After a two week break let's get back to this year's The Gentle Art of Domesticity book study, and the chapter we're beginning today is titled "Practical".
As with all Jane's chapters this one is divided into many smaller sub-topics and the first of the Practical topics is...
In the quote I used for this week's study photo (above) Jane's writes in Life Skills about the very basics of returning to a gentle domestic life, the arts which once were practiced as a matter of course by most homemakers, yet which over the years have become regarded as "mildly eccentric, touchingly nostalgic and outmoded." (page 116)
I love that Jane champions these beautiful arts which we can adapt to suit our lifestyles and skills, that she encourages us to bake a cake of our own and forgo the shop bought one, to knit bright and cheery socks instead of buying off the rack, to sew a pretty quilt and leave the production line version on the shelf. She's asking us to take up our domestic arts tools and be uniquely creative and to do so with confidence in our skills, regardless of how well honed or lacking they are. She asks that we "just have a go". (page 124)
"Embedded in the gentle arts is a slyly subversive streak that encourages free thought, individuality, creative self expression, imaginative thought processes and not a little self-determination. All this and a great deal of pleasure too." (page 116)
KIT AND CABOODLE
This mini topic reminded me of those first years teaching myself and Blossom hand embroidery and patchwork, how imperative it seemed that we should have at our side a huge variety of tools, threads, fabrics and notions because otherwise we'd not be accomplished in those arts.
As Jane points out in Kit and Caboodle, you don't need to buy everything for a particular craft all at once and in fact little by little over a period of many years is how she gradually built her own 'kit'.
A phial of pretty pink beads one day, a perfect blue yarn the next month, edible green colouring another time...
By purchasing what she genuinely loves, just a little at a time, Jane avoided having supplies which really weren't her style and had to be stored away, gifted on or thrown out. She also chose not to fall for a lot of consumerist advertising and looked for other ways to make what she loved.
"I sometimes feel there is huge marketing pressure to buy every single tailor made item for a certain craft, when in fact a make-do approach can be far more economical, satisfying...and creative." (page 117)
"A domestic artist can build up a collection of kit and caboodle over time. There is no rush, and plenty of time to savour each addition." (page 117)
"The sheer ordinariness and anonymity of practical domestic kit is what gives it charm." (page 118)
Jane does try to buy the best quality of things like cooking utensils, bowls and tins but explains she does not own a lot, preferring a few good pieces to many that will not last the distance.
"...it is worth paying a little extra for something really excellent that is not only pleasing to use but is also capable of standing the test of time." (page 118)
Jane describes herself as having two apron modes.
Firstly, the sensible and practical apron wearer whose long, straight garb washes easily, has a large pocket and is made from sturdy cottons and linens.
Her second self embraces the 1950's Doris Day style of apron-wearer, the frilly, gathered, pleated, shaped aprons with huge bows made from highly impractical delicate fabrics.
"But both my apron personalities agree that an apron is a wonderful thing and that this simple, modified piece of fabric with its marriage of form and function possesses all sorts of creative possibilities." (page 120)
Below you can see the apron Jane knitted over nine evenings. Made from linen yarn she found it interesting that when she reflected on the photo of herself and her husband below, they were both wearing their work clothes - he in his business attire and she in her working uniform of an apron, her newly knitted linen apron.
"...this is one that drapes beautifully, flatters the hips and it wouldn't look bad on my frillier alter ego." (page 120)
READING ROUND THE EDGES
Jane's mother in law had four rowdy sons but still managed to read books as she cooked a meal. It was her way of switching off from the crashes, noises and fights, though she did keep her wooden spoon close at hand.
Jane had three children under three and found she could only manage snatched moments to browse magazines, but soon lost interest in the glamour and perfect interiors between their pages.
Realising that a good short story may be a better option she sought out writers who offered her a gentler touch of reality in their prose - and not surprisingly most of those writers who penned about their everyday lives were women.
"Short stories...written in between dusting, bed making, answering the door and home-making are wonderful for reading in one sitting while you wait for the biscuits to brown, while children play, while the bread rises...or while stirring the gravy." (page 122)
Listed below are some of the writers of short stories Jane suggests...
Isak Dinesen, Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Helen Simpson, Molly Panter-Downes, Dorothy Whipple and Elizabeth Taylor.
SMALL SKILLS, BIG EFFECTS
"...there is a lot to be said for 'outsider' art and craft, the sort of thing that is made by ordinary people with ordinary skills. It has directness, sincerity and individuality often missing in more sophisticated, refined, knowing art." (page 123)
In this mini-topic we are encouraged to take a leaf out of the life of a child and express ourselves more freely with our creativity...simply, without fuss and fanfare, without unrealistic expectations. As we grow up most of us have "...lost the gentle art of self reliance, and lack of practice erodes this further." (page 123)
Jane compares the things a child loves to do - growing a plant in water, watching seeds germinate, playing with colours and sticking things together - to what we 'grown ups' can do that is in reality much the same - growing bulbs in glass vases, cultivating basil in window pots, stitching colours together as fabric and making a simple layered quilt.
"We need to rediscover and cultivate a childish enthusiasm and willingness to try, and attempt to conquer our doubts about our abilities. A misshapen biscuit, an uneven row of stitching, a floppy hyacinth and an uneven pot of basil are still better than the bland, neat and regular shop-bought versions that look and taste like everyone else's. Just have a go." (page 124)
Personally I loved the study this week and have a real desire to hunt down those short story writers, plan a new apron, and tend my herbs with a bit more love.
Please share your thoughts about the reading today in the comments below and tell me what stood out as something you'd like to take on in your own life. Will you knit an apron? Read or write a short story? Comb through your personal kit and caboodle to weed out the unnecessary and only keep what you love? Watch a bulb grown in water on your kitchen bench? Plant some herbs?
OUR NEXT READING
I'm going to keep the book study running on a fortnightly schedule now as it's much easier on me and we get to cover a little more each time doing it this way.
We'll be reading pages 126-135 for our next study post on May 28th.
The winner of this month's giveaway is...
Congratulations Debbie, I have sent you an email.
God bless you all so very much!