Monday, January 30, 2012

Out of Unpromising Materials

Out of Unpromising Materials

Margaret and Mary, the sisters in Miss Read’s Village Christmas, sit before a cozy fire each evening making a hearthrug, “a gigantic monster of Turkish design, in crimson and deep blue.” Margaret’s end of the rug grew much more quickly than Mary’s. Her hook made “staccato jabs, and the wool was tugged fiercely into place.” Mary took her time and enjoyed the process. The Lady-of-the-House can picture Mary fingering each strand of wool gingerly. While Margaret looked to the day it would be done Mary would be sorry when the edges where bound and the rug was finished.

Do you enjoy the relaxing process of working on a homemade project even if it takes many months to complete? The Lady-of-the-House does. But she also works with the project’s end in view. She will admit that when it comes to filling in the background of a rug design, with a little less patience the canvas tends to be somewhat stabbed. Not as fiercely as Margaret’s filling-in, but compared to so small a needle used on a linen sampler, hooking requires a more robust, less delicate handling in places. The wooden hook can form a callus in the palm, observes the Lady-of-the-House. The wool for the shapes and figures is pulled into loops circumspectly.

While she works with needle and thread the Lady-of-the-House pictures how a project will look on a window, a bed, a wall or – in the case of her circular rug – on a chair. Three quarters into it and the Lady-of-the-House is already scheming and dreaming up another needle project. It isn’t unusual to have three projects started zealously at once. Like having three books started, in both cases she will pick up the one she feels fit for.

In chapter four of Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson describes the “poor folks” of the English hamlet where she grew up in the 1880s.

“Yet even out of these unpromising materials, in a room, which was kitchen, living-room, nursery, and wash-house combined, some women would contrive to make a pleasant, attractive-looking home. A well-whitened hearth, a homemade rag rug in bright colours, and a few geraniums on the window-sill would cost nothing, but make a great difference to the general effect.”

A rag-rug in olden days was made of cast off clothing. The clothing was no longer good for anything but to be kept in a ragbag. Here in America the first hooked rugs thriftily made use of the ragbag. Many a household relied upon things made by-hand and nothing was wasted.

After a hundred years of taming an uninhabitable wilderness, early Americans were becoming more comfortable. They were snug on their homesteads. The windows were glass, the floors were wood; parlor floors were even painted. Rather than straw, rope beds were stuffed with an upgrade of feathers. After a long day of toil beds plump with woven blankets, patchwork quilts and a feather pillow or two, awaited them. There may even be quilts on reserve kept in the linen chest. Perhaps this is when homemakers turned their attention to using up their rags.

All cloth was valuable in early America as it was made primitively and painstakingly from wool off of sheep or flax in the field. Although a family had startling few changes of clothing they dressed in good cloth. When the Declaration of Independence began six years of invasions, battles, retreats and inflation, the women were busy making hooked rugs.

“For as we know, women keep house and hold the world together through all the anxieties, miseries, and tragedies of all the wars.” 
Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Woolens passed patching and mending, were cut into strips. These were mostly grays, browns and black. A woman with an eye for domestic art died her rags. Red was made from cochineal for a design of roses, indigo for sky and forget-me-knots, pokeberry juice and walnut-husks gave more colors for shading.

She washed empty grain sacks, sewed them together and drew a design on them. Pulling the strips of rags with a hook through the weave of the sackcloth gave her what she called, a “rug” - a new word derived from the Swedish “rugge” meaning coarse, rough, rugged.

By the work of her hands, over some months, she lovingly turned rags to riches so-to-speak. It was creative work that satisfied her and gave her family a bit of luxury for the floor.

With these vignettes the Lady-of-the-House wishes to encourage you to think big thoughts and relish small pleasures.

Post Script

January brought little snowfall. Some days were mild enough for wearing an oversized cardigan and for trying out a new pair of shoes. 

I can’t help wonder that one day - years hence - a woman with an eye for domestic art will cut up the wool plaid from this skirt for making a rug. 


Karen Andreola 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Charlotte Mason's "Scientific Spirit" Embodies the Humanities

Charlotte Mason's "Scientific Spirit" 
Embodies the Humanities

. . .  much and varied humane reading as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is, not a luxury, a tit-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods. This and more is implied in the phrase, “The mind feeds on ideas and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.” Philosophy of Education page 111.

The day I contemplated the above passage by Charlotte Mason twenty-some-odd years ago, was a sobering moment. It took account of how impoverished my education was in the area of the humanities. How on earth was I going to teach my children by a method that emphasized the humanities – something I was so lacking in myself? As a student who read few books cover to cover I still managed to graduate from high school with above average grades. I received at least a “smattering” of information from what might be called classroom lectures and then the hour-long homework assignments. But of books themselves – hardly a smattering.

Following graduation I committed my life to the Savior Christ Jesus. My interest in reading Scripture and books in general was lively. Such a spark of enlightenment (the epistles now wonderfully made sense) must have come from the Supreme Educator. I joke that I passed through all my years of school getting by with a sincere attentive reading of two books; one of these was Green Eggs and Ham.

“How injurious then is our habit of depreciating children; we water their books down and drain them of literary flavor, because we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves. . . .” Phil. of Ed. Pg 304.

My next question is best put with slang. Where did I get off thinking I was qualified to teach my own children? My answer is in hindsight. When confidence is low and still growing, courage steps up to lead. Love casts out fear. It fills the place in a mother’s heart where fear wishes to dwell. 

“Show me a mother with an enduring love for her children and I’ll show you a mother who meets the requirements for home teaching. With love comes the self-sacrifice, daily discipline, kindness, patience, and determination needed to set her children’s feet on the paths of righteousness, skill, and knowledge. She who sows seeds by home teaching overtime will reap the fruits of her labor.” Lessons of Blackberry Inn Pg 222.

We learned together. 

We turned to living books and various art forms for knowledge and culture. For science the typical grammar school textbook falls flat. Charlotte Mason points to where the trouble lies. Most science textbooks scarcely touch upon the humanities. It is the humanities in education – the human aspect - that Miss Mason so emphatically endorses. In her ideal point of view on the subject of science she challenges us to present its general principles with their accompanying philosophical ideas. This isn’t as puzzling as it may sound. A passage from Miss Mason simplifies it.

 “Scientific truths,” said Descartes, “are battles won; describe to the young the principal and most heroic of these battles; you will thus interest them in the results of science, and you will develop in them a scientific spirit by means of the enthusiasm for the conquest of truth; you will make them see the power of the reasoning which has led to discoveries in the past, and which will do so again in the future.” Parents and Children Pg 128.

Science becomes “living” when we mix
philosophy (ideas),
biography (personality),
literature (story),
drama (a touch of emotion),
some first hand observation.

Descartes’ word “heroic” must have swum around in the little quiet pool of my subconscious. For, when I was introduced to Your Story Hour audio I recognized its value. I was sensitive to whatever would help me bring the scientific spirit to our home school. If you ask my grown children about Your Story Hour they will tell you that they have fond memories of listening to it. Yolanda claims she “loves” it. The scripts are literary, philosophical, biographical, and touched with human emotion. (Mid to upper elementary and junior high.)

Some of the recordings were done as early as 1949 with a style that truly originates from the radio era. Perhaps this has something to do with their quality. Is there anything that surpasses them? They are a bit old-fashioned and corny around the edges, but never obnoxious, always respectful with an intelligent morality that is in keeping with a reverence for God. 

Your Story Hour was a welcomed help to this mother in giving her children Miss Mason’s “abundant portions” of  “varied humane reading.” The dramatized stories focus on persons in history who demonstrate attributes of strong moral character. Some are scientists.

Our first choice is “Heritage of Our Country” Album 6 with Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers and others.

“Patterns of Destiny” Album 7 has Louis Pasteur and George W. Carver.

“Great Stories” Volume 10 also has a few scientists who persevere and struggle against adversity such as Fleming’s story of Penicillin and Roentgen’s discovery of the x-ray.

The Sowers series is an excellent source of biographies. (Read aloud to 4th grade up, silent reading - upper elementary) We particularly enjoyed Isaac Newton by the John Hudson Tiner who is an author enthusiastic about science. I was probably hoping to tack onto our year his Johannes Kepler. It looks fabulous but it is one book that fell through the cracks.   

We read Jeanne Bendick’s Archimdedes and the Door of Science by Bethlehem Books.

In sixth grade Nigel enjoyed Michael Farady – Father of Electronics by Charles Ludwig.

We put our library discard to good use: Nikola Tesla –Giant of Electricity by Helen B. Walters. As a young boy Nikola spent much time gazing at nature and thinking. One of the lines reads, “No wonder God had looked at His world after creation and said it was good.” Authors of children’s books were still mentioning God incidentally in the 1960s when it was fitting.

I wish you and your children the scientific spirit.

Post Script
Written narration with sketches from Nigel’s 6th grade science notebook – the Edison entries - help decorate this post.

The retro wooden radio was once handy for playing cassettes. I still use it as a radio in my office/sewing room where I write you.

My grandson’s kitty cat is no longer part of the family. On the sad day his mother made him a stuffed kitty out of felt scraps - a soothing consolation.

I’m saving certain books and the Your Story Hour for William and his baby brother Joseph who, by the way, is wearing the wool cardigan that his grandmother knit him.  She couldn’t resist ending this post with the cute factor.

Discussion is invited.

Karen Andreola

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Boys & Jane Austen - Among Other Sundries

Boys & Jane Austen
Among Other Sundries

“Oh, have you really read that book, too?” This was the exclamation of a circle of bright-eyed young ladies standing in the narthex of a church. They were looking incredulously, yet with good humor, at the young man - a visitor to the church who had been invited into the circle. He was doing his best to join in their conversation. All it took was one concisely phrased comment to reveal his knowledge of Mr. Collins. The opinion he shared probably would never have passed the lips of a female - even if it were true. “Mr. Collins was pompous, yes, but he wasn’t all that bad.”  (A true story.)

Here is a list of some of the fiction my son, Nigel, read in high school and after. I took a recent photograph of him for this post on a day when he was dressed smartly for church. Notice the book title at the end of the list. It was his choice to read Pride and Prejudice after the British film series and book drew so much of his sisters’ and his sisters’ girlfriends’ attentions. He was curious to understand life from the puzzling female point of view.

Ben Hur  - Lew Wallace
The Prisoner of Zenda – Anthony Hope
Animal Farm - George Orwell
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
The Dooms Day Book - Connie Willis
Frankenstein  Mary Shelley
Doctor Jekylle and Mr. Hyde - R. L. Stevenson
The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis
Fareinheit 451 - by Ray Bradbury
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Enders Game - Orson Scott Card
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett
Tarzan (some of series) - Edgar Rice Burroughs
John Carter of Mars - a collection - Edgar Rice Burroughs
Time Traders Series by Andre Norton
Star Soldiers by Andre Norton
A Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak
City by Clifford D. Simak
A Pocketful of Rye - Agatha Christie
The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clark
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

When I opened Peter Leithart’s book, Miniatures and Morals – the Christian novels of Jane Austen, I was tickled to find his first chapter to be “Real Men Read Austen.” Mr. Leithart believes that Miss Austen’s novels are highly instructive for men. The value of her novels is not just for the opportunity is seeing love through her perceptive feminine eyes. Her stories uphold a man’s responsibility for “the course the courtship takes.” Toying with the affections of a woman, encouraging her to fall in love without a commitment in view, makes a man into an egotistical scoundrel. These men add to the antagonism in her stories. Miss Austen thankfully provides us with examples of honorable men – protagonists - that our sons can esteem and emulate. 

Reading Miniatures and Morals has been contributing to my Mother Culture. A friend using it with her four daughters, recommended it to me. A close look at several of Jane Austen’s novels would certainly compliment a beautiful girlhood and help a young lady wisely distinguish between a Frank Churchill and a George Knightly.

A maiden may dream of wearing a Regency gown and meeting a Mr. Knightly but Miss Austen’s stories are far too witty to be equated with a shallow or overly sentimental romance novel. What she conveys through her characters is sometimes profound and at other times comical. Peter J. Leithart’s insights on all six novels light a candle to Miss Austen’s Christian ethics. She writes about her world close up, in miniature and “recognizes that the greatest ethical challenges come in the midst of daily life.” This is precisely when Christian morals, manners and discernment are needed – and how we love our neighbor properly – in a variety of settings.

“She taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement.” – Mrs. Smith in Persuasion.

During our road travel in December I spotted “Jane Austen Knits” while browsing a magazine rack at one of our stops. Fond of knitting and fond of Jane Austen its cover caught my eye with the utmost swiftness. Back on the highway I read the interview of Jennie Chancey of the Sense & Sensibility pattern company as a first treat. Another interesting article gives some history of domestic life in Georgian England when “everyone but the very wealthy spun wool yarn and knitted.” All the articles have an intelligent and friendly touch to them.

I can’t imagine what I would wear with the purple “short stay” or on what occasion I would wear it. This vest has been the source this knitter’s daydreaming of late. I remind myself that anything pretty - though out-of-fashion it may be - can be worn at home.  Perhaps it could be worn while gardening, under a protective apron, on a cool spring morning. It is a small enough project to be completed by spring, surely. And purple yarn would match the lilac buds in our back yard in spring . . . Do you ever day-dream while washing dishes, contemplating a project for weeks, a sort of warm-up to attempting it?

The “Lydia Military Spencer” is a jacket with decidedly out-of-fashion puff sleeves. But it is charming – and I like puff sleeves. It is in the majority of challenging patterns.

The projects are pretty. The word “pretty” says much. It means that the projects are a refreshingly feminine upgrade from today’s gender-neutral garments. They range from simple to startlingly complicated. You’ll find lacey shawls, fingerless mitts, capes, drawstring bags and stockings. I’ve knit an Aran sweater for a male member of my family but none near as complicated as the handsome one given. The Celtic cable on my soft-as-a-cloud angora rabbit scarf is the most complicated I’ve yet to attempt - from a different pattern book. A beginner would find inspiration inside “Jane Austen Knits” while she kept most of the 35 projects on hand for a time when her skill was developed. (  

Over the holidays I began filling in the maiden on the chair pad while sitting in the parlor. I like the tweedy wool strips provided for the sheep. My loops are not aligned in neat rows as those shown in the kit. Mine are hooked higgly-piggly. I also tend to fill in the burlap a too snugly. But I’m enjoying this beginner’s project and am pleased with it regardless of how higgly-piggly the loops are turning out to be.

The reproduction friendship sampler is framed. It hangs on a narrow piece of wall in the front parlor - not as crookedly as my photograph. It fits nicely in this narrow corner.

As it is often viewed through the open French doors I might move it upstairs. We’ll see. Domestic decisions are perplexing on those days when a homemaker takes domesticity rather seriously. But there is also something thrilling about the outcome of the details that make homemade touches worth the effort. Do you find this to be true?

Have you received a January seed catalog in the mail yet? To plant seeds in a raised bed of rich soil using your mouse, click the image of Nigel’s Magic Garden. Water them and watch them grow. Then rearrange your flowers and vegetables as you like. The latest flash plug-in is required.

Comments are cordially invited on any of the "sundries." 
Karen Andreola