One of the challenges of researching family history is bringing our women ancestors out of the shadows. They are often missing from official records, especially in early years, though Australia is fortunate with its early female suffrage.
One way to reveal more about our ancestral women is to look at the skills and hobbies which they employed to beautify their homes and clothe their families.
A recent discussion on Facebook about school samplers brought my thoughts round to the “womanly” skills, even among working class women. I remember the samplers vividly, and the fact that I didn’t much like doing them, which I suspect explains why I no longer have any of mine. However my good friend Crissouli from That Moment in Time blog has very kindly provided me with an image of an embroidery she did, and for which she won a prize, aged 10, at a CWA show.
I don’t think my mother liked knitting and I don’t believe she ever sat with needles and wool turning out a cardigan or socks or whatever. However, I’m pretty sure it was mum who taught me to knit and in my younger married days I did manage to make a few items. I’ve photographed a lilac dress I made for my eldest daughter, which is now so worn and marked that it is headed for disposal. I’ve also knitted various cardigans for himself and me over the years but it’s never been a great activity of mine – perhaps related to spending so much time in the tropics?
Mum seemed to enjoy crochet more, and again she must have taught me, though my memory lapses on this as well. The circular doyley is one of hers which I used to use in our home – I’ve since given up on them as I hate housework and can’t be bothered with the starching, ironing and dusting.
I did have a crack at some crochet when living in the Highlands of PNG where it got quite cold at night. I made a yellow crocheted poncho for myself and a blue one for DD1 (little did I anticipate they’d ever be back in fashion!). I thought this little set I also made was quite cute…knitted, and the daisies were made with a special metal wheel which I suspect is languishing among my craft things…somewhere. I also made a shawl to go with it. Like the curly scarves that were all the go a few years back I quite enjoyed making these bits and pieces.
My aunty Melda was a guru at crochet but especially at tatting. This image shows a tatted collar piece she made. She sold her wares at various craft shops.
Similarly, my aunt Mary loved all sorts of handcrafts but most especially decorating dolls’ faces and making dolls’ clothes – so beyond my own level of patience. I have this tiny doll she made which sits in an egg-shaped “thing”. My granddaughter has some of Aunty Mary’s dolls and others were shared around when mum moved. This doll is tiny, maybe three inches long.
I have no recollection of my paternal grandmother doing crafty things – perhaps her professional life as a dressmaker cured her of that (not to mention she was elderly when I was growing up).
My maternal grandmother died when I was very young so I’m not sure about her craft skills -memo to self, ask mum.
Mum has shared her love of crafts with me and we both like making bits and bobs at Christmas time, even though our tastes are very different. One year when we were touring Europe around Christmas time with DD3, we spent our evenings making cross-stitch items which we gifted to especially kind B&B owners. A couple of years ago I made a modified version for an exchange swap via blogging…it was fun. The large cross-stitch of a Pierrot for DD3 was less successful and was finally bequeathed to an op shop when we left Darwin (complete with the wool etc) – it had been 90% finished for far too long, and there was no one who’d have wanted it.
One Christmas my boss made me an appliqued T shirt which sent me off into a frenzy of appliqued T shirts. While I’ve enjoyed dabbling in various crafty things, I most loved working with glass and learning a little about it in the last few years in Darwin, thanks to my teacher and friend Andrea who inspired and taught the class, and did the firing. I’m hopeless at making glass beads but have fun with free-form “applique” of glass to platters.
One of Mum’s embroidered doyleys I’ve yet to finish. I imagine she did the crochet around the edge.
Are you or the women in your family crafty?
If so, what kinds of hobbies did they/you pursue?