Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Friday, October 9, 2009

The thread that holds it all together

When I feel sorry for myself, I end up thinking about pioneer women. I think about pioneer women WAY too much. I think about how they toiled in their sunny gardens, tended and taught their children, stopped to nurse chubby, dirty babies, and then turned right around to dismember, salt and smoke large animal carcasses for winter. They pickled what ever could be pickled (ever had pickled watermelon rinds?), scrubbed their houses clean with sand and vinegar, baked daily and cooked massive meals for big, sweaty pioneer men. From the dust of the earth they made a life, and they wasted nothing.

But what I really think about is their dresses (I am a woman, it's all about clothes).

Truly, I am obsessed with pioneer dresses and what they mean (because to me everything means something. I will be a sad little spirit, if, when I die, some other spirit floats over to me and says, "Um, yeah, all that meaning you found in everything, well, you were pretty much making that up."). A pioneer woman of course made all of her own - and for that matter, everyone else's - clothes. Due to the cost of cloth, that probably meant she seldom made clothes and mostly mended them. But, on the rare, special occasion when she did make a dress for herself, she did something really interesting. She used too much fabric.

Well, too much for the moment. She would cut the skirt to be about four inches longer than she needed it to be, and that extra length of cloth would be tucked up under her waistband and hidden within the bodice (because just what every prairie woman needs is one more layer of fabric around her middle in the dead heat of summer), and there the fabric would stay for a few seasons. As her skirt hem brushed the dusty roads, hovered in the embers of her fireplace, and scraped along barn floors, the fabric would fade and become tattered.

Then on some rainy day she would remove the skirt from the dress, carefully picking out the thread so that she could reuse it again. She would cut off the exhausted fabric from the bottom of the skirt (to be used as rags of course), then skillfully invert the skirt and reattach it with the same thread, creating a brand new dress hem. The rest was interesting too, how her old dresses would later be made into aprons and children's clothes, then how those would be made into rags and rugs. Nothing was wasted, not the first time, not ever. But for me, the skirt is the point.

Because while she worked so hard and gave so much and carefully conserved everything, in this case, she saved something back. Of course she was saving things all the time to be stored for winter, but I am intrigued that, in a time when there was little to spare, she, this woman, would set something aside for herself that she would need later. Maybe it was tempting to make something else from the extra fabric for one of the small children, but she tucked it away for her future self.

I don't need to make my family's clothes. I have a freezer and a grocery store. I don't even have to cook if I don't want to. I can't count the times while sewing I have picked up a seam ripper with no regard for the little thread that held it all together.

Where in my life do I need to tuck away a little extra fabric? And where is my little thread?

Paintings by Harvey Dunn and Morgan Weistling


rebekahmott said...

Wow now you made me think, of what I need to put away and not take advatage of. THANKS!!! LOL

c jane said...

And now you will have me thinking about pioneer women way too much.

Lovely post!

(thanks for sending me the link!)