Monday, December 7, 2015

Beauty in Necessity by Karen Andreola

Beauty in Necessity

Marcus fabrics

The Lady-of-the-House has been picking up fabric fourths, hither and thither. Fabric shops dot Lancaster County run by Amish and Mennonite families. One of her favorite shops is in an old barn. When she decided to do some serious quilting - which for her meant doll quilts and pillows, she thought: "When in Rome do as the Romans do."

Christmas rubber stamp

Reproduction fabrics interest the Lady-of-the-House. They can be pricey but 5 minutes from her house, fabric remnants - discontinued from previous year's prints - are sold in a variety store. She scouts around for "Marcus" prints now and again because the store re-stocks regularly and other scavengers are also on the look-out.

Recently, the Lady-of-the-House was in this variety store looking over the Christian Christmas cards, then made her familiar bee-line to the fabric isle. She carried two different prints to the cutting table, silently oo-ing and ahh-ing over her finds, "A quarter yard of each, please," she said - a phrase she had been known to say before.

With rotary cutter poised the fabric cutter smiled at her and said, "You're the Queen of Fourths."

"Well, this comes from following the scrappy look," replied the Lady-of-the-House apologetically. The fabric cutter meant no offense. She meant to be harmlessly amusing. But, perhaps she second-guessed her name-calling, for she softened the conversation by asking about the customer's Thanksgiving, who relaxed a bit and replied that she was happy to have her family together around her long table.

A Myriad of Tasks - A Blessing

A gift sent to the Lady-of-the-House this Christmastime was a deluxe seam ripper. This gift will be put to good use because she is a recurrent-seam-ripper. If she has been cross-stitching in the parlor or at the sewing machine, for half-an-hour, and runs into a snag, she will often call it quits and  set the mistake aside. She can tackle ripping and re-stitching in a better frame of mind the following day when it is greeted as a first step.

Homeward Bound by Tasha Tudor
I mark the middle of the figures as a counting reference.

You see, she's found another use for Charlotte Mason's "short lessons" and "sequence of lessons." She has carried these principles over to the tasks of homemaking. It may seem like an interruption when "on a roll" but going off to do something else for a while uses a different part of the brain while the previous part was spent and in need of rest.

To do "the next thing" is something home teachers and homemakers are very familiar with as their tasks can be immensely varied - from correcting math pages to mopping floors. This myriad of tasks is actually a facet of homemaking to be thankful for. The Lady-of-the-House didn't recognize it as a blessing early on. Perhaps because her to-do list was once to blame for her occasionally feeling frazzled or run-off-her-feet. Applying Miss Mason principle of concise-precise sessions (and "sequence of lessons") however, enabled her to see her myriad of chores as indeed a blessing. Why?

Tasha Tudor cross stitch
Do you recognize this Tasha Tudor illustration?
Ask any physical therapist and he or she will give the advice to "transition" the body throughout the day. Sitting too long or standing too long, for instance, should be replaced with shorter sessions of either when possible. The same can be said about the brain (and disposition).The part of the brain that has been at work, is at rest and being refreshed by a change of occupation  - especially if the "next thing" is something quite different. Afterward the homemaker can return to the first task (or one similar to it) with fresh vigor.

Short sessions of stitching is one restorative in the life of the Lady-of-the-House - a refreshing change of occupation.

William Morris fabric
Quilting a pillow cover. Gold fabric found in four different shops.
Beauty within Necessity

The following statement pulled on her heartstrings when she heard it in a museum lecture.

A pioneer woman, living in a sod house, was asked why she quilts - when her day demands she tackle so many other chores before sunset - she replied:

"I make my quilts as fast as I can to keep my children from freezing and as beautiful as I can to keep my heart from breaking.

How do you turn a one-room sod house into a home, even if it's a temporary home on the American prairie? You make beautiful scrappy quilts. Homemakers long to create beauty within necessity. If at least one of their chores enables them to create something beautiful for their home (be it a garden, a meal, or an attractive piece of clothing) they can persevere.

Prairie Children and Their Quilts

Kathleen Tracy's Prairie Children and Their Quilts is one of the Lady-of-the-House's new favorite quilt books. When her girls were young, she would have gravitated to it - if the book had been written then and she had spied it at a book fair. She likes history and  traditional crafts. It was, in the American girlhood of yesteryear, that small quilts like the doll quilts in this book, were made.

Doll quitls
Mrs. Tracy carefully wraps 19th century first-hand sources around her quilt instructions. The old photographs, the letters and diaries in this book, written by prairie girls in the 19th century, are telling. They reveal some of the hardships of going west in a wagon train. They took me back to the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder - although Laura is understandably discreet  - as the Little House Series is read aloud to so young an audience.

Prairie Children and Their Quilts is a history resource as much as a quilt book. After reading it as well as American  Doll Quilts, and doing some of the projects, it occurred to the Lady-of-the-House that they would make enjoyable mother-daughter projects (for middle-school-though high school). But mostly Kathleen Tracy's books are purchased by grown-ups like the Lady-of-the-House who like the antique-look, who hadn't had any quilting in their girlhood, and who wish to backtrack some - just for fun.

A Little Quilt for Christmastime

When an antique doll quilt caught her eye, the Lady-of-the-House went bananas (but inwardly bananas so her menfolk wouldn't think her daft.)  The red-n-white double nine-patch on-line looked to be so simple and sweet it called out to be replicated, leaving the solid squares empty of a quilt design as the original is, to retain its soft, oft-used, appearance. Pieced and hand-quilted in just two weeks, it is being used as a cheerful Christmas decoration. One day this cute doll-quilt will be handed down to her granddaughter.

red and white doll quilt
A doll quilt made festive for Christmastime.

In Closing
When the Lady-of-the-House returned from the variety store she had to smile. The phrase, "Queen of Fourths", she decided, was a compliment. It reminded her of what is recorded on her Mother Culture CD  - that a homemaker is queen of her household. For love and duty, in all the myriad of tasks she fulfills, she is queen of a great many things.

Quilted with off-white thread.
End Notes:

My article is up on Israel Wayne's Homeschool Pioneer website. Here you can read a host of stories.

Tasha Tudor Cross-stitch
Did you know that some of Tasha Tudor's illustrations have been made into cross-stitch? I bought one this year - well ahead of Christmas - made as a gift for a mother who has boys and corgis. She's unwrapped it and it's hanging on her wall this Christmastime. (The kit includes 18-ct Aida. I stitched on 28-ct linen bought separately.) Amazon has a few other Tasha Tudor designs.

Quaker Hand-of-Friendship, mostly known as Bear Paw.
Tasha Tudor Cross-stitch Homeward Bound.

 Prairie Children and Their Quilts.  My Pennsylvania Quaker Hand-of-Friendship doll quilt is one of the small quilts in this book. (You can see it on the cover.)
Quilted with black thread with stitches of comfortable length.  
 Fons and Porter Ergonomic Seam Ripper An indispensable tool for this quilter. 

Frosty mornings but no snow yet. 

A Very Merry Christmas to you,

Karen Andreola

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Charlotte Mason's "Thoughts Think Themselves" by Karen Andreola

Charlotte Mason's "Thoughts Think Themselves"

My little girl was faced with a decision. "Why don't you sleep on it?" I said. My words sounded silly to her. She giggled. Apparently it was the first time she had heard the expression.

"Sleep on it?" she echoed. Perhaps my suggestion sounded like make-believe.

"Yes," I answered. "If you can't decide today which color you'd like me to make your doll's pillow, take the idea to bed with you. Tomorrow the answer may come," I said, and then went back to washing the supper dishes.
basting a doll quilt "Quaker Hand of Friendship" 
"Thoughts think themselves," says Miss Charlotte Mason - when they are nourished with an initial idea. In the mind that is curious thoughts will often run in due course without conscience effort. My little girl gave "sleep-on-it" a try.  In the morning she greeted me at breakfast with, "It worked, Mommy! I decided!"

Have you ever wondered about the great emphasis Charlotte Mason placed on ideas? She emphasized ideas on the pages of Philosophy of Education especially, but it pops up in all her books.

"What's an idea? Is it a concept? A plan? A judgement? Or does the word have a deeper meaning?" asked a conscientious home teacher in her letter to me.

Remove pins and it is ready for hand-quilting. 
An idea can be all these things, I replied. An idea is something to think about, to expound upon, to make applicable. It is more than a list of cold hard facts. But it does take facts into consideration. Cause and effect in a story will bring forth ideas - so do cause and effect in a science experiment. The verses of poetry can help make visible to us ideas contained within the invisible nouns of generosity, sorrow, joy, honesty or self-sacrifice, for instance.

One New Idea a Day 

Presenting the student with at least one new idea a day is a doable aim for the Charlotte-Mason-minded-teacher. Ideas are at her fingertips. At the risk of sounding repetitive to my long-term-readers: Living books are alive with ideas. Nature, music and art present us with ideas, too. We cannot know which ideas will be the most attractive to our children. Therefore we spread the table with a varied diet of ideas.

My grandchildren were here - over the river and through the woods . . . 
One Thought Leads to Another

Not only do living books sow the seeds of ideas, but given room, a child will bump into them - because one thought leads to another. In the life of a small child an idea might be as simple as, "Hey, Mom, I have two cheerios and if I give you one, now we both have one - we're equal - says the Kindergarten child (my grandson) with a twinkling countenance - as if it was he who made the original discovery of this mathematical concept.

Grandsons contribute to the table decoration.
Ideas Grow on Us

I used to tell my audience, whenever I was asked to speak on the Gentle Art of Learning, that an idea is like a watermelon pit. A father and son were sitting together at a picnic table eating some juicy watermelon. "What will happen to me Dad? I just swallowed a pit?

"A big watermelon is going to grow in your stomach." Dad says with a smile.We shouldn't underestimate the power of an idea because it is small. An idea often starts out as small as a seed. But like a seed it isn't stagnant. It will sprout and grow in the right circumstances.

Mornings are meeker. Our woods await winter. Birds' nests are exposed.
Ideas are Motivating

Ideas aren't stagnant because they are stimulating. They motivate us to question.

Even a little idea can have big consequences. It can motivate us to action. It can motivate us to virtue or (I'm sorry to say) to vice.

I like how the chapter "Inventions" in Boyhood and Beyond invites a boy to consider the outcome of ideas-acted-upon for good.

A Boyhood Curiosity - Not to be Squashed

     Questions, questions, questions. Thomas continually asked questions. What makes a hot air balloon fly? How does a chicken hatch an egg? How does hydrogen combine with oxygen to make water? When no one could answer his questions, he experimented to find the answers. . .
     Mrs. Edison, Thomas' mother, enrolled him in the local school when he was seven years old. His teacher did not like boys to ask questions and punished those who did. When Mrs. Edison learned that the teacher had labeled her son as an empty brain, she ended his school career and taught him herself.

Illustration is licensed  for use from Look and Learn Publishing Company

A Man Motivated by Ideas

     Mrs. Edison set out to take advantage of her son's boyhood curiosity and keep it alive. She gave him freedom to follow up an idea or a question. She allowed him room to let thoughts think themselves as Miss Mason says. Mrs. Edison called what she did with her son, Thomas,

      exploring the exciting world of knowledge. Soon he began to learn so fast that his mother could no longer teach him.
     . . . As his knowledge grew and his questions were answered he began to apply his understanding to the needs and situation of his life. Thomas Edison had become an inventor.

The author of Boyhood and Beyond, gives us other examples in this chapter and returns to Edison who "devoted himself to what he called, 'the desperate needs of the world.'"

Author, Bob Shultz writes:

     "God created you with the desire to invent. Songs, programs, products, methods, art, literature, and tools, are waiting to be invented by you. . . .

     What should your attitude be when your invention fails? While attempting to develop a storage battery, Edison attempted ten thousand experiments that failed. He was not discouraged. He now had ten thousand ways not to go. Don't give up if you fail. Learn from the mistake and try again.. .
     Become the inventor God created you to be. Meet the desperate needs of the world."

Home Learning - a Superb Setting

I finished my letter to the conscientious mother."I see, by the stack of books on your blog, that you needn't be so concerned about lessons absent of ideas."

Home learning is a superb setting because it is here where these important ideas-made-personal can flourish. It is here where curiosity can be kept alive, where thoughts think themselves through questioning, narration, conversation, through play, through quiet-time, through free time - perhaps while watering Mother's flowers in the back garden watching the bumble bees, during the same space of time perhaps - when other children in the neighborhood are confronted with a 45-minute bus trip, then an hour or more of dreary homework.

While scrolling through this mother's blog I also spotted handiwork the family completed over the summer months: a customized wooden bookshelf, bottles of pink fruit, a bright patchwork. "Beautiful," I commented on her blog.
"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." Thomas Edison

 "I have an idea," thought the young cellist privately. After hearing a sermon on sympathy the teen-age boy, while still seated in the pew, spoke with his parents. Then, although he was shy and self-conscious he was certain. He stepped up to the white-haired pastor of the little country church to ask if he could join him and the few other singers and young musicians who go to minister at the nursing home once-a-month. This young man went on to putting the daily hour of his cello practice to good ends. That Sunday seemed to mark the moment when he'd left the biggest part of his shyness behind him.

The sun sets "before" supper now.
Sweet Dreams

Fed by fear, dark thoughts think themselves - and can be haunting. Bad news at bedtime is alarming. Terrorists in the news and violent crime are a distressing enough reality in the daylight. I try to not view news film-clips on Facebook in our now-dark-evenings. But if I have done so, no matter how late it is, I pick up a book, after casting-cares in prayer, and turn my attention to a paragraph of something noble, or light and sweet, to-think-about. I'd rather "sleep on" that.

End Notes

The picture of young Thomas Edison is a book illustration by Angus McBride (1931-2007). It is not public-domain. The copyright is owned by the publisher Look and Learn of Great Britain. I arranged to license it (for a fee) for this one-time-use on my blog.

I recommend Boyhood and Beyond - Practical Wisdom for Becoming a Man  for boys ages 10-16. I am linking it to Amazon where you can read the costumer reviews.

I finished Eloise's cardigan.

My colored paragraph excerpts from Boyhood and Beyond are used with permission by the publisher Great Expectations. Pages 95, 96 and 99.

"Thoughts think themselves," is a phrase used by Charlotte Mason in her book, Parents & Children page 156. *For her take on "sleep-on-it" see also pages 88-89.

My anecdote of the teenage cellist is based on my knowledge of some young people who steered away from being all-too-commonly self-absorbed the more they chose to serve others. They will be anonymous this time round.

Knitting Lingo
Looking to use a stretchy bind-off for my cardigan's neck (rather than the conventional one) I checked YouTube and found just what I wanted: a "sewn" bind-off demonstrated by Interweave Press. I recommend this bind-off for children's pullovers especially, as they have Charlie Brown size heads.

I see that some are sharing my blog posts and Facebook posts. Thank-you.
Click any image to enlarge.

I enjoy our visits.

As always,
Karen Andreola