Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Countdown to School: I know, handicrafts are so last week; and a vintage sewing book

It's two weeks to school, and if I were continuing the posts here "on schedule," I'd be up to "knowledge of man" by now.  But I'm still thinking about art lessons, and handicrafts, mostly for the middle school age, and how 1923 (or so) meets up with 2013.

A quick look at Charlotte Mason's outlines would give us the idea that Art was one subject, and Work (including handicrafts) was another; one "artistic," one technical.  Picture Study was sometimes separated from Drawing (which often meant watercolours), or sometimes they were lumped together.  Watercolouring was also included under nature study, and writing "beautiful mottoes" and drawing in one's Book of the Centuries went under both Sunday Occupations and General history.  Although it's not mentioned in the Programmes, I have heard that the PUS students used to act out Shakespeare plays, so things like painting scenery and designing costumes might have fallen under Literature, as would have making illustrations of scenes from books.  And, strangest of all, architectural knowledge (which is a bit of a blurry area between art and technology) is filed under General Science.

However, when it comes down to it, the lines between art and crafts were somewhat blurred, as they are in real life.  For instance, would using the inspiration of leaves and flowers to design an embroidered book cover, and then doing the work on it, count as art (the design) or craft?  Well, life is messy (somewhat like craft projects).  You either ignore the problem (it's both) or just pick one or the other.  In real life, designers who get their gorgeous needlepoint florals photographed for Victoria are, deservedly, referred to as artists.  So are artists who use quilting as a medium; they're coming at it from a different place than those who labour over thousand-dollar traditionally-patterned quilts for an MCC relief sale, but there's a blurry area in the middle where creativity meets just-stitching, where the quilters are all designing and all sewing.

You might say that Charlotte Mason's "Work" subject is what might have gone under Home Ec and Tech classes, and "Drawing" and "Picture Study" and the rest could be in the domain of the art teacher.  Again, that isn't to say that the art class can't be doing something in textiles, or that the sewing class has to make only hot-water-bottle holders, but if there needs to be a division, there it is.  You might well say, who cares?, and you could be right; those who might like to interfere with homeschool curriculum are not likely to be quibbling over art and crafts.  But if you really want to know where Charlotte was coming from on this, and why, again, physical education and handicrafts got stuck under "knowledge of the universe" rather than "knowledge of man," it's something to consider.

Anyway, here's what really interested me as an example of Charlotte's choices for handicrafts:  The Little Girl's Sewing Book, by Flora Klickmann, editor of the Girl's Own Paper. Online in full at that link; browse through it, it's not that long.  I thought that was going to be another of those step-by-painful-step educational sewing manuals that the PUS did sometimes include; but this one is different.  It's not as cutesy as the Mary Frances books; there are no talking thimbles here.  But it is written in a chatty way, and the audience is, almost exclusively, a Girl With a Doll.  It's a very well-thought-out presentation:  wouldn't Dolly like a this or a that?, here's how you can make her a bedspread, embroider her some curtains, and so on.  Dollygirl would have devoured this book if she'd been twelve years old in CM's time.  There are a few non-doll projects (like a needlepoint mat to go under Grandmother's hot-water jug--I am not making that up), but the majority are doll clothes and doll bedding.  It's not all plain sewing, either; there is a fair amount of cross-stitching, some needlepoint, and even a few miscellaneous things like hairpin lace (a kind of loose crochet).

How relevant is this to 2013, when we are not very likely to have Mother take us down to the shop to buy pink embroidery silk for our Hardanger project, and when the hot-water jug is long gone?  The twelve-year-olds like Dollygirl who are both old enough to handle these projects, and "young" enough to still like dolls, are also a vanishing species. Are we reduced to looking up "teenage crafts" online, and settling for friendship-bracelet earbud strings?

No, I don't think so.  The principles, the ideas are still relevant.  You might be able to cull some actual projects out of The Little Girl's Sewing Book, but even if you can't, I think the interest for CMers is in seeing what kind of a book was chosen, how the ideas were presented, and what sort of skill (creative and technical) was developed.  It's worthwhile to browse through the crafts shelf--juvenile and adult--at the library, and compare any really well-written, well-done books you can find with the more mediocre ones.  My girls have liked the Kids Can Press series of crafts books, including their Jumbo Book of Crafts; in fact, I think it was that book that got the Apprentice started on a longtime hobby of beadwork. Some of the Klutz books (especially the ones that come with supplies) are also very good--the Apprentice had a Klutz embroidery book, but I think it's out of print now.  You can tell that this list is still oriented towards girls, and that's mostly just because I don't have boys--but there's stuff out there for them too.

Enough said for one post--but more to come.

1 comment:

christinethecurious said...

My 5 year old girl is very excited about these books; I downloaded the one, and put the others on reserve.

I've tried to teach all my kids to crochet - I think the pattern choice was a problem for the boys though, just because there is a stuffed Pikachu, doesn't mean the pattern is well written, and for a first project, well, what was I thinking?