Monday, September 5, 2011

Domestic Yearnings: Cooking and Sewing

A checkered skirt at the Family Jewels vintage shop in New York City which I'd love to be able to recreate - but I can't, since I can't sew by hand or operate a sewing machine.

When I casually mentioned to my sweetheart Steve that I wish I could make some of my own clothes, he said he heard making your own clothes is growing in popularity due to the rising costs of clothing. I wouldn't want to make all of my own clothes since I come across so many great pieces for free at seasonal clothing swaps or for significantly reduced costs at thrift and consignment shops, but would love to reproduce some of the vintage pieces I see.

I love vintage clothing, but the problem, aside from it is often over-priced: it's small. At a size 12, I don't fit into a lot of it. I would like to get down to my ideal size, an 8. Looking at photos of myself when I was a 4, I actually think: too thin! But even at an 8, it would be a challenge.

While the cost savings would be a benefit, I really don't want to support all this cheap foreign labor. On this Labor Day, I'm thinking about how little is produced in the United States.

Do you sew or make your own clothes?

How about cooking? Do you enjoy it and feel like you have enough time for it? I love cooking but with a minimum two-and-a-half hour round trip door-to-door commute and an eight hour work day, it doesn't leave me with the time I'd like to pursue it. Steve is a chef but after cooking all day, he has little desire to go in the kitchen at day's end.

I adore the film Julie and Julia, which always makes me want to get in the kitchen.

I watched two seasons of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, and I remember him remarking about why aren't we teaching cooking in schools and giving people eight recipes that can help them survive in any economy.

As back to school is starting up, I'm also reflecting how few life skills we are taught in school. Are test scores all we value and what defines us? If I had to take an algebra test, I'd fail. There was a front page New York Times article about technology in the classroom - but education isn't just putting a computer in front of the child and expecting miracles. Being able to cook your own wholesome food is not only good for your health, but is an act of economic empowerment.

I had a home economics class in my suburban New Jersey school, but as far as I can remember, we learned how to make muffins and chocolate chip cookies. Did you have a home economics class? Would you like to see culinary education and home economics in our school system?


  1. I would LOVE to see home economics return to school systems: basic sewing and mending, basic cooking (and not "here's how to make cookies," but rather your ideal of several great meals to make in any economy), money management, etc. And I think they should be required...for girls and boys. I've met too many people who can't sew on a button, cook the most basic of meals, or draw up a budget, and those are basic life skills. Personally, even with a mom who stayed home and spent her time doing those things, I had to teach myself to do them, because many people just don't think to pass that knowledge on to their kids.

    One of the things I feel most guilty about in my own life is the clothing I purchase. I don't buy clothing much, because I genuinely can't afford to, but when I do it's typically from Target or somewhere similar. I'm not entirely thrilled with the origins of that clothing, but I genuinely don't know what else to do, as I haven't had much luck at local thrift shops (or maybe I just haven't found the right place yet). Hmm.

  2. I love to sew. I used to do this all the time when I was in graduate school. Unfortunately, now with a demanding career, I have little time or energy to sew. However, that has not deterred me from setting up a sewing room in anticipation of the winter months. I plan on starting again. I like to cook on occasion, but cooking from scratch takes a great deal of time, which after a long day of work, just doesn't seem to happen. I try to cook as often as possible though, since I don't eat processed food. I did take a home economics class in junior high, but I don't remember cooking anything I would actually eat. Life skills are just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. One needs both book skills AND domestic schools to live a good life. That's the conclusion I have come to anyway.

  3. We had home ec. classes and they were so helpful. I remember making entire meals--from apps to dessert! And we had a bit of sewing to do as well. Then, of course, it was off to wood shop. We also had a homeroom period where we could take a number of recreational courses. I learned Swedish embroidery, Greek & Roman mythology and cross stitch through those classes (they even had horseback riding!). See? Kansas doesn't suck that badly. :P

    But I don't think those classes happen anymore and they really should. Oy. Of course I've forgotten the sewing skills but did take a class from our Parks & Rec department. It's hard! My mother made it look so easy. But I'm committed to learning, bit by bit. I think I'd rather learn how to tailor/alter my clothes first. But then again, I just read a stat noting that nearly 90% of clothing comes from sweatshop-like labor conditions. Ug.

    I have 12-hr days with my commute but still manage to cook frequently. Don't get me started on how fun that has been since they shut off all the gas to the stoves in our building (since March! gah!) for repairs. ANYWAY, I think the trend of moving away from concrete skills is a short sighted one. I don't see why schools can teach kids how to navigate social networking sites but now how to feed themselves. Freakish.

  4. Thanks for the comments all!

    It's unfortunate no matter where you buy your clothing, it's almost always of questionable imported origin. Wouldn't it be great if there were fair trade certifications for clothing like there is for coffee? And of course to have more domestic production of clothing.

    Yes!! "One needs both book skills AND domestic schools to live a good life." I couldn't agree more.

    Swedish embroidery, Greek & Roman mythology and cross stitch? I wish I'd gone to that school! In addition to home economics, I wish languages had been started at an earlier grade and that I would have had been required to take one in college. I also learned next to nothing about art history, save for what my French teacher in high school taught us.

  5. I guess one of the problems for schools is that there are more and more things piling up that should be tought. Many of them could be accomplished at home. But with more and more parents not having or taking the time, being aware or able to teach everyday skills to their kids or simply not caring.. it ends up with the schools!

    At kids classes in community centres etc. you usually find those kids that I would consider ' least needy'. E.g. kids cooking class - almost all kids there are around the kitchen when parents cook and are welcome to become part of the process.

    I love Jamie's idea, but if I remember my school cooking lessons in school in Switzerland - it was simply following recipies. And our teacher got quite mad at us if we added some other spices to a dish than the recipies said.
    Luckily, I was 15 back then and knew some cooking already so that didn't influence me in a negative way.
    Teaching kids addaptable dishes is an approach that I welcome very much. I think it wouldn't just help students to feed themselves on a budget, but also raise awareness about food waste and help fighting that problem. I don't need to be upset about not getting any aspargus if I know I am able to adapt to whatever else is there.

    Sorry, I tend to hold lectures :-) therefore I skip the sewing part, but yes, I do sew some of my clothes but do even more 'serious refashioning' (making stuff that holds up to my everyday clothing needs).

  6. Kate - the input is welcome! :-) Thank you!

    My mom's handwritten recipes from school in Switzerland definitely had me thinking about a lot of this. This would have been in the late 40s or early 50s. We definitely need food awareness. Some 25 percent of food thrown in the garbage is shameful. For both food and clothing, there is such a disconnect from the source and an entitlement culture of low cost, but then combined with a lot of waste.