"The Women Have Leaped from Their Spheres" (thank goodness!)

Confusion has seized us, and all things go wrong,
The women have leaped from "their spheres,"

And instead of fixed stars, shoot as comets along,
And are setting the world by the ears.

Maria Weston Chapman

The above photo was taken at Yosemite National Park, California, ca. 1895. The caption reads, "'In a Spirit of freedom,' -- posed daringly in an improbable setting, these two women symbolize the spirit of the "new woman," free to explore all of life's opportunities."

All of life's opportunities ca. 1895, that is.

I love this photo and quote. They come from another one of my favorite books:

"Artists in Aprons", C. Kurt Dewhurst, Betty MacDowell, Marsha MacDowell

I purchased it some years ago at a second-hand shop.
On the inside cover, it says:

The women . . . this book illustrates had to wrest their art from a workaday life that gave them little or no relief from life-sustaining chores, or leisure for reflection. . . . It shows conclusively the importance placed by American women on the creation of art not for fame and fortune, but art created to bring aesthetic and spiritual sustenance to themselves, their families, and friends."

And isn't that why, in 2009,
we continue to create?

I've long collected vintage household linens (embroidered dishtowels and such) because they hold tremendous fascination for me.

In fact, I have quite a few in frames on my walls.

Aside from being cute and colorful, there is something so wistful about many of them -- it's almost as if their creators were embroidering themselves (the things they couldn't do or say, a longing for creative fulfillment or for beauty) on the only acceptable or available canvas:
the textiles of domesticity.

I believe this also explains part of my attraction to old magazines. Sure they're kitschy and fun, but they also provide a window to a world so foreign -- yet so recent -- that I continually shake my head in wonder.

It seems to me that for many, many years, necessity (and social norms) dictated that a woman's "sphere" was about the size of a silverware drawer --

she was:

indispensable at mealtime,

polished up only for company,

and when not busy cooking or feeding or serving . . .

up to her armpits in hot soapy water.

See? Silverware.

I'm thankful every single day I have the freedom to vote and own property and big things like that, but I'm equally thankful I have the freedom (from life-sustaining chores and social stigma)
to create!

And my work doesn't have to keep anyone from freezing or even decorate the parlor -- the things I make can just BE.

My mom and dad recently purchased a large painting for their kitchen -- it's about 4 feet by 6 feet I guess -- the bulk of it painted almost entirely in greys. It's a neighborhood scene in an English milltown. A woman is standing behind a clothesline that zig-zags across the painting, and fluttering from the clothesline are . . .
bright white doilies and colorful embroidered linens!

The artist told my mom that the woman in the painting was her mother, who had a somewhat bleak life working in the textile mills, but that each of the linens depicted is a specific one that she remembers her mother making for their home.

Exactly what I'm talking about.

That's why when I opened this birthday present from my mother, I was so delighted:

Days-of-the-Week Dishtowels!
Embroidered by my own mother!
For me!

I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to use them. My mom insists she intended them to be used, but --

for now, I guess I'm just savoring them.
Somehow I feel like there's a lot in those stitches.

But there always is.

Sure, it's better to give, but let's be honest . . . Receiving ain't half bad!

Remember when I said I hope I get something half as good as that embroidery book for my birthday?

Well, because I have a firm belief in always ensuring my own happiness in such areas, of course I got something at least half as good, and probably quite a bit better.

Some time ago I wrote a T.G.I.F.F.T. about my favorite book in the world, "The Magical Land of Noom" by Johnny Gruelle. My own particular copy has, for years, been the "velveteen rabbit" of books -- cover long lost, corners worn away, unidentified something growing between a few of the pages.

I have looked for years for a copy that was the same 1922 edition as mine, and -- at last! -- I found one from a bookseller in England, and ordered it a month or so ago as a birthday present (to me from me).

I didn't let myself look at it when it arrived, hiding it away under my bed until my birthday.

And what a splendid reunion with the red cover that I only vaguely, but so fondly, remembered! If I hadn't received one other thing for my birthday, that would have been enough . . . .

but I did receive other things
(that I didn't buy for myself)
as well, of course.

I am delighted to report that I did not receive a toaster from my husband, nor would I have looked as dreamy as she does if he had presented me with one, no matter what pains he had taken with the wrapping . . .

One sort of sad/funny gift was from Russ -- a year ago he traveled to Korea on business, and brought me a ring that I was absolutely CRAZY about -- beautiful, delicate silver cut-work with a splendid matte finish which, unfortunately couldn't be sized without being ruined and even more unfortunately was too small.

But too big for my pinky -- it flew off and landed in someone's salad the one time I tried to wear it. So it has lived in my drawer, where I take it out and look at it . . . and sigh . . . regularly.

Since he was traveling to Korea right before my birthday again this year, he oh-so-carefully checked my ring size so that there would be no chance of a mishap and set off in search of a similar ring.

And he found one! With a matching ring for himself!

Just lovely . . . and unfortunately, too big. But too small for any of my other fingers.

Rats and Double Rats.

Oh well, now I have a beautiful almost-matched set that lives in my drawer. And we had a good laugh, which is worth a lot.

I also received some thoughtful gifts from my girls (in the entertainment and art-making departments), a fantastically funky new pair of eyeglasses, and a little mad money which I have already dispatched on ETSY.

Oh yes . . .

then of course there was that splendid hand-made gift that you will see in an entire post of its own . . . if you tune in next time!

Still time to enter the say-goodbye-to-May giveaway! Just choose a bracelet from the previous post and let me know which you'd like and you'll be entered.


Who knows why Susan is a day late with the results of this week's blog giveaway?

Is it because she was goofing off, as usual??!!!

I know!
I know!

She was
too busy
eating cake
to turn on
the computer
over the

Wait a minute -- we may be jumping to conclusions. She could be just plain lazy. And anyway, a little goofing off isn't always a bad thing!

Whatever the reason, we're obviously going to start the week by giving her a demerit badge, which she will be expected to sew on her vest in a prominent location.

What if she was
busy pretending
she was in
New Mexico

Should we
string her up
for that?

Nobody should ever be punished for eating Mexican Food or Birthday Cake!

Can't we just do the blog giveaway drawing for her?


And we can help!

Let me just get off my horse and put this saddle away . . . then I'll slip off my boot and we can put the names inside . . .

Is that The Fabulous Cowboy Boot
of Birthday Fun and Fortune?

Are all the names really in there?

Yup -- all 15 names --

(they're getting a little sweaty but we're going to pick fast to keep the ink from running . . .)

It's Whimsey Creations!

Jill, send me an email with your address and we'll Pony Express your blue puppy prize to you faster than you can say Birthday Bonanza!

And now, kids, the birthday may be over but the Hoe-down continues:

It's time for the

All you have to do is post a comment or send me an email by Saturday telling me which bracelet you'd like -- all are hand-stitched wool (of course) with sterling silver findings and leather backing:

# 1 -- Woof

#2 -- Yeehaw!

#3 -- Circles

#4 -- Grow

Thanks again
for coming to my party. . .

I look forward to sending one of you home
with something really sweet in your treat bag!


Let Me Eat Cake!

Susan's b-day, ca. 1970 -- how about those ringlets?

Okay, let THEM eat cake too.
In fact, all of you can have some.

If I were having an actual birthday party, I would want to invite all of you and Maira Kalman. If Marie Antoinette were having a birthday party, she would want to invite this lady.

And I'm sure there would definitely be CAKE.

Luckily, you can have cake without an actual party. But if your favorite resident cake-baker extraordinaire relocates to rural Vermont, you may be called upon to bake it yourself.

Of course I'm not above baking my own birthday cake. For one thing, it guarantees I'll get exactly what I want.

And this year I want:


Since I can't offer you an actual piece, I'll instead offer you the recipe (get a pencil -- anytime Grandma Myrl is sharing a recipe, you'll want to write it down).

Grandma Myrl's Strawberry Cream Cake

Bake a white cake mix according to package directions (Grandma used whole eggs) in a 13x9" pan. When cool, top with:

4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar (generous)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup whipping cream

Cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Whip cream stiff and fold in a little at a time. Spread over cooled cake. Cover entire surface of cake with fresh glazed strawberries (Grandma used Danish Dessert, which I don't believe has been around for awhile. If you find any in your pantry, probably best to throw it out and buy [or make] some new-fangled glaze -- any glaze you like will work.) Chill until ready to serve.

*Grandma's sister Irene used blueberry pie filling, which if I liked blueberry pie filling, would undoubtedly have been delish.

This picture looks a lot like an actual Grandma Myrle Birthday Cake -- fluffy 7-minute icing, plastic flower candle holders. She also made a spectacular Chocolate Vinegar cake -- sounds icky but it was a depression era (no eggs) recipe, with just a hint of cinnamon. Luckily Russ will be having a birthday soon, so it will be a two cake month.

Grandma Myrl's husband Grandpa Kenneth used to say:

"Myrl, this third piece doesn't taste as good as the first two did. What did you do to it?"

While I'm enjoying my third piece, I'm going to need something to keep my mind off the fact that I'm feeling a little full. I think it will be just the time to enjoy a good book.

So on to stop #2 on the needlework book tour:

Embroidered Pictures by Dorothy Tucker.

I found this little gem on the shelf at Half-Price Books, but it would definitely have been worth full price.

The Magic Garden, Rebecca Crompton, 1934

Within its pages I first encountered the incomparable Rebecca Crompton, whom I introduced to you in a previous T.G.I.F.F.T. But there are plenty of other delights as well.

L'Heure Bleue, Lucienne Lanski, 1983

It's Alright, Primmy Chorley, 1991

Salley Mavor puts in a welcome appearance:

Feeding Chickens, Salley Mavor, 1986

And one of the things that I love most about this book is that with every work featured, there are detailed diagrams and drawings explaining stitching/construction techniques.

Eugenia's Lemon Tree, Audrey Walker, 1990

Some of the pieces still blow my mind every time I see them.

Detail, Eugenia's Lemon Tree

Audrey Walker, for instance, virtually "paints" with a needle and thread.

I use stab stitching in the background of my pieces as well, but imagine what I could do with layer upon layer of them! Perhaps that will be the next phase of my pieces . . .
when the prices go way WAY up.

The Spencers Gardening, Ann V. Sutton, 1984

But one of the things that really sets this book apart is that historical pieces are interspersed throughout. Those are going to require their own stop on the book tour.

Anyway, I hope I get a present half as good as that book for my birthday!

At least I know I'm going to get a piece of my favorite cake.

And Russ is home from a week in Korea,
laden with mysterious-looking packages . . .
which bodes well . . .

Happy Weekend, one and all!
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