Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Scarfing on school time

Along with about ten other kids at his (very tiny) school, Elliot decided that his winter craft would be a scarf (the rest of the kids painted ceramic figures or made papier mache masks). He told me about it a couple of times while he was working on it, but I could not visualize it from his descriptions---he didn't know what to call the cloth that they were using, and didn't know words for the kinds of stitching they were learning.

This past Friday, the last day of school before the winter break, Elliot brought his scarf home--how beautiful it is! It's polarfleece, in a deep olive that is actually very close to the color of my nephew (Elliot and Astrid's cousin) Sam's eyes. The scarf has a beaded pocket at one end (according to Elliot, two of his classmates, identical twin girls, announced that their pockets would be for the IPod Nanos they expected to receive for Christmas....I groaned--not inwardly, either).

My favorite thing about the scarf, apart from the color, is the process that shows through the blanket stitching that Elliot learned how to do as he went around the scarf. It's easy to see where he began---some of the stitches are big, while others are tiny, and they are inconsistently placed. Then, about a quarter of the way around, they become much more even and confident. A little before the end, they start getting kind of ragged again---I didn't ask him, but I bet that Elliot was running out of time, or needed to finish so he could head outside to play kickball at the neighborhood park his school uses for recess time.

I didn't get to see any of the other kids' scarves; I wonder if their creators' personalities show through them as clearly as Elliot's shows through his.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Let the cleanup begin....

I finished my semester's grading today (not a huge task these days, as I teach only one class per term). To celebrate, and to clear my palate from all the little holiday gifts I've been making (and messing up my sewing table with), I cleaned up my sewing corner in the dining room.

Back when we had just Elliot, I sewed in our basement, so that he could play with his Thomas trains or watch TV while I worked. Then he got bigger, and I moved my sewing stuff up to the (unheated) tandem bedroom on our second floor. He'd still spend time with me in that little room, but he could also play in his own bedroom....togetherness with space. I sewed *lots* of baby clothes up there while I was pregnant with Astrid. Then she was born, and at first I wasn't sure if I'd ever sew anything again.

Baby time passes quickly, and though Astrid was the fussiest baby *I've* ever met (small sample, to be sure), she eventually let me sew for very short periods....then a little longer....then a little longer....just as long as I did whatever I was doing in the relatively wide-open space of our dining room (really one big room with the living room). I try really hard to keep my cloth and patterns contained in and around my sewing desk (an old children's desk), but it has a tendency to seep outward....something that I know bugs my husband, though he's very kind about it. I think he's glad that I don't hide away in the basement or upstairs.

Anyway, since our crayon disaster, I actually have a really good reason to be very busy sewing, and now my work area is practically pristine.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Crafting with Ibsen

Students in the class I'm teaching were puzzled (and in some cases kind of tickled) by this very weird passage in Act III of Ibsen's play A Doll House, which I taught for the first time this week. In this passage, the self-righteous and controlling husband, Torvald Helmer, tells his wife's friend, Mrs. Linde (a poor widow), that, instead of knitting, she "should embroider....because it's a lot prettier. See here, one holds the embroidery so, in the left hand, and then one guides the needle with the right--so--in an easy, sweeping curve--right?" Mrs. Linde, seeming confused about Helmer's sudden interest in women's handwork, lets him continue: "But, on the other hand, knitting--it can never be anything but ugly. Look, see here, the arms tucked in, the knitting needles going up and down--there's something Chinese about it."

If you've read the play, you know that Helmer's wife, Nora, has a serious problem with "embroidering" the truth---her husband has no idea that, several years earlier, she forged her father's signature in order to get a big loan. She's been lying ever since about where her money goes. Helmer's a micromanager who won't even let Nora munch on macaroons (she does it behind his back).

I didn't ask my students (most of them are female) if any of them were knitters or other kinds of needleworkers. But it was clear to me that they understood the different use values and class statuses of knitting and embroidery in the 1870s.....and they understood that Helmer would just as soon see Mrs. Linde's children go cold in the Norwegian winter than have to watch her act "Chinese" (whatever that's supposed to mean....).

Do people today have similar "crafting hierarchies"? I suppose many people think there are more-cool and less-cool aisles at their local Michael's store....but I don't think I've heard anything as blatantly weird and elitist as Helmer's comment in A Doll House.