Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the cult of domesticity

Charles Dana Gibson, No Time for Politics, 1910

Ulali- Mother
A note on the naming of this blog:
i chose the name “cultivating domesticity” as a play on “the cult of domesticity,” an ideology coined in the nineteenth century that said a woman’s place was in the home. also known as “the cult of true womanhood” this ideology laid out the cardinal values all [white middle/upperclass] women must display: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. the woman’s biological imperative was to create a tranquil domestic sphere for her husband – as women were ill-equipped to do the things men do in the outside world. these ideas pervaded all forms of popular culture at the time, and were buttressed by a lot of pseudo-scientific evidence of female inferiority: we have smaller bodies and smaller brains, more delicate constitutions, and things like menstruation and masturbation make us insane.
i learned all about the cult of domesticity studying at smith college, where generations of (mostly white) women before me had come to buck the system and break out of the domestic sphere, proving their ability to challenge male domination in all aspects of the outside world. which is incredible, and necessary – because we’re obviously not over the belief that women are inferior and incapable of doing certain things men do (physical labor, politics, being decisive, etc), so while i take issue with the white privileged backbone of the feminist movement, i do think the sentiment is necessary and the fight is still relevant.
what i don’t like is the implicit devaluing of domestic work. in a sort of animal farm–ish move, feminism takes on the assumption that traditionally-male work is more valuable and desirable than roles traditionally done by women (and people of color). so i walked away from my feminist education thinking that i ought to get an impressive job and higher degrees to show the world that i can beat men at their own game. and while i do think i can beat men at their own game, i also think that cooking and washing and mending clothes and raising families are some of the most important and critical roles in a society. Unlike some of the best-paid jobs in this country, if someone isn’t making food and babies nobody’s going anywhere.
and i don't think these realms are mutually exclusive, in fact i think the realms are constructed to be separate (and unequal) in order to maintain a system of domination and destructive policy.
so what i’m saying with this blog is that i value those necessary roles as much as i do the flashy positions in male-dominated spheres, and i think it does us good as a movement, as a people, to pay tribute to and cultivate the art of caring for our family, friends and homes, and to bring that energy into our work in our communities and the world.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

form meets function: quilt style

marty and i have been talking a lot about collaborating on artistic/craft projects lately. as is true of our relationship in general, we compliment each other well - our individual talents and qualities fill into each others' spaces nicely. we raise each other up as we stretch our own abilities in new ways together.
right now he's teaching me about aesthetics and form, something i don't have an intuitive sense about when it comes to creating things. and yesterday i taught him to sew on the bernette, and he has now taken on an identity as a "jeans repairman." (meaning he was able to fix the hole in his favorite pair of jeans and it was a great first sewing success). so he's helping me with concept and form; i'm helping him with function and execution.
this collaboration is coming to bear on the dragonfly quilt project, with the final inner square now completed. i made seven paper-pieced dragonflies, since seven is a significant number in baby payton's lakota culture, and we've been planning to fill in the eighth square in the constellation with his own initials, joining payton's presence in the circle on the eastern side. marty drew up the initials, stylizing his letters to mirror the dragonfly shape, and i worked with that pattern to applique the letters onto the quilt block. it's like graffiti style meets quilty craft.

you can see the pattern and its resulting quilt form here; we ended up dropping the "s" of "payton sky" and the heart from the design as it needed some decluttering. and the letters needed a little extra definition, so with marty's help i embroidered a shadow and some highlights into it as well. i'm pleased with how the block came out, and though it's a painstaking process to hand sew all those little angles and spaces between letters i take pride in putting those extra loving touches into my work.

and now the quilt top is complete and i'm ready to sandwich the quilt together with the batting (middle layer) and backing fabric (also dragonfly print) and start machine quilting it. i'm not sure yet what kind of stitching i'll be doing, something subtle i think since the whole quilt is so busy and i don't want to take away from the details already present in each of the dragonfly fabrics. updates on that coming soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

raggedy rug hooking

i am racking up some successfully completed craft projects now.
i remember checking out a book in high school about hooked rag rugs and getting really excited about making one - and while that seems like it was just yesterday, um...it wasn't. and now i finally got around to doing it. i love crafts that utilize trash or bits and pieces of things you already have laying around to make something new, so this project was right up my alley. during my last visit to mom's house she let me go through her fabric boxes and pick out things i wanted to take home. i decided to take all her scraps and strips of fabric - both for this project and another one that i have yet to start (but it will surely make a blog appearance once i get around to it).

so the hooked rag rug project goes something like this: you have a piece of burlap (i cut up an old burlap bag we had kicking around the house, but you can also buy burlap and other loose-weave fabrics for this purpose), and you basically take strips of fabric and pull loops through to the front of the burlap to create the rug pile. so it's sort of like you're sewing the fabric into the burlap, but leaving big loops on one side, and not using a needle. here's what the back of the rug looks like when you're done:

  • piece of burlap the size of your anticipated rug
  • sharpie or other marker to draw out design
  • crochet hook (there are special rug hooks, but i found a crochet hook worked better for me - i think i used size j)
  • fabric scraps, cut into strips about 1.5" wide, the longer the strips the easier to work with, but you can incorporate short strips as well

i think life would have been easier if i had a circular hoop frame to keep my burlap stretched out on, and if i had started from the middle of the piece and worked outward, but i didn't do that and may be on my way to developing early arthritis instead.
for this project, marty drew out the design for the rug, our first initials with arrows. i had a lot of random scraps to work in, with no real apparent color scheme, so i decided to start with the letters and outline them in dark colors and then fill in with a color gradient, greens for the "k" and yellows/reds/purples for the "m".

i recommend doubling over your edges of the burlap and stitching them before you start. i didn't do this and realized that they were starting to fray while i was working on the letter outlines. at that point i stitched an old quilt binding i had leftover from one of mom's quilt projects around the edge of my rug, but this was not really enough to keep it from fraying, you should really fold and stitch. i ended up having to hand sew the parts that were still coming apart on the edges at the end.

the process is remarkably easy and satisfying. this project validated my new obsession with the watch instantly feature on netflix for a week. meaning it's easy to do while watching movies and you can feel like you're still "doing something."

here's the back of the completed rug.
the feel of the rug is great - nice and squishy, and it takes a lot of fabric so it's got a great heft to it. the rug is now positioned in front of the sink, so my feet don't get so tired while i'm doing dishes. plus maybe it will be extra incentive to be doing the dishes with that bright beckonning rug there...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

election night craft project

worried you're going to be home biting your fingernails tonight?
what better form of stress relief than grabbing some crayons and doing a crafty project while watching the counts come in. thanks to elizabeth perry for creating and sharing this downloadable color-your-own electoral college map. there are 538 votes total. a majority of 270 is needed to win.
happy voting.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"take it easy, but take it"

in honor of the life and work of studs terkel.
i did my first interviews at the storycorps booth in san francisco this sunday, and having just heard about studs terkel's passing the night before, his life and legacy were on my mind. the idea behind storycorps is to record the stories of everyday people's lives, their lessons and treasures and misstakes and passions. i work with them because i am fascinated with people's stories; i learn so much from the experiences and perspectives of others. this is an oral history project aiming to record history from the bottom up, so to speak, from the mouths of ordinary people. i do the work, also, because i believe it's a service to people. both to those who, like me, value and benefit from listening to other people talk about their experiences and finding threads of commonality with our own lives, and also a service to those who come to record their stories with with a loved one in the soundbooth. i see now that the interview booth can be transformative - it provides a space to start conversations that you just haven't been able to ask about over the kitchen table, and it provides a legacy for people's lives, for family history, in fact for history in general.
studs terkel embodied this purpose with his life's work, from radio to writing - documenting the lives and thoughts of ordinary people, providing spaces for us to learn from each other. the chicago tribune did a really nice piece on his life here.
and i remember hearing his interview on democracy now a couple years ago, an incredible interview for having just been the oldest person to undergo open heart surgery a week or two before the interview.
so thank you, studs, for leaving a legacy of listening, closely and with intention, to each other.