Friday, March 28, 2008

Household Economy

I have been delving, of late, into the deep and wonderful world of books meant for ladies and their roles as house keepers, mothers, cooks, wives, and ladies of society. It has been enlightening, entertaining, and downright educational. I have decided to share some of this with you on a regular and ongoing basis, partly as a window into a world long gone, and partly to illustrate the parallels and similarities encountered in everyday life both 100 years ago and today.

I started into this branch of reading/research by looking for old knitting patterns. What I found is that while there are several books on knitting, there are far more books on educating ladies on their roles in society and the home. And they are wonderful! Taken in a historical context, and not applying current gender roles and paradigms, they are a mine of information on the daily lives of women over the last century and a half.

Daily life tells us so much about a culture. I love reading, discovering, interpreting (in the historical sense), and "borrowing" from what can be learned about previous generations. I am a staunch believer that we are losing cultural knowledge faster than we can re-acquire it. So much of the "green" movement is rediscovering what was once normal, everyday, regular activities, such as canning, gardening, livestock-keeping, cleaning without chemicals, eating whole foods in season, wasting nothing, simplicity, frugality, and doing for yourself rather than heading for the store every time you discover a need or desire.

To that end, I present for your enjoyment/irritation:

Patching, Darning, and Mending

The Complete Housekeeper, by Emily Holt (1917) tells us:
Patching, darning, and mending deserve a separate chapter; they can be no more than glanced at thus at the tag-end of so much else. All three may be brought almost to the level of high art. Indeed, it is an open question as to whether or no they constitute the real test of needle-craft. A thing worth patching at all is worth patching well; still, there is something to be said for the view of a good deacon who explained that by the parable of old wine in new bottles:"Our Lord meant to enforce the great truth that sometimes a hole will last longer than a patch."
Miss Holt included the italics herself. Who sees fit to argue?? Do you patch? Or do you just call it over and done and dispose of the clothing?

I patch. Most of the time, but not on the regular schedule to which our mending would desire. I have to patch Little Boy's pants, or cut them into shorts, or I would break my budget keeping him in drawers! (I wonder if that's why little boys wore short pants for so long?!? It is a fairly new fashion for young boys to wear long pants, you know...) I use several methods, depending on the rend: the size, type, fabric, etc.

So what does Miss Holt have to say about my Little Boy's school pants?

To patch the trousers of a small boy or a big one at the knee, rip up the outer seam well past the hole, cut out the worn part square across the leg, set in a new piece matching thread to thread, stitch it firm, press the seams flat, then sew up the leg seam, fasten, and press.
I like that much better than the darning I was doing! So...can I use a machine, or should I do all this by hand?

Patching by machine is wholly possible. It is, in fact, the best way of patching any big rent that can be mended flat. Cut a patch amply big, and baste it under the rent, so the threads will run with those of the thing to be mended. Stitch a row all around the patch, an inch from the outer edge. Next turn under the raw edges neatly, and stitch them down. Now reverse the work. Cut out the rent, leaving a three-quarter-inch margin next to the first row of stitching. Cut half through it at the corners, turn under the edges, and stitch them down.
How about shirts?

White stuff, when it begins to break, seldom pays for patching.
Miss Holt does go on to describe the various methods for darning and patching other household articles we probably wouldn't think to attempt repairing today: silk, rugs, carpets, lawn, linen, and damask as well as "cloth" and blankets. She proclaims that "Rugs and carpets can be darned to manifest advantage. Lay a bit of stout but sleazily woven woollen upon the wrong side of the rug..." Today, though? When is the last time you thought to repair a moth-eaten rug or stair-runner? We're more likely, in 2008 America, to toss a moth-eaten rug into the trash rather than repair it.

My impression, the more I read, is that the women of yesteryear were far more self-reliant than we are today. Carry in wood, coal, and water every day? Lug all that water for laundry into the house and back out again, and wash it by hand?? Make your own clothing??? All of the clothing for your family, too? And still cook, clean, care for children, garden, preserve foods, and still do the washing, mending, knitting...

Wait! Did I say knitting?

Miss Holt share with us some pattern for War Knitting and Red Cross Needlework! (Chapter 18, if you were wondering)

I chose one patterns to share today, which I have not tested yet. (If you knit these, or any of the other old patterns I'll be sharing, please email a picture to me, or post a link in the comments. I would love to have photos for finished objects made from these old patterns!)

Knitted Wipes or Sponges

Dexter knitting cotton No. 8, three ply.
knitting needles No. 4, Amber or equivalent.

Cast on 35 stitches.
Knit two ribs (over and back in one rib)
Knit one stitch, put thread over needle, knit next stitch and repeat to end of work.
Knit the knitted stitch, drop the thread over the needle and repeat to end of work.
Knit two rows and repeat instructions until you have ten of the double rows and nine of the single large mesh rows, and finish.
[edited to change cotton weight]
Cotton, approx. 2240ypp weaving cotton (number 8 cotton (6720ypp)/3plies = 2240ypp) ref
Knitting needles, size US 10 or 6.0mm

Cast on 35 sts.
rows 1-4: Knit.
row 5: (K1, yo, k1) repeat to end.
row 6: (K1, drop yo, K1) repeat to end.
rows 7-10: Knit.
Repeat rows 5-10 eight more times, for a total of 9 repeats.
Cast off.]

1 comment:

Kate Hussein A. said...

Cool stuff here! I for one buy your theory about boys in short pants...makes perfect sense.

I'm one of those people who intends to mend but always gets distracted by other projects. I have several items in my (figurative) mending basket that have been following me around for years and years, including through several moves. Sad. I'm a terrible sewer, though, which is definitely part of my problem. I don't so much mind mending knitted things.