I wrote the following little story 5 years ago. It still warms true in my heart each Thanksgiving so I am sharing it once more. I have updated the words and photos to help you enjoy it with more delightful detail. (Previous post: Grateful Harvest 2015) Traditionally, family and friends get us through all kinds of difficulties. This 2020 holiday season, we need to get THEM through amazing new difficulties. Though I will not be in close company with my extended family this Thanksgiving, I am comforted and grateful for my heritage and strong family ties, which I hope are beautifully represented in this article and the images.
The harvest season is not only a bounty of foods but also a bounty of rich earthy fibers as we seek warm fashion comforts and colors for the colder months ahead. In my family, we celebrate the heritage of our prairie ancestors who worked the land to create food. I invite women to also celebrate our rich heritage of creating warmth and protection via clothing in wools and layers of sewn garments or knitted sweaters, mittens and hats. The harvest season is bountiful in food and fiber!
I am pleased to share an interesting collage of harvest, fashion, and heritage with this image of my corn husk doll collection.
Here is a little back story. I’ve been preaching our women’s heritage to my 2 nieces all of their lives and I have passionately used the humble symbol of buttons to tell the story. Because they have been touched (literally) by those in our past and survive to live forward in the lives of future generations, buttons are the perfect metaphor that we wear our depth of character and family support as we grow. Their history lives in our present and vice versa. Their individual uniqueness serves both function and creative expression by its design and material, as do we. I always include a button with my gifts or sewn treasures. Both nephews received a little bundle of treasures for their wedding tuxedo pocket, their brides a little something in their trousseau. Buttons from old family jars and tins. Mostly of vintage pearls and intricate metal etchings; most well over 100 years of service. Since my 20’s I have re-sewn antique pearl buttons on all my flannel nightshirts for sweet dreams on winter nights and homage to my grandmothers and their comforts. Imagine my delight when my youngest niece, Allison (an artist in her own right,) chose to use buttons as the foliage of the tree she painted for me. It will always be my family tree to me.
Beneath the tree are ladies of the harvest, sculpted and designed with the weave of a corn husk and its silk. Created by my aunts and grandmothers of the prairie. If a seamstress, you will enjoy looking closely at the designs created. A bishop sleeve, a surplice bodice, and a bonnet with silk braids beneath… a bountiful skirt, an apron, a basket. Only ladies of cloth would know these details of style to sculpt and fold in corn husk. Knowing hands and fingers shaped these garments with centuries of memory and knowing touch. Is this what gives some of us 21st century-ans, the inner yearning to shape and stitch, form, and sculpt cloth? Certainly, it is not need for style. We have fast fashion and online shopping for that.
For myself, I agree it is a mix of biography and familiarity known to my fingers that causes me to sculpt. My passion for creating with touch & texture, tools & textiles seems to be cellular and natural, first discovered at a very young age.
It wasn’t until years later that I found it to be a satisfying connection to my female culture…my prairie grandmothers but also women of the ages who discovered the fibers, created the fabrics, and pieced comfort and protection into every stitch as bare necessity or for pure pomp and luxurious show.
Ages ago, it began only as fiber sown, grown, collected and spun; raw cloth woven then sewn to basic garments. Yet I suspect even then, that as was I, a young teenager having a blast creating a wardrobe, so too were they enjoying their own style & flair, kicking in this sleeve, that collar, some buttons, a ribbon, a sash, or a bonnet.
Aha, it is also an art form! Expressing our personalities through color, cloth, and technique brings authenticity, awareness, and great reward. It is a celebration of our values and a lovely awareness of our individuality. This art and this skill transcend the centuries….just like all those buttons on my tree.
In my lifetime, sculpting cloth into clothing has gone from the act of many to the few, from utility to art. We must all appreciate the human knowing hands that continue to create. I am eager to see new cloth traditions unfold….quite literally.
While celebrating the harvest this week, be mindful of your tactile senses and look for your symbols of shared arts. What is in your family tree that seeks expression in cloth….with button breadcrumbs?!
Despite the unrelenting shock waves of 2020, and its stunning negative consequences we are experiencing, I am harvesting gratitude for the Pandemic Covid virus. It has helped us cultivate a higher awareness of who and what is essential, the fundamentals of leadership, and profound appreciation for public health professionals, nurses, doctors, scientists in healthcare, teachers, musicians, artists, actors, waiters and servers, restaurants and retailers, meat packers, farmers, good police officers and heroic protestors, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis…..and so many more who deliver us health and ease on a greater scale than we ever knew until our luxuries became at risk. Going forward, I pray we sow the seeds of empathy and kindness and watch them grow.
May you find peace, health, safety, and ease with a grateful heart in these coming days of Thanksgiving. I am also grateful for your friendship.