No Idle Hands
Women’s work is universally understood to be of lesser value- something the other gender does without pay or with lesser pay than men. These chores may include- house work and caretaking of family members. In the past, women were also responsible, in similar ways, for tasks essential to survival such as spinning yarn, knitting and weaving. Women have always played an important role in caring for their families and communities whether that be in ancient nomadic traditions, matriarchal societies, or in contemporary western society.
Like many girls in rural america, I learned traditional needle working skills at a young age. Over time, I’ve become more and more interested in women’s fiber traditions and more specifically how fabric has been created over the ages. In the past I asked, “ Who raised the sheep?”, “How is yarn made?” and “ How is fabric made?”. Over the years I learned about these processes and noticed that while the men were traditionally the shepherds, the women were often the makers.
In modern day North America, land ownership has changed the needs of shepherds who were previously nomadic workers. Once a shepherd needed hearty clothing, transportable shelter and food. Currently, in western society, a shepherdess is not even in need of her animals. This is because food production, land ownership and the fashion industry have changed the need of mutton and wool products. Today the practice of raising an animal to produce truly handmade garments is carried out as a rarity in order to encounter a tradition in our contemporary society.
This body of work is the product of a year-long series of chores performed daily. Grass was tended to, I cared for my sheep, the animals were shorn and raw wool was harvested for utilization on a small farm in Zanesville, Ohio. I produced tools in order to take advantage of the wool raised on my family farm and from surrounding areas, including some materials collected while in Maryland. A few of these tools include; an electric spinning wheel, a skirting table, a knitty noddy and knitting needles. Out of this process, I made utilitarian garments to wear on the farm during working hours.
Put simply, this is an extreme example of slow fashion. These clothing items are long lasting and will decay gracefully into the soil because they are created from the backs of an animal without the use of harsh chemicals. Most items are identified based on which animal the wool was sourced since all the seven sheep in my small flock have been given a name. While some fiber was found on other farms, even their names were disclosed considering small farms usually care enough to do so.
I am a contemporary woman, one who can be both a shepherdess and a maker to provide for her own accouterment. While I am living in 2019, I recognize the struggles of our past while also craving the slowness of these times. In my own life, on a farm in Zanesville, Ohio, I aim to live as quietly as possible with my seven sheep and my spinning wheel.