When I was eight years old, my grandmother taught me how to knit. I started by making a belt with heavy yellow yarn, and the stitches got so tight I could hardly maneuver my needle through them. Still, I was proud of and excited about my efforts.
Over the years I learned to sew and embroider as well. Once I dressed up a pair of my sister’s blue jeans with an embroidered, multicolored Volkswagen (she owned a bug at the time). I took a couple of years of Home Ec, where I learned to make clothes. My proudest accomplishment was the prom dress I made in senior year, with lots of lace trim.
Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s got plenty of mixed messages. While we were learning how to do Women’s Work and make a proper home, we were also being exposed to new choices and possibilities. We learned that we didn’t have to feel tied to Women’s Work. This was a good thing, and I embraced feminism then as I do now.
I learned that engineering and science could be Women’s Work. I saw more and more women enter politics and other fields that were once male-dominated. It was an exciting, heady time.
Here’s the problem, though: I really enjoyed the traditional Women’s Work. I found it fun and relaxing to do. Yet I put it aside, seeing it somehow as oppressive, activities best left behind in the quest for a career.
For years I didn’t sew or do any kind of craft. Later, though, when recovering from a long and difficult illness, I rediscovered the delight of Women’s Work. I learned to quilt and make drapes. In working with fabric, I found healing in my body as well as my soul.
Still, once I got better and went back to work, I left my Women’s Work behind yet again.
Lately, I have found myself weary. I love to write novels, but I find the marketing difficult and tedious. In the midst of our cross-country move, I sent Blood & Loam off to my editor with the instructions to “take your time.” Sales for The Foreign Language of Friends have been flat, in large part because I’m not that consistent with the marketing. It’s still sort of a deep dark secret, actually. Other novel ideas have fizzled out. I have had to take a step back to regroup.
It is time to reconnect with Women’s Work.
Here on the Olympic Peninsula, Women’s Work is everywhere. This past weekend we attended a Fiber and Fabric festival in Port Gamble, where women were spinning on the sidewalks, and I don’t mean with their bicycles! You can get big bags of wool, dyed or not, and spin away. It looked so relaxing, I wanted to run out immediately and get a spinner. Groups abound, where women get together to chat and knit, spin, or quilt — and I am welcome to join.
I bought some fabric to make curtains. I picked out a quilting kit (I decided that to get back in the flow, a kit would be easier), and I bought some yarn to knit a skirt. I have a dedicated place now for my sewing machine, right by a cheerful window, and I’ve started to work.
Of course, a funny thing happens when I start doing Women’s Work. A delicious idea for a new novel bubbled up from the depths of my subconscious. It’s compelling and insistent, and I have to heed the call. Yes, my writing is Women’s Work, but to do it better and more happily, I may need to pick up the needle as well.