One thing I certainly zeroed in on this time around was the sewing and knitting that was always taking place. Knitting needles always had stockings and mittens on them. Secret embroidery projects became unexpected Christmas presents. Lace was crocheted for petticoat edgings. Things I know I glanced right over before now stood out to me, in a kindred spirit sort of way. And, of course, the sewing. Hehehe--were you wondering where I was going, or are you used to me by now?
Truth be told, when I was younger Laura Ingalls Wilder was my idol (this was before I realized the whole lack of indoor plumbing thing), but I do not think I would have been able to hang on the prairie. Take, for instance this bit from On the Banks of Plum Creek:
Mary was still sewing nine-patch blocks. Now Laura started a bear’s track quilt. It was harder than a nine-patch, because there were bias seams, very hard to make smooth. Every seam must be exactly right before Ma would let her make another, and often Laura worked several days on one short seam.
Yeah, I can see me working for days on one seam. But this time I knew what bias seams are.
Or how about this bit when Laura had to help Ma sew new sheets just before The Long Winter?
Laura was sewing two long breadths of muslin together to make a sheet. She pinned the edges together carefully and fastened them with a pin to her dress at the knee. Carefully holding the edges even, she whipped them together with even, tiny stitches. The stitches must be close and small and firm and they must be deep enough but not too deep, for the sheet must lie smooth, with not the tiniest ridge down its middle. And all the stitches must be so exactly alike that you could not tell them apart, because that was the way to sew.
Without even focusing on all those hand-stitches, how about we focus on the fact that they all had to be identical?
She had cut the patterns from newspaper, using her dressmaker’s chart of thin cardboard as a guide. Lines and figures for all different sizes were printed on it. The trouble was that nobody was exactly any of the sizes on the chart. After Ma had measured Mary, and figured and marked the size of every sleeve and skirt and bodice piece on the chart, and cut the patterns, and cut and basted the dress line, then when she tried the lining on Mary she had to make changes all along the seams.
But then, of course, came the invention of the sewing machine. Pa was describing it to Ma, and while things have gotten fancy the basic principles are still the same:
"You work the pedal with your feet, and that turns the wheel and works the needle up and down. There’s a little contraption underneath the needle that’s wound full of thread, too. It goes like greased lightning, and that makes as neat a seam as you’d want to see."
Which led to much simpler sewing and some subsequent grave-turning during These Happy Golden Years:
"I have an idea for making the sheets,” Laura said. “I’m not going to sew those long seams down the middle with over-and-over stitch by hand. If I lap the edges flat and sew with the machine down the center, I do believe they’ll be smooth enough and even more serviceable.”
“It may well be,” said Ma. “Our grandmothers would turn in their graves, but after all, these are modern times.”
My grandmother might get twitchy if she saw how I don't baste anything (or even use pins sometimes), but these are modern times...
But the passage that made me put the book down for a minute (Little Town), and just think and imagine? The description of the dry goods store where Laura worked basting shirts and sewing buttonholes (again, by hand):
At her right hand was a short counter-top of glass, and inside it were cards of all kinds of buttons, and papers of needles and pins. On the counter beside it, a rack was full of spools of thread of every color. Those colored threads were beautiful in the light from the windows. The sewing machine stood just behind the front end of the other counter. Its nickel parts and its long needle glittered and its varnished wood shone. A spool of white thread stood up on its thin black ridge. Laura would not have touched it for anything.
Do you ever read something more than once? Do you wait a few years, or just turn right back to the first page and start over (like I may or may not have done with Fried Green Tomatoes)? If so, what was it? And what sorts of things jumped out at you?