Sunday, December 2, 2007
Saturday, December 1, 2007
"The afternoon was devoted to sewing. Mademoiselle, like most Belgian ladies, was specially skillful with her needle. She by no means thought it a waste of time to devote unnumbered hours to fine embroidery, sight-destroying lace-work, marvellous netting and knitting, and above all, to most elaborate stocking-mending. She would give a day to the mending of two holes in a stocking at any time, and think her 'mission' nobly fulfilled when she had accomplished it. It was another of Caroline's troubles to be condemned to learn this foreign style of darning, which was done stitch by stitch so as exactly to imitate the fabric of the sock itself; a wearifu' process, but considered by Hortense Gerard, and by her ancestresses before her for long generations back, as one of the first 'duties of woman.' She herself had had a needle, cotton, and a fearfully torn stocking put into her hand while she yet wore a child's coif on her little black head: her 'hauts faits' in the darning line had been exhibited to company ere she was six years old, and when she first discovered that Caroline was profoundly ignorant of this most essential of attainments, she could have wept with pity over her miserably neglected youth."
Charlotte Bronte, Shirley, 1849
"Yorkshire people, in those days, took their tea round the table; sitting well into it, with their knees duly introduced under the mahogany. It was essential to have a multitude of plates of bread and butter, varied in sorts and plentiful in quantity: it was thought proper, too, that on the centre-plate should stand a glass dish of marmalade; among the viands was expected to be found a small assortment of cheesecakes and tarts; if there was a plate of thin slices of pink ham garnished with green parsley, so much the better."
Charlotte Bronte, Shirley, 1849
Thursday, November 29, 2007
There is no question that December is one of the busiest times of the year for many women, and hopefully for most. Aside from all the things we do all the time for our families (even if they are small), such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and ironing, running errands, financial management, trying to practice frugality, shuttling children, and talking to everyone and making sure they are happy and on the right path, in the month of December, women are primarily responsible for:
* Participating in Black Friday
* Making hundreds of cookies and other delectables for neighbors and friends
* Decorating the home and engaging in other kinds of seasonal craftiness
* Buying presents for children, grandchildren, extended family members, friends, co- workers, and teachers
* Wrapping all the presents for children, grandchildren, extended family members, friends, co-workers, and teachers
* Shipping gifts to out-of-town gift recipients
* Sending out Christmas cards
* Hosting a party or two
* Going to a party or two
* Cooking a fabulous Christmas dinner or part thereof
(Women who work outside the home get no reprieve.)
I thoroughly enjoy all these activities. However, in the midst of this, if we are celebrating Christmas as a Christian, rather than celebrating it a "seasonal holiday," then we are called upon to deepen our spiritual life and to prepare ourselves and our families for the coming of our Lord--a call I was reminded of today by Elena at Tea at Trianon--and is this not the most important task of all? This is a real challenge. This is not the season of late winter, as in Lent, when our social life may be attenuated by weather and focusing on our interior life seems natural. In this season, everything is drawing us out toward others and toward whirling-dervish spirals of hyperactivity. Now in the last few days before Advent, we need to prepare to prepare.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Here are photos of two murals at 3922 Aspen Street in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the mural capital of the USA. An organization called Mural Arts Program, Philadelphia, launched a campaign to create murals throughout the city as part of an anti-graffiti campaign. These two murals were created across from each other on Aspen Steet and a small park was created in the vacant lots next to them. These murals are a wonderful celebration of a great art. I will be creating a Philadelphia mural screensaver, so if you would like one, let me know.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Promises to Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage (University of California Press, 2005, 293 pages) is well worth reading for anyone who is interested in family formation and also in how the nation's poor are living. The book is based on a six-year study by Kathryn Edin, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Maria Kefalas, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saint Joseph's University. Both schools are in Philadelphia, and the book is the result of a years'-long field study in five impoverished neighborhoods in the city and three poor neighborhoods in Camden, NJ, right across the Delaware River. Given that Philadelphia is a heavily segregated city, two neighborhoods were white, two were predominantly African American, and one was three were Hispanic. The Camden neighborhoods were a mix of African American and Hispanic. The authors lived in the neighborhoods; got to know the neighborhood stores, churches, and schools; and interviewed in-depth and over time 162 young mothers.
First off, their findings put to rest the notion that women have children as a means to collect welfare money for themselves. That was not the case with any of these women. However, probably by virtue of the fact that they were willing to be interviewed, none of these women were drug addicts or what they themselves would call "bad mothers" who pursued a degraded or addictive life, with uncared for children in tow. (One mother did say, however, that she had had her child taken away from her for a period of time by Social Services, and had then straightened up to get the child back and to keep it.) Many women indicated the contrary: having a child had saved them from a lifestyle of drugs, partying, alcohol abuse, and promiscuity. Many said that if it were not for their child or children, they would be dead or in jail.
This held true for African Americans, whites, and Hispanics.
The book concludes that the attitude toward marriage of these women was closely aligned with the overall American societal view of marriage as an undertaking that should be postponed until both partners are ready and that should not take place until there has been a trial run with co-habitation and enough time for testing the trustworthiness of the other partner. As women, they did not want to enter into a marriage until they had accumulated some money of their own and enough resources and skills to make it on their own if the marriage should end in separation and/or divorce. The women wanted to show that they could bring something to the table so that they would not need to be subservient to the man, but could pull out stakes if abuse of the woman or children (usually accompanied by moral and financial disintegration of the man) should occur. Women in both the middle and poor classes do not have enough faith in the men that they are with to pool their resources and put in together and work together to achieve the white picket fence dream of minimal economic security. They want to make their own money on their own first and they also want an escape hatch.
The women also indicated that they did not want to enter into marriage and then have to divorce. They all seemed to indicate that they took marriage very seriously and did not want their marriage just to be a piece of paper and did not want to break their vows. Hence, they seemed to indicate, their caution in entering into it. Several of the women said that their male partners were ready and willing to marry, but they were not, at least not yet. The authors note that steady employment and other criteria that would have made a young man marriageable in the 1950s no longer deemed sufficient by the women of today. Women wanted more assurances of their survival in marriage--mostly assurances that they wanted to create on their own first.
However, whereas middle-class women are postponing marriage and also postponing childbirth, poor women see having children early in life, certainly when they are in their twenties, as a necessity. They also see being a "good mother" as a necessity, which means that the woman is willing to sacrifice to ensure that her child is clothed, clean, well-fed, and safe. Almost all the women said that being a good mother means "being there" for your child, in good times and in bad. And, it is noteworthy, these women considered their offspring to be "my child," "my children"--never "ours."
The authors documented that although the male partners in the pregnancies of these women all had varying reactions to the pregnancy--at its announcement, during, at the point of childbirth, and thereafter--most relationships between the woman and that man disintegrated within the short to mid-term. In most cases, the man would revert to the type of behavior that the women had foresworn--partying, infidelity, drugs, alcohol abuse, crime, domestic violence, especially if there was a loss of employment.
In this regard, the book documents that Philadelphia has been hit very hard by the process of deindustrialization beginning in 1970. The wages of low-skilled men have plummeted over the years, and the opportunities for steady employment with some hope of advancement are few and far between. In the picture below of the Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia, one of the neighborhoods surveyed, note the vacant factory.
In contrast, women, motivated by the desire to provide their children with a better life, were much more willing to go to school and to work, to work doubly hard to achieve their financial goals and to try to achieve a middle class living standard to the extent possible and with varying levels of success, most likely depending upon their determination and also the degree of familial support from parents, grandparents, etc.
For these women, their children were a source of positive identity--someone to love unconditionally and someone who would love them in return unconditionally, someone for whom they would have to create order and leave behind the habits of their often-chaotic young lives.
For these women, men were important but remained as adjuncts that they did not expect or want to depend upon, although almost all women interviewed retained marriage as a life goal. The book did not attempt to analyze the toll that this form of matriarchal system takes on the children--particularly on boys raised from an early age without fathers.
The intimacy that the authors achieved in this work, their clarity of writing, and the extent to which they allowed the women to tell their own stories and to explain themselves make this book a compelling and fascinating read. It is also an eye-opener on the degree to which (1) poor women look to their children as the major and sometimes only positive source of their identities and (2) the degree to which marriage is falling by the wayside as an institution in America, despite the fact, as the authors state at the outset, that it has been shown again and again that children do best in an environment in which their biological parents are lawfully wedded and living together.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Quilt from Pennsylvania, 1865
The American Quilt Story: The How-to and Heritage of a Craft Tradition, which was given to me by a kind friend, has a discussion of the importance of quilts and quilting in early America and in the frontier. The religious Great Awakening of the 1790s, according to the book, "was important in the story of quilting because it transferred the responsibility for moral and religious education directly from clergymen to women in the home.... The family came to be seen as the moral repository of the nation and home life to be associted with virtue." After the American War of Independence, "women's education was taken more seriously, prompted in part by the new domestic thinking whereby women assumed the mantle of the moral guardianship of the family."
In this cultural ambience, needlework and quilting gained in prestige as an essential part of a young woman's repertoire of skills. Quilting often involved the whole family. According to quilt historian Patsy Orlofsky (cited in the The American Quilt Story),
"Everyone seemed to participate in the making of quilt, whole families were involved. Husbands and fiances drew complex patterns on a quilt top or cut out templates from which patterns were cut. Grandmothers and children threaded needles and cut out patches while mothers sewed pieces together and quilted the top. A quilt in some instances represented the creative efforts of an entire family."
The Swedish novelist Fredrika Bremer (also cited) wrote in a letter home in 1849:
"I have been a at a 'Bee.' And if you would know what this creature is in society here, then behold! If a family is reduced to poverty by fire or sickness, and the children are in want of clothes or anything else, a number of ladies of the neighborhood who are in good circumstances immediately get together at some place and sew for them. Such an assembly is called a bee."
Ladies having a tea in front of a log home.
In the mid-19th century, as more and more people headed west, according to the American Quilt Story, women worked extremely hard, even harder than men, historians say, to build a homestead and create a home from it. "It was considered a woman's duty not only to maintain the stabiity of the family unit in the new environment but also to provide a measure of refinement and domestic comfort to their crude homes. Rather than leave behind aspects of life that they regarded as civilized, women tried to recreate them on the prairie. They would often add rag rugs, wallpaper the sod walls with newsprint, crochet dainty covers for slop jars, and hang curtains fashioned from newspapers, old sheets or petticoats.... Women spent hours stitching the curtains, table linens, and quilts which would add a touch of domestic and psychological comfort to the home--which might be a log cabin or sod hut. ..."
Mariner's Compass pattern square from an 1840 quilt
I am reminded of the movie, Rachel and the Stranger, where the widower laments that his wife fought so hard to make their isolated cabin a home and bring beauty to it by insisting on planting flowers in the front yard, bringing her spinet to the West and playing it every evening, buying a metronome for her playing, educating their son in the home and insisting that he show good manners. (The contribution of women on the frontier is, of course, rarely a subject of interest in the modern-day Westerns.)
Quilt from Illinois, 1860.
The women and their quilting also played a major role in socializing the frontier: "The average distance of half a mile between farms meant isolation and loneliness for many women, and in order to adjust to their new lives, pioneer women worked to establish their own schools and churches and created a network of associations which would provide female companionship," The American Quilt Story says. "Both get-togethers to make a quilt and the quilt itself served important social functions and provided women with a material means to soften the harsh reality of the frontier. The popularity of the Album and Friendship Quilts during this period testifies to the importance of personal bonds, both within families and among women."
Later in the 19th century, the sewing machine came to be a prize possession on the frontier, as the picture below indicates.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor of history at Harvard University, has written a new book entitled Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. In his review of the book in the Washington Post, Michael Dirida referred to her first major work, Virtuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735, which he says, begins as follows: "Cotton Mather called them 'the hidden ones.' They never preached or sat in a deacon's bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question or God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed Hoping for an eternal crows, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven't been. Well-behaved women seldom make history." Thus, as Dirida points out, was born a key slogan of the feminist movement. Her book, he opines, is a "well-written short work of synthesis and consolidation" of pioneering feminists and the modern-day feminist movement.
It may very well be the case that well-behaved women seldom make history. They are busy making something else: people. I have been mulling over women's silent contribution to history for a long time. But recently I came across a paragraph in an enjoyable novel by the British author Elizabeth Goudge, whom I heard of through reading Isabella of the 21st Century's blog (now sadly deleted). The book, The Herb of Grace, was written in 1948 and, most interestingly, has many reflections by the characters on the war and how it changed their lives and how it changed England. In the short passage that I am going to quote here, I have found the best summation of why well-behaved women do make history in a profound way, although feminists may not read about it or dismiss it. The passage concerns the thoughts of Lucilla, the matriarch of a large family, during a gathering of her grandchildren, sons, daughter, and daughter-in-law, Nadine:
But they were talking about the deplorable state of the world, about that terrible bomb, about famine and inflation and chaos and death, and her mind shied away from their talk like a terrified horse. She couldn't do anything about it now, at 86, except pray, and in between her prayers, now that the war was over, she wished they would let her forget sometimes that things had not turned out as well as one had hoped the enjoyed the things that were left: the spring sunshine slanting into the quiet room, lighting up the flowers and the lovely ripe corn colour of Pooh-Bah's coat, the hot tea, the log fire burning on the hearth, whispering and fragrant, the feel of the dear old Bastard's chin [dog] resting on her shoe, the sound of the sea coming in the pauses of their talk.
"Don't!" she cried to them suddently. "It's this that matters--this!"
What, Mother?" asked Margaret...
"Beauty is truth?" asked Hilary, coming a little nearer.
But Nadine, without words, stretched out a hand and gently touched her mother-in-law's. They had both been married and borne children. Lucilla knew always, and Nadine in her more domesticated moments, that it was homemaking that mattered. Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil. But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilization depended upon their quality; and it was no good weakening oneself for the brickmaking by thinking too much about the flood."
Mrs. Miniver deals brilliantly with a German pilot breaking into her house, in the movie that celebrated the heroism of homefront England.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
See Columba for an article on the courageous Zora Neale Hurston, novelist, writer, and folklorist, who worked all her life to celebrate African Americans' unique culture and bring it to the American table.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
This is the third year that I have hosted an afternoon tea for the women faculty and high school girls at my daughter's school right at the beginning of the school year. Usually this means a gathering of about 40 women and girls. I started doing this because I was seeking an excuse to make a trifle and also because I was so impressed when I was a young teenager by the teas that I went to with my family for some special occasion. I loved the delicate little sandwiches and sweets. A tea was an out-of-the-ordinary event. We had to dress up and wear white gloves and be very polite.
So I studied teas and went all out and had the first tea. Except for one fabulous cake baked by a friend (her prize-winning hershey chocolate cheesecake), I did everything else (with this friend's additional help on the day of the tea): applesauce cake, a blueberry trifle, and a German chocolate cake; tea sandwiches with various fillings--strawberries and cream cheese, cucumber, shrimp paste, watercress, spinach humus; finger foods, such as deviled eggs, gerkins, celery sticks; and scones with clotted cream and jams. This first tea was a great success, and I planned it like D-Day, filling page after page with shopping lists, timelines, menus, etc. The girls were hungry after school and ate a lot and talked a lot. I used real china plates and tea cups (many of which I looted from a very kind friend's kitchen) and had cloth napkins. I consider china and cloth napkins crucial to making the tea special in the minds of the girls. I thought it also essential that the tea be in a home and not in a public place or be catered. The second year, I did essentially the same but it was planned for a bad day for the school and there was a smaller turnout. All the savory part of the tea was eaten though, and if there had been a real turnout, we would have run out of food.
This year, the tea had to be at 1 pm after the first half-day of school, and so it had to be a luncheon. Very behind schedule, I asked for and received a lot of help from the school's social committee. Mothers very kindly made and delivered to my home the deviled eggs, a huge amount of very tasty chicken salad, and most of the cakes. I did not make a trifle but made one of the cakes and early on the morning of the tea, made all the scones as usual (I mix all the dry ingredients the night before). The tea was a great success, and I am very happy to say that this is now a School Tradition, which will be carried on by the social committee in the future (my daughter graduates this year).
The whole idea (aside from making the trifle) was to hopefully inspire some of the girls to hold a tea in their own homes when they get older and to carry on this elegant, ladylike, and genteel tradition. I will probably never know if I succeeded in that endeavor, but it seems that each year those that came enjoyed themselves and appreciated the degree of elegance (not perfect by any means) that I was able to muster. While the first tea required large amounts of planning, the first and second did not--it was all in my head and I only had to implement. This is by way of saying that holding a tea for about 40 people--the girls of a church youth group, a Scout troop, a reading group, or neighborhood friends--is not that difficult, especially if you get help with preparing the food, and it is fun to do. The pictures are from the second and third teas, the third with my little phone camera so they are a bit fuzzy.
This beautiful painting of dahlias by Cezanne appeared on the invitation the second year.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Do you find this a bit intimidating?
Then there is the highly popular gladiator look. Note the large metallic belt. This belt, which may be in leather or metal, is considered "flattering." Note the other theme I mentioned above.
Something terrible has happened at Burberry akin to the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Note the gladiator belt on the right.
The Addams family as lesbians...
Feeling like General Custer in the throes of a nervous breakdown awash with guilt about the Indians, then this is the outfit for you.
Should it be any surprise that all of this noxious ugliness celebrates the flapper era, when women were first turned into scarecrows and fashion was created so that instead of beauty and grace, women would project ugliness and ready availability? The damp vamp, compliments of Vogue, is immediately below.
Now here is a dress that might have some potential but all the extensive detailing in the top and bottom has the effect of adding body armour, and the effect is not any flowing or clear line but encrustation. Feeling like a bug, are you?
Here is what I liked:
Beautiful coat, love the color of the gloves with it. I would love to wear this. (Please X out the ugly shoes, slouch, and expression of the model.)
I like this dress, and as far as I can see, it doesn't have a tennis skirt. This is a 1930s kind of dress, not 1920s, and in the 1930s, women were again allowed to be feminine after the masculine ravaging of the 1920s, when women were referred to as "la garconne"--that is, the feminine boy. The jewelry, the hat, and the pose of the model are not in keeping with the dress.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
According to the Home Sewing Association, the number of sewing hobbyists in the USA is up 17 percent from the year 2000 and now stands at 35 million. This is great news--along with the revival of the apron and retro apparel that is now filtering its way into the mainstream (always the last to know) media. There are so many wonderful sewing blogs for inspiration, such as Purlbee, Pleasant View Schoolhouse, Sew Retro, Sister's Choice for quilting, Turkey Feathers, Granny Along, SouleMama, Anna Maria Horner, and many others. Check the links to other blogs from these blogs for an infinite amount of sewing (and other) inspiration. I am working on my first quilt, a four-square baby quilt, and have ideas for about three more. Very relaxing but I am having trouble matching all the seams as I sew together the rows. It will all work out though, I hope, with some patience. Also there are problems in the design, but I am hoping it qualifies as a decent first attempt. Sewing offers an enormous range of satisfaction and projects--from making a quick shift dress in 2 hours or making a uniquely gorgeous heirloom quilt that takes many months. Have fun!
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
A friend sent me this painting of Saint Margaret of Antioch and asked me to write about it, and also had this to say: "I love everything about it, from her braided handbag to her hat and clothes, to the fact that she is holding her place in her book with her finger, to the fact that she's barefoot, to the fact that she seems completely nonplussed by the dragon at her feet. In fact, in this image, I think that the dragon looks much more like a wild but tamed/submissive pet; not in any danger of devouring Saint Margaret."
Saint Margaret of Antioch is the patron saint of childbirth, pregnant women, falsely accused people, dying people, peasants, and exiles. Hers was one of the earliest voices heard by the great Saint Joan of Arc. Her cult was extremely popular among the laity in England, perhaps because, like Saint George, the English patron saint, she also was victorious over a dragaon. It is likely that Saint Margaret of Scotland was named for her.
According to the Golden Legend, the only source of information for this Saint Margaret, she was the daughter of a pagan priest in Antioch but was herself converted to Christianity. When her father found out, he drove her out of the house and she fled to the countryside where she became a shepherdess. She spurned the advances of a Roman prefect named Olybrius, who was smitten by her beauty. In his wrath at her scorn, he had her imprisoned, where she fought with the devil which came to her cell in the form of a dragon. According to the legend, the dragon swallowed her, but the cross she carried in her hand so irritated his throat that he was forced to disgorge her. Her incarcerators then tried to kill her by drowning and by fire, all to no avail. In the course of surviving these ordeals, she converted thousands to Christianity, the legend tells us. Finally, she was executed by beheading.
This martyr-saint is one of the Catholic Fourteen Holy Helpers, who are invoked against disease. Her feast day is July 20.
This portrait of Saint Margaret was painted in 1630-35 by the great Spanish artist, Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), one of my favorite painters. It can be found in the National Gallery in London. Zurbaran has heightened all of the ironies of Saint Margaret's life, showing her dressed as a shepherdess with her barefeet and staff, also in imitation of the Lord as Shepherd. However, her demeanor, the stylization of her clothes, the detailed beauty of her bag, her jewelery, and her ability to read--she is holding her place with her finger--tells us that this is no ordinary shepherdess but a lady, who has been humbled in station and in attitude (her head is slightly lowered) by Christianity. At the same time, the strength of her faith has enabled her to vanquish a dragon, who we see lat her feet, and that also challenges us, the viewers, with an expression that seems to quietly say, "Let's see you do this."
I love how Zurburan has portrayed the saint in contemporary dress--a constant ruse in Medieval and Renaissance art to emphasize the relevance of Christianity to contemporary life. This occurs in a different way in the painting of Saint Margaret by the French Renaissance painter Jean Fouquet (1415-1480), in his miniature Book of Hours for Etienne Chevalier now in the Louvre in Paris.
In this painting, Saint Marguerite, second from the right with a nimbus around her head, is portrayed as an ordinary peasant. The painting seems more ominous and also perhaps more political. We are seeing Saint Margaret just before she is arrested by the powers that be for her Christianity. Fouquet counterpoints the black and white of the soldiers' horses with the black and white of Saint Margaret's sheep and contrasts the soldiers' physical might with the demure image of Saint Margaret as a young slip of a girl, prepared through faith to submit to God's plan for her.
Lastly, this page from an illuminated manuscript shows Saint Margaret sans political or contemporary connotation. The illustrator focuses on the saint as she is in prayer to God against the devil.