Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why Bother? The second installment in my February cheer posts


I've been knitting dish cloths and socks lately. When so many perfectly good socks and dish cloths can be had for little money, the legitimate question is, why bother?

It's not like I'm Caroline Ingalls, or even my own grandmother, who lived through the depression and, although she didn't knit socks, she rinsed and dried paper towels and carefully darned the holes in my grandfather's store-bought when his toes and heels began to poke through. Ma Ingalls not only had to knit socks, if they wanted woolen socks through the long prairie winters (and of course, sensibly, they did), but she also had to stitch up their bed sheets from long strips of muslin. By hand. They didn't even have that new-fangled invention, the foot-treadle sewing machine, until Laura was 16. Of course, she also had to butcher the hog and milk the cow and weave their straw sun hats, make dresses and bloomers and haul water and keep a fire going if they wanted bread and warmth and and and. It was only after all this work was done that the girls could spend time on their leisure arts: crocheting yards of lace to trim their petticoats.

So why all this time and effort spent learning and doing the more humble of the needle arts, in a world where they're no longer needed?

I like to think there might be a practical reason. Of course, I suppose, it's a good skill to have in the Apocalypse that might come our way. To the Apocalypse, Sarge brings his incredibly encyclopedic survival skills that he learned in the Army and in his life experience. He can find us food and create shelter, deal with munitions, do mapping and orientation. And I, representing Womanfolk, can knit us warm socks.

But seriously, I've become a woman on a mission to save, in my own small way, these "useless" skills. I worry that my daughter will be such a product of our noisy, technology-driven world that she will miss the quiet moments, the slow moments. And I worry that I will too, although I grew up in a decade that was decidedly more slow-paced. I really believe that if I continue to knit socks and dishcloths, it'll be a small victory in the fight against the confusing hubbub of modernity.

For the same reason that I believe in running a household where we're not always multi-tasking, not always getting to the next thing, not racing to appointments for no reason but to busy ourselves, constantly bombarded with media, so I believe passionately in the act of turning a heel in a pointlessly hand-knit sock.

There's sweet respite in yarn and needles, the colors and textures and possibilities. I feel calmer, I feel more connected to my grandmother, who, 30 years ago, patiently taught me to crochet, and even to the history that flows from the long-gone women of generations and generations past, in this country and universally. I like my MacBook, but I need my knitting.

I think I'll start referring to myself as Steampunk Housewife...

16 comments:

Rima said...

Over the past several years, especially after moving to NYC, I think a lot about what it means to be "buzy", and this overall discourse that surrounds me--the discourse of "buziness." Everyone seems to be buzy all the time...buzy, buzy, buzy. Well, modernity and its ways to make people feel "fulfilled."

just bob said...

What another wonderful post. I think all of us could do well to ease off the pedal once and a while and enjoy our spare time, not look for something busy to fill it.

MJ said...

Old Knudsen could use some fresh hand towels for his bedpost as he's been using the curtains in the meantime.

Get busy. Let's hear those knitting needles clacking!

Queen Goob said...

If I didn't have to work to get my kids through private school I'd be a stay at home with cross stitch in hand in between gardening flowers and veggies. I can be Mary and you can be Laura.

Leah said...

Rima--it's constantly on my mind; hard to avoid really, and you're right, especially in NYC--

Bob--thanks! It's true, I think sometimes people (myself included) are almost afraid to have time that's not deliberately filled with "stuff," you know what I mean?

MJ--I just got the most hideous image--my lovely little towels for that special need--although, hm...maybe I'l design a special towel for just such a purpose...

QG--yes! How I wish I had a little garden to tend...I'd love to be Laura. And can we also be married to Remus and Severus while we're going full-on literary delusion?

Jimmy Bastard said...

Why do I always get this overwhelming feeling of serenity after I read your posts, Luscious? Right now I'm searching ebay for a hand carved rocking chair and an oul clay pipe,just so I'm ready for your next superb installment.

Now.. how does the theme tune from ' The Little Hoose on the Prairie' go again?

gemma said...

Don't worry about your daughter not knitting socks. After years of laughing at me, both my daughters learned to knit socks, and to see the beauty in such an engineering marvel! Wahoo for the next generation.

mago said...

I can do a lot of nice and interesting things with my hands, but nothing practical like using tools. And knitting? God may spare me that ...

Mr. Shife said...

Nice post Leah. We all need something to help us get away from it all, and if knitting does it for you then you go girl. I am trying to learn guitar so I have something to do to help me unwind from the day. Keep on knitting and keep on rocking in the free world.

Cinnamon said...

I have a 1940s hand-treadled Singer sewing machine. It does all the jobs i need it to- it is quiet, I can use it in the living room when other people are watching TV or listening to music, it doesn't need electricity, it is beautiful and one of my pleasures is taking a little time to oil and marvel at all the moving parts.
We all need to escape from the modern world sometimes....

kylie said...

oh dear, this post strikes close to the bone with me. i might never be the kind of homemaker you are but i wish i had the opportunity to find out!

Leah said...

Jimmy, there's an imaginary porch just waiting for your rocking chair...

Hi Gemma! My daughter's only 8, so I still have high hopes for her sock knitting possibilities... it's nice to hear that your girls have carried on a grand tradition!

Mago--nice but impractical skills? how Intriguing...

Mr. Shife--guitar is a great idea. I don't know what I'd do without my violin, either. My husband picked up guitar a few years ago, and he's gotten quite good. It comes in especially handy when one is trying to soothe a baby--even a few chords will do the trick!

Cinnamon--that is really cool! My girlfriend's mom used only a machine like that through our childhood, and I was always so fascinated by the rhythm of her foot and the needle working together.

Kylie--my housekeeping is haphazard at best. No worries!

Megan said...

Can I be Carrie?

Leah said...

Megan yes totally!

Any takers for Grace?

(Not-So) Cynical Gal said...

Indeed.

Walker said...

I have a friend who knits all the tyime, in fact she bought a spinning wheel for 1000 buckws and buys raw wool to sure and make into yarn.
Last year she got a loom for god knows how much.
I asked her why bother when it would be cheaper to just buy it.
She said, just because i can.