Homespun with Love

the other day when we came across this lovely little gem of a book at my work i just had to bring it home.

as i have mentioned before, i grew up mormon.
while i haven't been to church since age 17 and haven't considered myself mormon since then, there are parts of the religion that i appreciate and respect after all these years.
especially the focus on love, family, nature and the great outdoors and constant activity.
and most importantly, the religion's historically homegrown effort for sustainability and d.i.y culture.
when i was born in the 70s, there was a movement especially among women of the church to return to the old-fashioned ways.

i have been poring over this book; it reminds me of everything i cherish about my personal and family history, and all the good parts, the intelligent, land-loving, brave and self-propelled characters, of the early pioneer days of the mormon church.  

"Women baked and brewed, washed and ironed, canned and pickled, compounded home remedies, carded, spun, wove, knit, quilted, made candles, soap, sausage, rugs, rag carpets, and featherbeds, and were in turn seamstresses, milliners, toymakers and tailors."

the book was published the year i was born, and i love that it reflects the growing mormon effort (at the time, it seems to have sadly waned these days) for sustainability and conservation:

"There is also a new degree of relevance in seeking out these old-time skills and crafts, a relevance that has been brought about by ecological crises. The easly pioneers were aware of the need to conserve their resources with the utmost care, and likewise today's women have become aware of their potential to provide attractive homes and to enrich their daily activities by resourcefully creating articles of aestetic as well as practical beauty while conserving materials of the environment."

1800s pioneer women had limited resources for different reasons of course. these days, with the way the media portrays easy access to any little whim or desire, a simple way of life becomes a choice we must make.

in my childhood, my parents made that choice often out of necessity.
here we are as kids, playing "make believe" in our big garden in escondido.

my family was far from hippies; we ate spam and drank kool-aid and used margarine on everything.
but we were pretty poor and my parents were quite self-sufficient. my dad built solar panels and planned and planted our gardens and fruit trees. my mom sewed, canned, preserved, and of course used cloth diapers with the first four of her babies. we had peach trees, plum trees, lemon, pomegranate, apple. we had rosemary and strawberries and watermelon and squash.
i will never forget the feeling of summertime, running wild outside and climbing trees, then coming inside and making pomegranate jelly with momma from the fruits of our own tree, all of us kids plunging our tiny hands into the vat of cold water to separate the seeds from the hulls.

addie and i always had homemade matching dresses, and flannel nightgowns, skirts and bows and playsuits made by momma or grandma.

my parents, back in the day. marmy is pregnant with my sis.

us kids in a "Pioneer Days" parade

we also did a lot of camping, which gave each of us a healthy love of nature and being outdoors.

apparently other methods of conservation included bathing four kids at once to save water ;)

my nostalgia springs from that sense of togetherness that comes from big families, or groups of friends, or churchmembers, working and playing together in that purest sense of community. the kind of work that eventually helps everyone, by verging off from a consumerist culture that risks the health of the planet for profit.
which brings me back to the book:

mormon pioneer women, once established in utah, were encouraged by the prophet to not bother their husbands for "silks, satins and fine bonnets" so they figured it out for themselves! they started a silk industry (sericulture) right there in utah by importing silkworm eggs and seeds of mulberry trees from france. the silkworms and mulberry leaves (food for the worms) required very particular and special care, and eventually the cocoons became the source of silk: from 500 to 1500 yards of silk could be reeled from a good cocoon! (did you know that? and of course they had to kill the chysalides with heat in the process. i guess silk must not be vegan friendly, i did not know that!)

i am espeically interested in the fabrics and clothing; it is so valuable to trace things to their source and discover their histories. to make your own cloth, grow your own flax seeds to produce your own linens, card and process and spin raw cotton, and then work the cloths and sew them into usable items...the whole process seems like it would bring a whole new level of understanding and appreciation to items of everyday life.

and of course there are stories in everything.
on my mother's side, my grandma cherie has traced her roots back many generations and is considered a "Daughter of the Utah Pioneers."

today i cleaned out our garage and found the old storage bin of frail antique linens and clothing that have been passed down from my great grandmother, cherie's mom, vernelle hamilton cooper. and i consider the stories and loves and memories held in these antique items handmade by her own mother, and her mother, and their sisters and cousins.
they were extraordinary lacemakers and did all manner of fine needlework and crochet.

my mom is letting me keep this exquisite hand-crocheted bedspread, made by one of vernelle's relatives probably before the turn of the century.

and what really kills me are the baby clothes.
touching them is like touching fine handmade pages of some mysterious anceint book. you can feel the ghosts and cries and wiggles of wee ones over a century old.

my great-grandmother made these pretty little hats or nightcaps in the 1920s.

i don't know what you call this kind of needlework, whether it is tatting or crochet or what, but i love it.
each piece is super incredibly soft, vibrant in color, and stretches to fit your head perfectly.

there are several of these handmade head wraps too, in all different colors.

grandma cherie has labeled a lot of the items; these are old-fashioned curlers made of pliable stitched up pieces of thick bendy leather!

all day i've been wearing this cotton calico laura ashley dress that milla sent me last year. it makes me feel like a pioneer woman, pretty and practical at once. i love its tiny buttons up the front; i love that it has a pocket, and i love it with an apron.

now i just need to learn by example and start using a lot more home remedies and making my own necessities. the garden still has to wait a week or so (it's snowing again right now ?!) 
but i feel inspired; i feel like creating with my own hands, finding my capabilities, and working hard.
i am trying to convince myself to finally, once and for all, learn to sew.
 i want to make good use of the fresh foods that come into my kitchen this summer. i want to avoid anything packaged in plastic, and instead learn to make it myself!
you creative industrious and resourceful ladies inspire me all the time, and i really have to get on it!
and today i have my heritage (both familial, cultural, and religious) to thank for reminding me once again the value and beauty of these creative endeavors. 

i'll leave you with this pic of me and my elusive cat daphne. my bean. my sweet shy girl.

vintage laura ashley dress: from milla
pink gingham apron: antique passed down from grandma
purple layered kneesocks: target several years ago
slipper boots: thrifted last week, $1.50
all other accessories: antiques made by my ancestors


Milla said…
Heather, my sweet, sweet Heather, this post just brought tear to my eyes with all the hand crocheted laces and century-old baby clothes. Awareness of your heritage is so empowering. It makes sense to me that you would come from a strong, industrious stock, from ladies calm and capable and wise and charming.

You look like you would fit right in one of those old pictures, you do, at homing among the knitters and silk spinners and hard-working womyn.

You are such an inspiration to me with your bright spirit and I'm certain that whatever you try your hand at you will succeed.

Kerry said…
this post was absolutely incredible. you took me thru such an amazing historical journey of so many families.
I think you are so lucky to have such pieces of your ancestry in your home. actually, and pieces of information that lead you to your past.
wow. I am so blown away right now. I really dig your family pics :)
the domestic arts are my favorite kind of art. i love all that crochet and that night cap!!!!!!!! so sweet. thanks for sharing this
Amy Beatty said…
Home sweet home is what this post is to me. I love the picture of you guys in the tub - we totally have those and all the others too :) I'm dying over that sweet dress. It fits you perfectly and looks so comfy but you still look dressed and amazing. Its the perfect dress in my eyes. We have been planting like crazy over here for the last few days. we are going to make sure this year is better than the last. Speaking of sewing.... I think I'm coming out Tuesday to help dolly make her wedding dress. Wish us luck and I'm planning on a few get togethers with you as well xoxoxo Also - I'm loving your room. When did you move back. At first I was thinking those pictures must be old, way old. Before you painted your room pink. Your room is perfect and I'm left totally jealous - again. My visions never turn out :( one last thing.... we are getting a baby tomorrow morning!!!! A baby grand that is!! so crazy. Never thought in a million years we would ever have one. probably because I never cared to have one. But we found a crazy good deal and could not pass it up. Talk to you soooooooon xoxo
ashley said…
What a perfect time to become so inspired to be self-sufficient and crafty! I was just about to get my sewing machine set up, and get the garden going here too. We should organize a seed swap? An afternoon of cocktails and crafts? Recipe and home remedies sharing? Your enthusiasm is stoking me up! Lets cook and sew and create and share!

Teeny said…
Garments from the past teach us so much about ourselves..i love that your grandma and great grandma kept these precious things, and thought to pass them on. My mum kept so many of our baby/toddler clothes, and I'm so very glad she did. They have outlasted my daughter and I...and I'm about to wrap them up for (hopefully) my own grand-daughter(s). Self-sufficiency and crafting are so rewarding, and foster community. I love it myself. good luck with your intentions, I'm sure you'll create beauty whatever you make.
Cel said…
That bedspread is gorgeous, it must have taken ages to make. My mother knit me a thick wool blanket, and I have another crocheted blanket made by my grandmother, I absolutely adore those types of things. This whole thing reminds me I REALLY need to do more work on my poor quilt, it's been sitting neglected all winter, oops!
Andrea said…
First off, you were adorable in your yellow framed glasses! I should also add that this post was written really close to my heart, because 1) i love ancestry 2) i love old photos 3) i love beautifully crafted hand me downs (what treasures!) 4) i have much respect for the history of the Mormon church and their migration westward. I agree with Milla, it only makes sense you'd be tied to such wonderfully fascinating women!

I also love your stance, and the whole "Radical Homemaker" movement is something I too am very much interested in. I've dabbled in some of the domestic arts and am always looking for ways to grow in that regard. I hope you'll share some of your experiences/thoughts/success stories with us :)
Nicky said…
This is very sweet- I love the fact that you guys had so much of your own food in your gardens and the jelly making?! How fun! I had a big group of girlfriends in high school who were Mormon and I always complimented them on (and noticed) how they had great families! Something different about em! Happy Saturday lil' homemaker! :D
Missa said…
Heather, I love how you not only SEE the best qualities in everything, you actually CELEBRATE them and that is one of the many qualities I find inspiring in YOU.

I loved learning about your own sweet family history as well as how AMAZING the early Mormon pioneer women were. The story of how they developed their own silk-making is crazy! I'm so glad you found this book and shared how it inspired you with us.

Now I'm feeling inspired in all those ways too!

p.s. The pic of you and Adie in your homespun matching dresses is too precious!
I loooooved this post. your parents are so cute! I think it's wonderful you're still able to appreciate the good things about being mormon, even though you no longer practice. I was raised Catholic and it's taken me a long time (and I'm still working on it!)to realize that there might actually be some positive things about it after so much anger and resentment.
ruby said…
what an enchanting, lovely post, I love to live as much as I can the simple life and it amazes me why others think it's weird or strange or we do it because we must be very poor, give me a homespun life anyday, I adore the bonnets and shawl, how delightful x
Tina Dawn said…
Just loved reading this, and always enjoy you old photos
Anonymous said…
I had no idea you grew up a Mormon! I am currently a 17 year old mormon, haha. I would love to find that book you mentioned. Beautiful things, all of them, I love the fancy little crocheted things. ♥
mo said…
I just LOVED reading this post! The cover of that book was incredible! I have such a love for embroidery and was tickled to death seeing the beautiful detail of that cover. Those cute little birdies! And the rest of the post, everyone has already left such lovely comments. I just want to add how much your spirit shines thru your words and all the snapshots of fabric. I love how you have been handed down some beautiful textiles from your family. Such a treasure that is. I really enjoy reading your blog! I always know I'm in for a treat when the page starts to load. Thanks for sharing your beautiful life with us. Goddess bless*
That is one crowded tub! Must have been fun and disastrous at the same time. Loved reading the post and also love the bedspread. It is absolutely beautiful!
Violet Folklore said…
Oh honey, this made me cry!
Wow, I love Vernelle, and all her lady friends and relatives. That bedspread is INSANE. Thanks mama.
I am always envious of your big family, and this makes me even more so! Only now with the added element of the greater culture from which you all came.
That is such a neat book and I am so happy that it fell into your hands. Next time I come over I want to look through it!
Oh and I'd love to see more of the Laura Ashley dress, have you blogged about it before?
Love you.

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