20 Jan 2018

ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Putting away this year's Christmas decorations, my mind travels back in time. When did it start? It must have been 1964 or 65. Uncle Eugene dressed up as Santa Claus and came to our house with a sack, at least I think it was him. I was small enough to still believe in Santa. We had a white artificial tree with glass ornaments. Dad put colored spotlights on the tree in green or maybe blue, an elegant mid-century approach. Santa laid out the presents and left. Later my cousins came and we all opened gifts.

I was begging for a Barbie doll. Kids can be very single-minded. Mom didn't hold with us having anatomically correct dolls. It was not in the cards. My uncle worked at Western Printing, producers of the Golden Books, all the children's books and games, all at an employee discount. I knew none of this. What I got was a Tressie doll whose hair grew when you pressed a button. She did not have a wardrobe, nor did she take a standard size doll dress. My brother got a GI Joe. I also got a knitting kit with a Knitting Jenny, a four pronged lucet, and a plastic set of knitting needles. Dad ended up with the Knitting Jenny. https://www.etsy.com/listing/89631332/knitting-jenny-long-knitting-loom?show_sold_out_detail=1
It was made of orange plastic. Dad had surgery later that year and needed something to do while he recuperated. He made me a hat with strings and a tassle or pompom. The acrylic hat was a dusty pink color. Mom knit me a matching set of mittens. I wore it a lot that year. The weather was so bad, blizzards and bitter cold weather. My dad's sister in Germany sent a giant box of winter clothes, none of which fit us. (But I really liked the bunny fur coat and boots she sent.)

Here I was with a new doll and no clothes for her. Mom taught me how to knit and how to use a needle and thread. Clothes were up to me to make. I was real bad at tying off the sewing knots, but since Mom sewed and knit, there were plenty of scraps for me to learn with. My dolls had clothes. I think that's how it all began. From there, I made stuffed animals out of craft felt. I embroided faces or used buttons for eyes. They were flat, not three dimensional, mostly just a head with a small bit of stuffing.

Sometime later, maybe the next Christmas, I ended up with a potholder loom. The potholders were too small to be useful. Also crocheting the potholder off of the loom was tricky. Mom didn't crochet. Dad showed me how. Also no one had replacement loops so once they were gone, that was it.

The Gateway Drug to a life long fiber habit

Another year, I remember going to a parental workplace Christmas party at the Cinema. All the girls got crewel embroidery kits, the boys Tonka trucks. Here, I was on my own. Only grandma did embroidery. Crewel was too different. It was a pillow with a 1970s version of Victorian flowers. Quite pretty. The front of the pillow looked great. The back, not so much. I tied a lot of knots. No one had taught me how to do a neat back or secure thread without a knot. I am not entirely sure it ever became a pillow. The pillow form had to be purchased separately.

By age fifteen, all I wanted was the loom in the Sears Wishbook catalog. When it actually showed up under the Christmas tree, no one was more surprised than me. I knew it was pricey. It was 18" wide and made by Avalon. Tartan plaids were all the rage. No one ever told me you shouldn't weave with acrylic yarn. It stretches too much. It didn't matter. I made beautiful things with it. I still have that loom although repairs have been made to it over the years.

So is it any wonder that Christmas is forever associated with fiber arts in my mind? Looking back, you can see how sexist the gifts were, but the skills we learned over time have served us well and created a sense of tradition. Working with fiber to clothe people are skills that women have traditionally done for a very long time. If you don't believe me, pick up a book called Women's Work: the first 20,000 years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. And don't be surprised if you get a homemade knitted or woven gift from me for Christmas. It's tradition.

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