Sunday, 14 September 2014

Domesticity and what women do

Tom's memory quilt by Green Star Quilts

I have just finished reading a book about domesticity, you may have read it too. It is about life lived in the home, about making things that are useful, lovely to look at, about cake making and gardening, quilts and knitting. The photos are beautiful, reminding the reader to take pleasure in the small things of daily life, the artistic arrangement of balls of wool, the placing of fairy cakes on a cooling rack, the enjoyment of snuggling under a quilt on a chilly evening.... A lovely book, easy to read, but it started me thinking about what we all do that could also be called Domesticity, not just the easy on the eye things, but the things that seem very real to me...So this is what I am thinking about, all the skills I have learnt and practice at home, some on a daily basis. 

First of all there is frugal cooking.  Cooking when there is no time or extra money to go shopping, using what's in the cupboard with flare and imagination....Yesterday I made a salad from things at the bottom of the fridge, half a packet of olives, and tiny tomatoes grown in the green house ( each one must cost about £1 with all the compost, special feed and daily hands on care of these pampered plants). It was a case of using what we had, I put it in a lovely bowl and it looked much better....

make do salad

Leftovers are produced again regularly, very little food is thrown away, most things can be given a new life as a kind of lasagne....

leftover lasgane

Energy economy is high on my list of skills, light bulbs are turned off, I admired a friend who cooked a leg of lamb in his log burner stove and am desperate to try it too. I turn off the solid plates on the cooker and finish off cooking on the residual heat just as my mother did and I turn off the iron to press the delicate things as it cools down.

Blackberry jam

 Fruit from the garden is turned into crumbles until my family beg for a change of pudding and the blackbirds are left to eat the windfalls over the winter. Blackberries are picked and turned into jam and we have had some rather exciting attempts at wine making in the past .

fruit in bowl bought from charity shop

Maybe I do these things through choice now, as a family we are more financially stable, but in the past I had to make the choice between buying a glossy magazine or a bag of oranges. I have waited for goverment child allowance payments before new school shoes could be bought, I sold a table so a morning dress suit for husband could be hired and we could go to a wedding suitable clothed. We still sit on the dining table chairs bought from a charity shop in the 1980's and painted red by me. The seats of these chairs have been recovered so many times... 

unravelled woolly jumper

My mother stitched the sides of sheets to the middle when they were worn and unravelled handknit jumpers to be knit up again. Cut down dresses for little daughters, scrap fabric quilt making, the mending of a hole in a beloved teddy, patching rips in favourite jeans, restuffing cushions.... the list could go on and that's before I think of her skill in cooking a huge Christmas dinner for five on a tiny four ring cooker and keeping everything hot. 

 Sometimes it has been hysterically funny, like learning to clip the dog in order to save the dog grooming fee...... 

clipping the dog in my kitchen

This is becoming a long post, but I am really on a roll now..... so what about home nursing? Parents learn to nurse a feverish child, disinfect loo and door handles after family tummy upsets, wash cuts and soothe bruises, the magic effect of a plaster on a scraped knee... they cope with changing nappies, nurturing independence in toddlers and become experts in healthy diets for children and other family members. And who is it that remembers which vaccinations have been given and when a child  had chicken pox? 

Running a household, big or small is such a huge skill. Where would we be without the person who makes sure the loo roll is always there, replaces the coffee before it runs out, washes school clothing in time, decorates, manages the monthly finances, makes a note of the serial numbers of bikes so they can be claimed if stolen and found, listens to problems, comforts tears and congratulates on the triumphs of everyday family life....

And then there is the tidying... the endless tidying, the job of finder of all things lost, the person with the photographic memory for finding things put down for a minute and then Moved By Somebody ...

This is, for me, Real Domesticity, Domestic Science, as we were taught at school and at home. Relying on skills I have learnt to manage my household and care for my family. Most of us do all this and a job outside the home too. We often do it on limited budgets and difficult circumstances, in scraped together moments in a full to the brim day.

All over the world, we use our skills, education, talents and time to do this,  without realising that what we do is of immense value and it makes our family world go round peacefully and smoothly. For me, it's about making that patchwork quilt, arranging flowers and baking bread, but about seeing the bigger picture and being hugely proud of all our household management skills. 

I hope your households run on the smoothest of wheels this week,
Kind regards,