Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fiber arts in wartime

As I've worked on the blanket project, I've been aware that I'm part of a long tradition. "Our boys need mittens!" "Our boys need socks!" Many people don't realize that many of the Confederate soldiers in the Civil War didn't wear grey, but butternut homespuns, because wives, mothers, and daughters made them due to shortages. One reviewer of this exhibit said that the heart of it was the "knitting for soldiers" area, noting that women have fought our lack of power over the fates of our soldiers by making handwork for them, making those connections despite the distances.

Like many women who craft, I learned from my mother and my grandmother. I know lace crochet because of a great aunt and an older woman in the community I grew up in. I know needlepoint because of another "old woman". I do crochet my granny's crochet, at least a little bit. She's now mastered a stitch that I want to learn, and I intend to, once I've got a little bit more breathing space in my crafting bags. And like the women who taught me so many crafts, I've been trying to give forward, to teach other folks to craft - braiding, sewing, weaving, spinning, crochet, knit, and now naalbinding. And yes, I'm proud to have learned my crafts from them, and to pass on their knowlege and skill.

And like so many women over the course of history, I find myself crafting "for our boys!" And yes, it's still very oriented to men. One of the requests that is made of crafters wanting to send something to the wounded is that all colors be "gender neutral" - in other words, no pastels, no pink and purple, no fuschia. Even I, who normally don't *do* gendered color, am beginning to find the restricted palette irksome. Never mind that I don't normally do pastels, it irks to be told not to. I find myself longing to do the more fanciful types of lace, or even just to do a pseudosphere. In something silky. And bright pink. And never mind that my main project, the Blanket, has some pastels in it. Even a little fuschia bow from some chain stitch by a little girl just beginning to learn crochet. I'm still tired of being told *how* to crochet by the folks putting my dad in harm's way.

And I wonder if women from other wars felt this way. I wonder if the women ripping bandages for the Crimean War wanted to embroider instead. I wonder if the women making "Union Quilts" for the Civil War sometimes wished they were making more fanciful patterns. I know they put the same wishes into every stitch, but I wonder if their own wishes might have been the same as well...



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not much for hand crafts, well if playing music counts then I guess I am, but my grandmother used to tat intricate designs. Now I wish I had learned the art from her before she passed. Your post reminds us of what a gift it can be to pass along skills - a recipe or a special stitch. Thank you for this article and blessings on your Dad.

2/13/2007 8:17 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

My grandmother also tatted, but she never taught Mom, so I didn't learn, either. (My mom's mother passed a couple years before I was born.) I've wanted to learn, to have that connection to her, but I admit I haven't done it yet. (Though the first form of naalbinding I learned is apparantly a related art.)

2/15/2007 6:57 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

The quilts made by Civil War aid societies were pretty rough but a lot of women sent their husbands, brothers, and sons off to war with carefully-made, personalized quilts with embroidered or inked messages. I remember one that said something about "our thoughts are intense [in tents]" as a little pun. Anyway, my brother has a reproduction one from his reenacting days that has messages from various family members on it (it's the Underground Railroad pattern, a Jacob's Ladder variant, and ours has a blank signature block in the middle). It's cot-sized, long and narrow. Looks a bit like the one on the right if you scroll down.

2/20/2007 6:21 PM  

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