Oh folks, I had my last exam today. Fingers crossed, it was the last exam of my degree! I can’t tell you what a marvellous thought that is. I really enjoy research and essay writing – I loathe exams and really struggle to revise. Don’t know why – just a real psychological block.
So, this afternoon, there was a lovely bit of celebration in order. The guilt free kind. See – even if I’m not conscientiously studying, I’m fretting with my mind tumbling over all the things I should be doing and all the terrible things that will happen because I am NOT doing them.
I collected Abby from school – 45 minutes late, thank you traffic, and a proper, heartfelt thankyou to Bob our beautiful lollipop man who stayed with Abby until I arrived – we bought iced fruit bun from the bakers, poured big glasses of creamy milk and sat out in the sun under the oak … with the added treat of my freshly arrived copy of Rhonda Hetzel’s “Down to Earth: A Guide to Simple Living”. Now, I have to confess, I am a very late arrival to the wise and comforting thoughts Rhonda shares on her blog. In fact, it has only been since I set up a Feedly account last month that I have started reading her blog regularly. But the minute her little essays became part of my daily routine, I knew I would love – and get a lot out of – her book.
And here it is in my glad hands on the very afternoon that I had no other commitments other than to enjoy my family’s company, my spring filled garden, and a new book!
As I started reading, one particular part of the introduction struck me straight away – the part sewing and knitting our own clothes plays in simple living. Folks – as much as you know I adore both sewing and knitting, I do really struggle with it being part of a “simple” approach.
Not because patterns can sometimes be complex and take a lot of time – I completely get what Rhonda says about that “… simple describes the nature of the activities in this kind of life, not the amount of effort involved.” It’s about becoming “a doer not a buyer” – a concept I adore and subscribe to fully. I’ve been telling Abby since she was tiny, that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking our time over. And teaching her and reminding myself of the beauty and benefits of practice, practice, practice, practice. But Rhonda goes on to describe how once she relearned these skills – along with cooking from scratch, preserving, vegetable gardening etc. – she felt that she had the skills to survive a crisis.
Here’s my dilemma. In order to knit and sew our clothes, we still need to buy supplies. Once you visit the fabric store and purchase your pattern and cloth and thread you have easily spent A LOT of money – receipts from fabric shops always add up at an alarming rate and leave me rather breathless. I could easily BUY the clothing for the cost of making it. As for wool – well, it is effortless to spend almost $100 on the yarn to knit a lovely cosy cardigan. This just doesn’t feel simple. Now I know we could argue – ah! but you’re putting in your own hours, think of the exploitative labour you are avoiding, and you’re probably creating something that will last a lot longer and be so much more meaningful. Yes, yes I totally agree. But the fabric is still being produced in a factory somewhere – almost always overseas – then shipped to Australia, transported to the shop, etc. etc. It’s not like the old days when Australia had its own mills and produced its own good quality, simple cloth.
And if the crisis – that is written about so often these days comes – if we do end up with a crashed economy (hello Australia’s fast-disappearing manufacturing industry!) or an environment that is soooooooo much harder to survive in, are we a) going to have the money to buy that nice fabric and yarn so we can use our very worthy skills, or b) will there even be readily accessible shops selling fabric? Will we instead, be limited to lots and lots of repurposing? How will crappy cheap clothes stand up to that!? I don’t know.
What I do know, is that I often feel that gathering all those supplies (and folks, whilst I am very good at gathering supplies, I am also very good at finding the bargains) and making my and my family’s clothes is actually quite indulgent.
I guess the real answer to this dilemma is LESS. I know this is the honourable answer and one that is oh so much more easily reconciled with simple living. But it doesn’t quite feed my love of making. I do look in opshops for supplies where patterns are a dime a dozen, but very rarely do I find any fabric, especially natural fibres.
Then, earlier this year, during the two month period in which a skip was parked outside Mr. Pollack’s house each weekend, I made a lovely discovery – two cotton curtains – in good condition, with a nice weighty hand, and a pretty pattern. Truly it was a Sound of Music moment.
I fished them out of the skip – from amongst the broken china, smashed furniture, moldy books and moth ridden overcoats – gave them a good wash, dried them in the sun and married them off to my 50 cent pattern from the opshop.
Together, they produced the most guilt free, thrifty, down-to-earth, simple dress I have ever produced. I wear it at least twice a week – with tshirts, button down shirts and turtlenecks under it; cardies over it; and stockings, socks or bare legs, as the weather dictates.
I love it – it is so utterly me. A bit eccentric I suppose. A bit flowery. But very very me. I feel that it is my Amish dress. Of course an Amish would have a plain dress, not a flowery one. But I really do like the reasoning behind their manner of dressing – if they only have a few dresses and they are all the same then they don’t have to worry about what to wear each day – their time and thoughts can be taken up with much more important matters. Yep, this pinafore could definitely become my go-to, Amish dress. The ultimate in anti-consumerism.
So I guess what I’m trying to say in this long ramble is I do LOVE Rhonda’s message. I DO want to live a simple life. I AM a huge believer in the value, both mental and physiological, of being a doer not a buyer. I DO believe that the skills of sewing, knitting, embroidery, cooking, gardening etc. are ESSENTIAl to good living.
But I still need to think outside that box a little more. Hopefully, one day, we will keep a sheep or alpaca or two for their fleece. But weaving our own cloth?!?! I don’t think so. So my version of clothing my family and supplying my home in a simple manner will include the scavenging of fabric.
As the great Paul Keating said about his French clock collection …
“Most people catch antiques when they are tame, in fashionable shops. I catch my clocks while they are still wild, in out-of-the-way places.’
I’m with Paul. So much more exciting. So much more satisfying.