Sunday, October 10, 2010

Retro, or just strange? Some more navel gazing

I am a real sucker for judging a book by it’s cover (title too for that matter). On my ‘getting to know my local’ tour of Melbourne I picked up another book, my bibliophile persona showing through again. Sew Retro , by Judi Ketteler, from Dymocks in Elsternwick {I can’t believe how easily I got a park, when I went there and almost everywhere come to think of it, the difficulty parking is one thing I will not miss from Sydney} is a cross between project book and history of home sewing. I got it because I liked the cover and the pictures.

But, as with Weekend Sewing, I grew to like it for completely different reasons, but I still like the cover, and the pictures.

As is probably clear, and as I said explicitly in an earlier post, I like to sew. I really like to sew for others. The satisfaction and joy I get from sewing is only multiplied by knowing I am creating for someone else to enjoy, picturing the thing I am making being used, and in the actual giving. In this enjoyment of sewing and craft in general, among my group of friends I stand alone.

As I said Sew Retro is a history of home sewing, and a well written one at that. Moving from era to era, starting at about the time domestic sewing machines were invented, Judi examines the prevalence of home sewing, purpose the sewing served and the materials these, usually women, had to work with.

These women, most often described as mothers, wives or teen girls (as opposed to career women as I am) had access to more and more equipment as time progressed and the market provided and sold more tools. Without giving away the ending, and generally speaking each of the era’s was concluded to be one in which sewing was a household task (that may have been enjoyable but needed to be completed, enjoyed or not) or one in which the task was completed for enjoyment alone.

In reading through this book, interspersed with projects inspired by the era, I could not help but reflect in the experiences of women in my family, and my own. My paternal grandmother had six children, many more than average and sewed and knitted for necessity, only heightened by the fact she was raising children on a farm and did not have ready access to the shops in town. Now she doesn’t sew, but knits a little and weaves tapestries and fabric on a loom in her home all for enjoyment. My maternal grandmother, mother to two daughters, seems never to have owned a sewing machine, and now does needlework and knits but does not sew. My mother made all our clothes when we were young , both for enjoyment and need, though I don’t know how she learnt. Now she knits and sews for us for enjoyment, and to show us she cares. I do it because I like it, having being taught by my mother when I was very young. Obviously the family experience I am able to reflect on only covers the last 2-3 eras in the book, the current explosion of an online community and the trend towards young sewers being popularised is only touched on.

I’m not a wife, at least not one with an actual marriage certificate or a stay-at-home homemaker variety, may never be a mother and have not been a teenager for just over a decade. I’m not retro, not in the way the category is described in this book. Yet, despite enjoying a very different pastime to that of my real-life friends and fitting a very different demographic from the mummy bloggers that seem to dominate the authorship of the blogs a read, I don’t think I’m strange.

I am just me and among other things in my life, I like to sew and craft.

When I started becoming involved in the online community almost a year ago I created HandmadeRetro. At the time I wanted to convey the idea that I made things at home, as once-off, because I like them or I am making them for someone or to fulfill a need. In a nutshell, things that are useful, but also aesthetically pleasing. The Handmade part of HandmadeRetro. The Retro was an attempt to convey the idea that I felt a little retro, engaging in crafts that seemed, in my social sphere at least, a product of a bygone era as well as something that was a feature of my own personal history but was making a comeback.

Now? I remember that I know everything old is new again, all the time. That things change but stay remarkably the same. That people have always sewed, and crafted but I understand more that fashion trends have never missed this, with must have equipment, more materials and changing fabric trends. I wonder if in ten or twenty years women will again be sewing for need, rather than recreation.

So I enjoyed Sew Retro as something that offered a me something to think about, as a history of an activity that, by the nature of it, is just an everyday thing. And because of the cover and the pictures.

Now, I think it is time I went back to work or unpacked some boxes and stopped gazing at my navel.

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