While on our family holiday down south last week, I picked up this great book, "Hearts and Hands: The Influence of Women and Quilts on American Society" from a second hand book shop. It's been quite the find! So far I've read mostly about the 1800s. It talks about the impact of the Industrial Revolution, the move from making everything at home, from spinning the home-grown cotton and weaving it into cloth to sewing the clothes, tablewear, and bedding, to having all the manufacturing, the cloth making, bread baking, and food preserving happen in a factory. We went from the entire family's focus being to make every day life happen, to much of the woman's role taken out from under her. It began 150 years worth of discussion about the role of women, the idea of 'traditional womanhood', the place of children in society, and women's rights to education, employment and the vote.
Many of you will know that we've been reading the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder about pioneering life in the late 1800s. It appears that the chaos of the Industrial Revolution took it's time reaching the Prairies. While they could buy bolts of cloth from the general store, limited access to mass production meant they still grew their own food, preserving what they needed for the winter. They still made their own bedding (at one point in the series, Laura bemoans the fact that cloth can't be made wide enough for bed sheets, so they must stitch them together) and they made their own personal mark on their home through their quilts. In fact quilt making was considered, even throughout the changes in lifestyle and culture, to be the pinnacle of womanhood. I'm sure you can imagine that that was celebrated by some, and completely resented by others.
I found it interesting when I looked up the use of the term Prairie Queen to find that it didn't refer to youth or beauty or some kind of pageant, but to female leaders, the significant women running their households, providing for their families, creating heirlooms, and contributing to the community through their churches or charity groups.
PRAIRIE QUEEN 12" BLOCK TUTORIAL
You will need:
Red: Two 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. Eight 2.5" squares.
White: Two 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. Eight 2.5" squares. One 4.5" square.
1. Sew the red triangles to the white triangles. Press seams and trim to 4.5" square.
2. Sew the red 2.5" squares to the white squares. Press and sew these together again to make little four patches as below.
3. Arrange your block like the picture.
4. Sew the squares together in rows as below. Press.
5. Sew your rows together.
Even though I can't begin to fathom how they managed it all, and I'm grateful for the freedoms I have to choose how we shape our family and our time, I do admire them. I feel a bit nostalgic for a time that honoured skill and wisdom over celebrity and youth, where skill-sharing was a part of growing up, where quilt-making was considered the best use of a young mother's time rather than a slightly frivolous hobby that should be kept to when the children are sleeping. ;)