Friday, January 28, 2011

It's all Women's Work

For the past 14 years I've been collecting books about Women's domestic life.  I like anything as it applies to cooking, decorating, and my favorite category, domestic housework prior to 1970.  In a collection of roughly 40 books my oldest dates back to 1890.

I love these books because it's fascinating to read about the world in which generations of women before me lived.  Of course you have to keep in mind that these are basically 'how to' books and not autobiographies so everything you read is a suggestion from the author and not necessarily taken from real life. You should keep in mind that the how to being spoke of is idealized to a certain degree.  Just because a book says to greet your husband at the door when he comes home from a hard day at the office with his slippers ready in one hand a cocktail for him in the other, doesn't mean Mrs. Average Housewife 1950 did just that.  But still reading this and knowing someone would even fathom it being a possibility is amazing to me - Ms 21st Century.


Along with all the interesting historical reading I glean lots of great sewing tips to use today.
As an example I took a clothes sewing class about 10 years ago and decided to make a skirt and jacket combo. While working on the skirt our teacher, who was probably in her 60s, showed us the usual way of achieving our objectives and sent us home with our projects with homework. At the time I had just gotten a 'new' sewing book discovered at a used bookstore on home dressmaking. After reading a few sections I decided to duplicate a technique described in the book of putting an embroidered triangular dart on the top of a pleat that would serve as both decoration and it would also strengthen the pleat and make it less likely to separate on the top.


When I returned to class with my homework done and my nifty pleat work in place, my teacher flipped at seeing it. She said in all the years she's been teaching a dressmaking class I was her first pupil to use this technique - one she had learned eons before when she was taught to sew in home economic in the 1940s. She was so thrilled and excited to see such detailed work she showed my humble skirt to the whole class and decided she was going to teach it to all her future students.


Of course I was pretty happy myself. Not just because of the fuss she made over my tailoring attempt but because I learned something really special from what could have been a forgotten book. It was exciting to see that information found in its 45+ years old pages turned out to be just as relevant and useful today as when it was written. That's the kind of pure enjoyment I get from collecting and reading these books. I love to discover something new within something old.




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