk, smile.  Realize no one is in charge of your happiness except you. Call your friends and family often. Each day, give something good to others and get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful, or joyful.

Sewing Hands at Home, with Attitude

IMG_2546I don’t sew.

Well, I do sometimes, but I hate it. I like sewing by hand well enough but I just hate using a sewing machine. I hate any sewing machine but I loathe my expensive computerized machine.

My problem is I hate a couple of other things more than sewing so I find myself sitting at a sewing machine every once in awhile, like I did last week when I made these curtains.

A couple of years ago, we took out the wall between two guest rooms and put in French doors, with the intention that any company we had could use the space as a kind of suite—lovely, right?

But, as the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with lovely intentions and hell, in this case, is one very nice guest room, connected to a room that has become the repository for all the vintage linens I have purchased and have yet to list in my shop. Hellish, indeed.

IMG_2528So, until I can get those linens under control, we needed a way to block the view from the guest room into hell. And that’s where the curtains came in.

I had a clear idea of what I wanted in curtains and to find them I was going to have to shop, spend money, and settle for something that didn’t live up to what I envisioned. And those are exactly the things I hate more than sewing.

I really don’t find any joy in shopping, unless it’s for vintage stuff at great prices. I rarely go to a store and, instead, make do with what I have rather than facing the hassle of buying new.

I wanted simple curtains, anchored at the top and bottom with rods, with blue and yellow. I wasn’t going to find those in a store so my other option was to have someone make them for me.

But . . . but . . . pay someone else to do something I could do myself (even though I hate doing it)? My pesky Puritan work ethic simply wouldn’t allow that happen. And so the windows stayed uncurtained.

Everything started coming together about a month ago. I found a bolt of new, old-stock Stevens linen toweling fabric on eBay. That’s a lot of adjectives but they’re all important to me. The bolt meant I got 20 yards of fabric and I needed a lot. It was vintage and originally would’ve been sold to women as yard goods, to make their own dish towels, but it was also brand new and never used. Stevens is an American company, still in operation, that has been making towels for over 150 years.

The fabric was a beautiful natural linen color, with bands of yellow and thin accents of blue running along the edges. And to make it even more perfect, because it was meant as toweling, it was 18 inches wide; I could make two panels for each of the French doors and not have to hem any sides. All I would have to actually sew was the top and bottom rod pockets!

IMG_2531And we had company scheduled to arrive, which really lit a fire under me.

So I dusted off my loving hands and sat down to sew. I still refused to use that nasty computerized machine, opting instead for my mother’s old mechanical machine. It was more than up for the task!

I cut the fabric so I knew it would be plenty long enough and then did the top on all four pieces. First, I double-turned and stitched a quarter-inch hem because the fabric was a loose weave and wanted to ravel.

IMG_2535 IMG_2536Then I folded over about 2 inches of fabric and pressed it and stitched two rows, one along the very edge of my double-turned hem (so, two inches from the top edge) and the other one inch in from there. The space between those two lines became my rod pocket and left about an inch of header fabric. Am I making any sense?

IMG_2538In the meantime, my husband hung the rods. The top rod was done as usual, with the brackets facing up to let the rod sit in them, but the bottom brackets were placed upside down, so I could hook the bottom rod over them.

I hung up all four panels on the top rods and stepped back to admire my work—that’s the only good thing about sewing!

To finish the bottom ends, I sat on the floor and pulled the fabric in each panel to the degree of tension I wanted and pinned it. I didn’t try to do any measuring because the panels were so long and because it seemed easier to just fake it. I did one panel at a time and did run back and forth to the guest room to double-check everything a lot so that, if I messed up, I wouldn’t ruin everything.

IMG_2542The bottom hems went in just like the top ones. I didn’t trim the extra length until I put the finished panel up and made sure it was just right. If it was too loose or too tight, I could’ve picked the stitching out and made the adjustment.

But they all came together perfectly! And because of the tension on the panels, when the rods were snapped into place, I didn’t even have to iron them.

I honestly love these curtains—they are just my style and just what I envisioned. I have fabric left over so I can make more curtains or pillows or dish towels, for myself or to sell.

Don’t get excited, though. I still really don’t like to sew. But it certainly is a useful basic skill to have and to fall back on. Am I alone in my antipathy for sewing? Can you sew? What can I do to learn to love it?

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Manly Hands at Home: A Gift for Her

sewing cases-6We all know a handmade gift is different, right? The idea that someone took the time to create something just for me makes a person feel special and valued.

When I first saw these sewing cases, I couldn’t believe how neat and perfectly designed they were. But then, when I heard their story, the cases were elevated to a “whole nother level,” as we say at my house.

I came across five or six of these, all within a couple of years, at garage sales. They were all made of wood and designed to hold and organize sewing supplies. Some were large, some smaller. All had handles on top so the cases could be carried. Some had fabric panels on the outside, some fake leather, and one a heavy, sort of coated cardboard. They were very similar but customized in special ways.

Finally one of the garage sale women told me the story—that the pattern for the cases had been a project offered by the Cooperative Extension and designed for husbands to make for their wives.

The Cooperative Extension Service system was created by the U.S. Congress as a means of educating the average citizen of rural America in skills needed for farming, household, and community work. The system was formalized in 1914 and, in addition to providing resources for farm men and women, instituted 4-H programs.

Much of the work of the Cooperative Extension has been directed to providing people with the skills and information to make the things they need and do for themselves. They’re still very active today, even though the rural population has dropped dramatically; they provide information for gardeners and do-it-yourself-ers, in addition to farmers.

So, apparently, one set of plans that was made available in the 1950s was for these compact sewing cases. Men made them as a gift for their wives, daughters, or girlfriends to stow their sewing supplies. They all have little dowels to store spools of thread; on one of these the shelf with the dowels tilts out for easy access.

sewing cases-3 sewing cases-4They all have pockets in which to tuck scissors and other tools and some of them have screw lids attached to the underside of a shelf so that jars of buttons or pins could be attached. Several of the ones I got had old sewing paraphernalia still in them.

sewing cases-1sewing cases-2 I just love the levels of “loving hands” represented in these cases—a man making something for a woman, to make it easier for her to make items for the family and the home. A man and woman, working together, to customize the case so that it is both attractive and as fully useful as it can be. How cool is that?

I kept only two of these cases, thinking I’d find more. But, weirdly, after that flurry of finding several in a couple years, I’ve not seen another. Have you ever seen one of these before? Wouldn’t you love to have one made just for you? I’m still searching, to see if I can find those old plans—if I find them, I’ll be sure to share them here!

Battered Hands at Home Redux: The Readers Speak

file0001924831000Last week, I wrote about the battered hands of people who make things and I used my own poor hands as examples. I heard from lots of you about your hands (and feet, and shoulders, and knees!) It is clear that artists and crafters and antiquers are willing to go to heroic lengths in pursuit of their passion!

I can’t resist sharing my favorite comments with you (I edited some of them slightly, for consistency). If you’re not familiar with these wonderful bloggers and the things they make and sell, you should take a peek!

Yeah, I have sliced open my foot with a rotary cutter before  . . . Hello, emergency room! (http://papooseclothing.blogspot.com/)

Mine are minor, mostly hot glue gun burns . . . hammered my thumb more than a few times, and got my arm caught up in my rose bush. Nothing major thankfully! (http:/monpetitchateaudecor.wordpress.com)

As an antiques dealer, my scars don’t show but are definitely present in my everyday. My aching body reminds me of my passion more often than I prefer! (But I wouldn’t trade it for the world!) (homeologymodernvintage.com)

Scars from my life of antiquing are mainly a left shoulder that has a torn rotator cuff or tendons that I got trying to carry “my end” of a piece of furniture that outweighed me by a lot! My husband forgets that he is a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than me and I get “my half”  . . . Craft scars . . . hmm. Lots of cuts, punctures, burns, a dining room carpet covered by a gallon bucket of gesso, bending over the sewing machine so close that I caught the thread feed in the forehead . . . I once was sprinting to the door to catch the (really cute) UPS man and tripped and tackled the portable ceramic heater. So he heard a big crash and I answered the door with bleeding kneecaps and hiding a burned arm! “Are you OK?” Oh yes . . . fine . . . yikes. (hopeandjoyhome.blogspot.com)

I don’t have scars from vintage hunts, but I do have a nice callus from my crochet hook and sometimes pricked fingers from cross-stitch and sewing!! Boy, it hurts when you get jabbed in the finger from a needle! (magnoliasattic.blogspot.com)

I’ve done the hot sugar thing too! Well, it was at a campfire, and someone’s marshmallow caught fire and they flung it onto my finger (ouch!) I still have the scar. In general though, I’m just a clumsy sewer. I’m always stabbing accidentally stabbing myself! (jessthetics.wordpress.com)

Yep, there are lots of scars. One time I put the drill bit of the Flex Shaft into the webbing of my thumb and first finger (yes I reversed and pulled it right back out). There are lots of cuts and you can tell I sew a lot! The one thing I always dreaded getting was “weaver’s bottom”. That is when you sit at the loom a lot, rocking back and forth and for some reason weavers tend to have a little more padding on their bottoms for cushioning!  (shuttlehookandneedle.blogspot.com)

I don’t consider a project finished until I’ve bled on it. Eww, I know. But that’s how I put my heart in my work. (creatingmiranda.wordpress.com)

I was heartened to know that we are a sisterhood (no men admitting scars so far!) of battered but brave, scarred but not scared, marred but marvelous makers!

And how about you? Have you marks from your making that you’ve yet to share?

 

“Hands at Home” Heritage–Who Taught You?

Where did your interest in handmade start? Do you remember the first thing you made?

I have all these little snippets of memory from growing up, of being exposed to people making stuff and teaching me how. We lived on a farm so my paternal grandmother was always making food. She made the bread for the household and, when she took the loaves out of the oven, she’d use a stick of butter and rub the end over the tops of the loaves to give them a nice finish. My sister and I would sneak in and use our fingernails to pick the buttery crust off the bread to eat. And I don’t remember anyone ever speaking harshly to us about that!

My maternal grandfather was a serial craftsman. He ALWAYS had a hobby, one hobby, that he would do intensely and master. And then he would drop it and move on. He built houses. He took and developed photographs. He was a rockhound and collected rocks and gems all over the country. He made the most amazing wood furniture. But, once he was really, really good at something, it seems to have lost its hold on him and he’d find another outlet because he just seemed to need to make things.

My mother inherited the serial crafting gene from him. When I was little, she was into sewing. She made her clothes and our clothes. She was a first-grade teacher so she would do that all day and then stay up late, late at night and sew fabulous clothes. And then, one day, she just stopped. And took up knitting. She read knitting patterns to fall asleep at night. She made up her own patterns. She knit fabulous sweaters. And then, one day, she just stopped. I could go on and on . . .

So I’ve come honestly by my desire to make things! The first thing I really remember making, other than the typical drawings a little kid makes, was a piece of embroidery. My farm grandmother started me on it. It was a transfer design of a basket with flowers in it and I remember working really hard on it. I wish I still had that little piece of cloth and I think of it sometimes, when I’m ironing embroidered linens for my Etsy shop.

I cherish the “hands at home” history of my family and I can see, everyday, how it has influenced my style and aesthetic sense. I wonder if most artisans learn their love of crafting at home?  Or do some people come to it later, without the influence from an early age?

How about you? What was the first thing you made? Who taught you?