Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tending to My Knitting

I taught myself to knit from a book many years ago, while expecting my first child. Somehow, it seemed like a good idea--quiet, relaxing, productive. I made two afghans during those nine months, and decided that crochet is more my cup of tea. I gave up knitting until just recently, when I decided to relearn it.
I taught myself to crochet from a book. I taught myself to embroider from a book. I learned to bake bread from a book. These and many other home making skills were once handed down generation to generation, the elder teaching the younger, but as we have become more and more industrialized, and fewer and fewer mothers stay home with their young children, the experience of learning from observation has become less the rule and more the exception.

Where did I get the idea that these skills were important? I remember quite vividly reading Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins, in which a guardian uncle who has inherited a half-grown girl child, expounds on the simple skills, crafts, and arts that are dying out, no longer valued by society. Remember, Alcott was writing some 150 years ago, and things haven't gotten better in this area since then.

Somehow I was inspired to learn these "homely" tasks. I wanted to be a good wife and mother in the traditional mold. I was blessed to be able to stay at home with my children until the youngest, Jeana, started school. During those years, we always had some kind of project going, whether it was sewing, cutting and pasting, cooking, embroidery, making curtains, whatever skill I was struggling to acquire at the time.
How much easier, if I had been living close enough to my mother or grandmother to ask questions. They did me the great favor of handing on to me many projects begun by my great-grandmother, unfinished after her death, and I used them as guidelines and inspirations, but how I yearned for a model, a mentor, to guide me.

It has been so long ago that when I had my first child, breast feeding not only was not "in style", but was actively discouraged by many doctors, on the grounds that so few women were successful.
Why were they unsuccessful? After all, women had been breastfeeding for thousands of years, and most had been successful, so why were women in 1971 so lacking? It finally dawned on me. We had no models. Not a single person I knew was choosing to breast feed. I had only seen women breastfeeding in books on natural childbirth. I struggled mightily, encouraged only by my husband. How I would have valued a teacher to guide me.

All this rambling is to the past few years I have realized my dream of passing my "homely" skills on to another generation; I have the opportunity to be for my grandchildren a model and a teacher. Some of them are taking to it quickly and easily. Some are struggling. And some are just more interested in other skills, such as soccer. And that's okay too.

When Katushka calls or e-mails with a question about her knitting or crocheting...when daughterJeana mentions in her blog ( Diversifying Your Stockpile) that she is crocheting and that I taught her how...I once more have that sense of connecting across the years, across the generations, with all those women who came before, who made quilts to warm their families and stretch their budget, who knitted warm socks for their husbands who were going off to war, who baked bread and made their meals "from scratch" every day (must have been a mighty big sack of scratch, to feed all those young'uns).

And that connection feels good.


Meredith said...

Good for you!

My mother recognized the importance of sewing, going so far as to buy me a starter machine as a child. But since neither of us knew what we were doing, we never reached proficiency.

Your daughters and granddaughters are lucky to have you!

Angie said...

My Mom didn't teach me most of these things. Heck -- I didn't even know how to do laundry or cook until I got married (then she did give me some pointers). My Mom was actually a stay at home Mom, but I suspect that she often thought it was just easier to do things for us than to teach us how to do them.

My Mom actually just taught me how to sew this past summer. I'm not very good, but I want to start teaching my kids some of the basics of it anyway. :)

Veronica Mitchell said...

My sister and I were talking about this the other day. My mother never taught me to cook. I learned on my own from books when I was an adult. My mother is an energetic, project-oriented person, and a child in the kitchen was an obstacle and a nuisance to her.

I am trying to remember to take more time to pass down skills to my own little girls, but it is so hard. Again, I just want to GET THINGS DONE, and there is nothing efficient about letting a little girl "help." But I am trying to remember that teaching her is part of my job, too.

CurtissAnn said...

I so relate to your piece. I, too, lived away from my mother and grandmother, but neither of them did any sewing or needle work. I taught myself because of my dreams of what made a 'traditional' mom. My mother =did= teach me to read and to use the library! Thus I have been able to teach myself to learn what I want to learn.


Dee/reddirtramblings said...

That is so lovely. Although I'm a SAHM, I don't know if I taught much to my girls, other than cooking. I learned to knit a couple of years ago. It saves my sanity sometimes. I also learned to embroider, cross-stitch, etc. as a girl. My best girl friend's grandmother taught us how to crochet when we were 10. What a wonderful lady she was. Keep teaching the younger generations. They need help. They can keep all of us up to date on blogging. :-).

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I am grateful every day for my grandmothers who taught me to sew, cook, and can. Even more so, I am grateful to the grandfathers one who taught me to make bread and the other who taught me to garden. Any child that gets near me during these activities is encouraged to "help". I have a couple of good bread kneeders already.


HolyMama! said...

well said. i taught myself to breastfeed from a book! Or, lots of books, actually. All the mamas who could have been that mentor were in that 70s range where they'd been discouraged and hadn't done so, as you did. So i read every book I could, and then successfully nursed 3 boys.

i confess i cannot sew.

my mom and sister and i tried to all learn to knit one year. my mom used to know how, picked it up well. my sister knits very well. i was a knitting disaster. i tried for a few months, but gladly gave it up. i adore the knit gifts my sister gives my kids, though.