We're beginning a new chapter in our book study today, one which may resonate with each of you the same way it did with me.
Comfort draws our thoughts to those things we knew in childhood and which still today evoke warm and reassuring feelings, but it also focuses on the here and now, the day to day comfort of our 'doings' and 'beings' in this wonderfully gentle domestic life.
"Comfort does not always have to be tranquil or calm or passive...it (can) be full of laughs, music, energy and creativity, all of which stems from the fundamental fact that true comfort means being at ease with myself." (page 158)
Jane's perception of comfort is to be at ease with ourselves; now isn't that the loveliest thing?
Her words made me stop and deeply consider whether I've achieved a sense of ease with who I am today, six decades along in life...and what a swell of joy filled my heart to acknowledge, yes, I am. The term 'comfortable in my own skin' immediately came to mind and my happy tank overflowed.
"Comfort...the knowledge that I can have hot baths, cups of tea and warm fires when I want them is as important as the actual manifestations of comfort themselves. But the gentle art of domesticity allows many combinations of physical and mental comfort, and one often gives rise to, and enhances, the other." (page 158)
Jane explains this to mean that we gain great comfort in the knitting, baking, sewing and other homemaker arts that we impart our time and creativity to, but in the process of this we are often giving out to others...the feeding of our family to nourish their bodies or treat a sweet moment, the warmth of a new cardigan for mum, a snuggly quilt made to wrap a sick child.
The act of doing becomes an act of giving, thereby offering comfort in more ways than one.
COMING IN FROM THE COLD
This section of the chapter was wonderfully enlightening as Jane wrote of Scott's two expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900's and how even in that extreme environment with no modern conveniences the men of those expeditions sought to create a homely comfort within their freezing and isolated hut.
"There is something heartbreaking about their domesticity, and yet it reaffirms the tremendous value of comfort and homeliness to day-to-day survival." (page 160)
In January 1911, Scott wrote in his diary, "The hut is becoming the most comfortable dwelling place imaginable...a truly seductive home, within the walls of which peace, quiet and comfort reign supreme."
In the harshest of conditions and far away from loved ones, warmth and home, the men brought what they drew comfort from into the environment of their small hut amidst a frozen landscape.
"There is a deep-seated recognition that the gentle art of homemaking can be transported and kept alive even in Antarctica, the antithesis of a comfortable environment." (page 160)
Once again we learn of Jane's love for art and how it reflects the domestic arts, this time with knitting.
The Schoolgirl's Hymn was painted in 1859 by William Holman Hunt.
"The sincerity and the subject are touching, but I am enthralled by his rendition of the hand-knitted cardigan and scarf. Somehow, Holman Hunt manages to convey all the comfort of children's clothes, which have love and care knitted into every stitch." (page 161)
THE SACRED ROCK BUN
This was funny as before I read this part of the chapter I'd just been baking a fresh batch of rock cakes for my husband!
Jane and the English (I presume) call them rock buns but we of the Australian contingent know them as rock cakes.
"Rock buns represent comfort and reliability, and not a little indulgence." (page 162)
I couldn't agree more. Since I was a child rock cakes have been a joyful indulgence, and most definitely in my top five comfort foods. My husband would say the same thing.
Here's my recipe which has stood the test of time since I first made them at age 12.
2 cups of sifted self raising (self rising) flour
90g soft butter
1/2 cup castor (superfine) sugar
1 cup mixed dried fruit
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
Preheat your oven to 200 C (390 F)
Sift the flour and mixed spice into a bowl.
With your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir the sugar and dried fruit through the flour.
Mix the egg and milk together.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour in the egg/milk mixture.
Using a knife quickly mix everything together but don't over mix.
Place heaped spoonfuls of the dough onto a lined biscuit tray (makes 24) and bake for 15 minutes.
Cool on a rack and enjoy!
"We are so conditioned by supermarkets, television, magazines and style pundits to seek perfection in all we buy, from carrots to china, from jumpers (pullovers) to jewellery, that we can lose the ability to see the unique attributes of a handmade piece." (page 164)
"But I think this modern, flaw-free approach to purchasing is cold and sterile. I find a huge amount of reassurance in the hand-made and the home-made, in the rejection of perfection, and I take comfort in the fact that there are still many domestic artists for whom the 'actual doing of things is in itself a joy' as D H Lawrence wrote." (page 164)
Jane goes on to encourage those who make and bake their own, expounding on her belief (and mine) that domestic comfort lies in the knowledge that things do not have to be perfect.
She refers to a phrase she heard many times when her children were young - "a good enough mother" - and still considers that description difficult to define, however she does want her readers to believe that a 'good enough domestic artist' is just fine.
In 2002 a New Zealand exhibition of home-made textiles from the 1930-50's saw more than 40,000 visitors come through to look at crocheted aprons, embroidered needle cases, cottage garden tea cosies, patchwork aprons and rag rugs.
Inspired by such interest in this exhibition Rosemary McLeod wrote a book, "Thrift to Fantasy:Home Textile Crafts of the 1930s-1950s" and is highly recommended by Jane for both the photos and the text.
"Although this type of 'women's work' comes under fire from many quarters for being symbolic of such terrifying concepts as female submission, repression and patriarchal control, I believe that it offered immense creative satisfaction and gratification to many." (page 164)
As a woman, homemaker, textile artist, baker, wife, mother and nana, I REJOICE in being able to indulge in the gentle domestic arts and become quite frustrated with those who look down upon me for being this way.
As we've read previously in the book Jane collects many examples of Crinoline Ladies and over time discovered one particular embroidery designs crops up time and again as it was probably a free pattern inside one of the women's magazines of the era.
She has collected five versions of the same design and uses them in the photo below to illustrate just how individually creative needlewomen are.
"I am fascinated by the way each piece of vintage hand embroidery I own tells me something about its creator, and there is comfort in handling these textiles, knowing that I am appreciating something that was of great value to its maker." (page 166)
Our next reading will complete the chapter on Comfort and we'll be studying pages 168-175 which I'll share on July 30th.
* What brings your own gentle domestic heart comfort?
I think that one question can cover any or all of the sub-topics in today's study so I'm leaving it simple.
God bless you and keep you safely gathered into His arms where the greatest of comfort can be found.