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.
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