The Judgment of Paris Forum

Go Back   The Judgment of Paris Forum > 2005-2012 > 2008: January - December
User Name
Password
FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 16th January 2008   #1
Maureen
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 2006
Posts: 122
Default In praise of the ''distaff arts''

Curly-locks, Curly-locks, wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash dishes, nor yet feed the swine,
But sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam,
And feed upon strawberries, sugar, and cream.

- Mother Goose

Women's magazines once featured handicrafts of all kinds. The Modern Priscilla of Boston advertised itself as featuring projects in "knitting, crochet, lace-making, weaving, netting, tatting, basketry, bead-work, oil, water-color, and China painting, stenciling, art brass work, art leather work, pyrography, and the like." (1) In the days before television and even radio, spare time was whiled away in such pursuits.

Before the industrialization of sewing and fashion, most clothing was made at home or by skilled dressmakers. Both the housewife and the professional seamstress made the clothes based on the dimensions of the wearer’s body. Standard sizes, as we know them now, did not exist. Once dressmaking was largely taken out of women's hands and ready-to-wear clothing became less expensive and more widely available, the need for standard sizes arose. Where women could once cut and sew clothing to their own measurements, they now had to find a ready-made garment to fit them.

"As the industrial age began, clothing started to be mass produced and standard clothing sizes were created. Suddenly girls had a new way to compare themselves to friends. Clothing size was no longer just how much fabric was needed; it was a number, a gauge for success. With a sizing system came those who did not fit within that system. Women we now consider Plus Size or Petite learned that their bodies were not the norm." (2)

At the same time that the popularity of ready-to-wear clothing was growing, that of handicrafts seems to have receded. Partly, this was simple economics: when people have less money and free time, they are less likely to spend either in artistic or decorative pursuits. Today, too, it can be both easier and cheaper to buy a dress or a crocheted tablecloth than to choose the materials and create such things oneself. Crochet, especially, can be an extravagance, as it often requires three times the thread or yarn that knitting does.

Crafts require stillness and concentration. I've not found it possible to walk and crochet at the same time – the yarn is too hard to control. Crocheting, knitting, sewing, and the stillness they require are antithetical to the hyperkineticism expected of men and women today. It used to be that leisure time was for leisure; now it's for hitting the gym. The only nonessential "sitting still" that's extolled and admired, it seems, is that required of a visit to the tanning parlor. A woman occupied with sewing or other crafts used to be regarded as a model of industriousness. Now, all too often, she’s considered the very opposite. Annette Petavy, designer of an elfin, lacy sweater featured in Crochet Me: Designs to Fuel the Crochet Revolution, writes movingly in praise of the "distaff arts":

"Any activity done mostly by women has been looked down upon for centuries. Saying that crocheting is an activity for old ladies who make doilies is not only reducing the craft to a small part of its possible applications, it's also showing disdain for the 'old ladies' – the mothers who brought us up, who stood behind us, who made everything we have possible...It's a heritage to be proud of." (3)

The mass production of clothing has taken from women the power to adorn ourselves exactly to our own tastes. Just as our bodies are expected to fit standard sizes, our tastes are expected to match standard "collections." When we sew, knit, or crochet something as simple as a gathered skirt or a scarf, we celebrate our creativity and show the world a glimpse of our own vision of beauty. When we drape our bodies in the work of our hands, we show ourselves and others that we love our bodies and consider then worthy of beautiful things.

Not long ago, it was not unusual for a woman to sew her own wedding gown. After having worn commercial bridesmaid gowns in several weddings, and being frustrated by measuring sessions and alterations (what tiny seam allowances those dresses have!), I decided that I would make my own bridal gown. While I was designing and sewing it, I delighted in choosing beautiful fabrics – all silks, even to the thread – and fitting them to my shape. When I was asked about the gown I had chosen, and I explained that I was making it myself, most reactions were incredulous: "No! I could never do that!" Undaunted, I did it, and I think that being married in a gown I made added a dimension to the experience that I would have missed had I chosen an off-the-rack gown.

In my mother's linen closet are three sets of pillowcases, trimmed with embroidery and intricately crocheted lace. These were wedding gifts to my mother and father from her grandmother, who taught my mother to crochet and sew. My mother, in turn, taught me. Though I've heard knitting and other handicrafts derided and denigrated as outmoded and old-fashioned, I, like Annette Petavy, have never agreed. When I pick up my crochet hook or thread a needle, I feel connected to my mother and all the other women who have come before me, and I don’t want to let their knowledge die. The beautiful work of our hands is something to celebrate.

1. On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics: http://www.cs.arizona.edu/patterns/weaving/lace.html
2. University of Wisconsin Health Services, "History of American Women and Body Image," http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/display_sto...=294&cat_id=138
3. Annette Petavy, in Crochet Me: Designs to Fuel the Crochet Revolution, edited by Kim Werker.
Maureen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 19th January 2008   #2
kirsten
Member
 
Join Date: August 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 61
Default Re: In praise of the ''distaff arts''

Lovely article, Maureen. I also have items that my grandmother created which I keep in memory of her.

Handicrafts are part of the folkloric, traditional arts, and represent the love of family, nature, and art. Colorful embroidery on a white blouse makes it special, warm, and the wearer unique.

Items made from needlepoint and knitting also have qualities that modern assembly line clothes frequently lack: a sense of texture, weightedness, solidity, and a feeling of having three dimensions, as well as a sense of care that someone put her soul and talent into the creation of a piece, qualities which make crafts and handmade clothes so valuable.

Fortunately, there are still many vibrant communities of knitting and crocheting enthusiasts that keep these traditions alive. Yarn stores are very popular and store owners and managers often give free or low-cost lessons in these arts.
kirsten is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 23rd January 2008   #3
Maureen
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 2006
Posts: 122
Default Re: In praise of the ''distaff arts''

Quote:
Originally Posted by kirsten
Items made from needlepoint and knitting also have qualities that modern assembly line clothes frequently lack: a sense of texture, weightedness, solidity, and a feeling of having three dimensions, as well as a sense of care that someone put her soul and talent into the creation of a piece, qualities which make crafts and handmade clothes so valuable.

Funny that you mention putting "soul" into a handmade piece; I've found that I have to be very careful what I think about while I'm working, as I then remember those thoughts and feelings each time I wear or use the piece. I'm very careful not to dwell on unpleasant things while sewing or crocheting. Maybe our foremothers knew this secret, too.
Maureen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 24th January 2008   #4
davey49
Junior Member
 
Join Date: February 2007
Posts: 5
Default Re: In praise of the ''distaff arts''

By designing and sewing your own bridal gown I believe you are quite literally one in a million. Maybe even one in 10 million.
A huge accomplishment.
davey49 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 13th February 2008   #5
renata
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 175
Default Re: In praise of the ''distaff arts''

I really enjoyed Maureen's essay. Her idea that "As the industrial age began, clothing started to be mass produced and standard clothing sizes were created" probably pinpoints where the war against the natural female figure began. Suddenly, bodies were forcd to fit clothes, whereas before, clothes were designed to fit bodies.

No wonder curvy women were more comfortable with themselves in the past. It would be wonderful to see that more natural approach to dressing come back.
renata is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 13th February 2008   #6
Maureen
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 2006
Posts: 122
Default Re: In praise of the ''distaff arts''

Thank you, Renata, and everyone else who posted replies. The sentence you cite, Renata, isn't my own; I quoted it from the University of Wisconsin's excellent body image article. Just FYI.

In sum, it's the shape that has, historically, been important. And as we all know, more generous shapes have greater appeal.
Maureen is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Forum Jump



All times are GMT -4. The time now is 20:24.


Powered by: vBulletin Version 3.0.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.