Friday, March 15, 2013

...And Nothing Went to Waste -- Crafting in an Earlier Age

I grew up at a time and in a place where growing things to eat or sell and making what you needed with your own hands was just the way everyone lived.
 
A Garden View (NOT Annake's Childhood Home!)
A Garden View, NOT Annake's Childhood Home!
I was born on a poor dirt farm in east central Illinois. The house where we lived was built in 1815. It replaced a sod house, or soddy, where my ancestors had lived for several seasons. The house was made of weathered clapboard, held together with wooden pegs and iron nails that looked like miniature railroad spikes. It had three rooms, a large pantry, a screened-in back porch that served as a summer kitchen and a small, open front porch. The back porch was a blessing because most of the canning, pickling, and preserving that we did had to be done during hot weather. My “room” was an emptied closet with a curtain across it.

Hit-or-Miss Afghan, made from leftover yarn
Hit-or-Miss Afghan, made from leftover yarn


There was no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing. Light was provided by kerosene lamps and lanterns. Water came from a well out by the road. It had a long-handled pump that had to be primed in the summer and thawed out in the winter. Sometimes the water level fell too low and we had to haul water several miles from an artesian well shared by the whole community.

Laundry was done on a washboard in a big galvanized tub. The clothes were wrung out by hand and hung on an outdoor clothesline to dry – summer and winter. Linens that needed to be bleached were draped over bushes in full sun. We took our baths in that same washtub. The groundwater was somewhat 'hard'', so we caught rainwater in a barrel for hair-washing and delicate hand laundry. Our other bathroom needs were served by an outhouse some distance from the house (and the less said about it the better). Small rugs were hung on the clothesline and beaten with a heavy wire paddle to remove dust and dirt. We cleaned the living room rug in the summer by covering it with wet, crumpled newspaper, which we then swept away. In the winter we swept it with clean snow.

Tied Comforter
Tied Comforter
We ironed with “sad irons”. These were heavy cast-iron blanks shaped like modern irons. We heated them on top of the cook stove. You had to test them on a piece of paper before you used them so that you didn't scorch what you were ironing. The older ones had their own handles, but we had a state-of-the-art gadget that snapped onto and off of the bases. When one iron cooled too much, you could quickly switch to another hot one. I had to stand on a small chair to make myself tall enough to do the ironing.

9-Patch Quilt, Full Size
Full Size Nine-Patch Quilt, Hand-Stitched & Hand-Quilted
Sewing, mending, and darning socks were essential skills. I can't remember when I couldn't sew. I made a nine-patch doll quilt when I was five. We did all hand-sewing for several years before we acquired a treadle sewing machine. (I would dearly love to have one to use today.) Chicken feed came in pretty print cotton sacks and we looked long and hard to find ones that matched.
Badly-worn clothes were cut into long strips, braided, and sewn together to make rag rugs. Sewing scraps and pieces of better clothing became the tops of quilts and comforters. (A comforter is pieced, padded, and backed like a quilt, but is tied together with yarn rather than being quilted.) Leftover yarn became socks or mittens or afghans. Everything possible was reused or re-purposed. Nothing went to waste.

When I became a teacher, I used to teach students of all ages a little rhyme my grandmother taught me:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Or do without.

You'd be surprised how many classroom materials that saved! I only had to repeat it a few times when anyone was being wasteful before the students started reciting it to remind each other.

Annake
Fused Glass Bowl, Made from Recycled Glass
Fused Glass Bowl, Made from Recycled Glass

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