Monday, July 13, 2009

The Domestic Arts

Lately I've been taking up some projects around the house which are more housewifely than I realized at first. I've been teaching myself to sew, and have suddenly found myself the possessor of two sewing machines - one a cheap Overstock special, and the other a 70s-era Singer bought on impulse from the Salvation Army. The old Singer still needs work and I'm refinishing its cabinet since its previous owner was apparently a chainsmoker - but the cheapo machine has been great for learning on.

I've begun to bake my own bread in the interest of saving money. Thanks to a fantastic book (Artisan Bread in 30 Minutes a Day) even this baking-impaired woman can make tasty bread. I also made my own yogurt for the first time yesterday. I got the yogurt maker as a wedding present from my wonderful undergrad advisor, and this was my first opportunity to use it. I had some of the yogurt for breakfast - it was great! And would you believe I'm seriously thinking about learning how to make my own preserves with our awesome local fruit?

These seem like unlikely projects for an engineering grad student, don't they? But I find an immense satisfaction in making useful and tasty things. For me these things harken back to an older time, when women took pride in domesticity and self-reliance was key. I feel that the spirit of "do it yourself" is deeply ingrained into our American culture - if less honored today than it was in an earlier time. I think it is very sad that these skills of "home economics" were scoffed at once women entered the workplace, and seen as incongruous in a world where women and men should play an equal role in the home.

Fortunately I see a trend back towards these domestic skills - but the emphasis is on sustainability, helping the environment and reducing waste. Hey, whatever works, right? But for me the focus is on thrift - and the sheer pleasure of "doing it myself." I believe that whenever we make something useful or beautiful we are participating, in some small way, in God's work of creation. The work of our human hands honors Him.

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