Tuesday, September 20, 2011

new work: my mother's apron

I'm not ready to reveal all of the pieces of this yet, but here is one photograph I took last week and the rough draft of the story that goes with it...more to come...

My mother has an apron. Its fabric is a rosy shade of pink, printed with tiny, red flowers, and trimmed in a matching red bias tape. The tiny stitches are impeccable, made with a sewing machine but without question, guided by a steady, skilled hand. My mother wears this apron while she cooks.

When it’s not being worn, the apron is folded neatly and laid to rest in the kitchen drawer which is home also to potholders and trivets, birthday candles and batteries--kitchen drawers tend contain the oddest of collections.

She made the apron herself, my mother did. She made it in her high school home economics class. Forty-six years old my mother is and the only apron she owns and uses is the one she made thirty years ago which, aside from a few minor stains, is still in perfect condition, and could not display better craftsmanship even after all of these years of sewing experience.

When I was fifteen, my mother and grandmother taught me to sew. I see it as a rite of passage in my family. I want to be as skilled of a seamstress as they are, but even after ten years of experience and a few formal sewing classes, I fear I can never be their equal with a needle and thread. I haven’t an apron of my own perfect craftsmanship. I haven’t an apron of my own craftsmanship at all.

Today I will bring out my sewing machine. Today I will sew my first apron.

And some informal thoughts about the objects in this series:

Why do the people in my photographs wear flower masks? Why do I use floral print?

I think faux flowers and printed images of flowers are the perfect representation of decoration. If you take them away, everything still functions, but still, something is lost. We don’t need floral wallpaper or floral sheets in our homes, we can have the plainest walls and the plainest sheets and the plainest things, and their function remains the same. The flowers are just decorations. I think that’s the way some people feel about many of the skills people use in the home. Specifically, I’m referring to women, because as a woman those are the skills that were passed down to me and what I know best. Surely there’s a different but similar set of skills that have been nearly lost among men. Maybe I’ll get into that in the future. But for now this is about me, and I’m a woman. We no longer really need to sew our own clothes. It takes ages to sew clothing and doesn’t really save money most of the time. We don’t need to mend things, because buying a brand new replacement doesn’t cost us much. We don’t need to cook. We could go out to eat, or buy prepared meals at the supermarket. We don’t need to knit or grow a garden or so many other things. Yet many people today are learning these skills and putting them to use, including myself. I find this fascinating, why we would want so badly to be able to create all of these things by hand when we could so easily buy them. We could spend all of the time we save not making things and put it to good use doing something exciting. I guess I just don’t see most people around me doing many exciting things with all of that free time. For me making these things is about preserving something which I feel is vital. I feel that if people stopped making things by hand altogether, as a culture we would lose something great and important. So that’s what I mean by decoration. It’s not out of necessity that I like to sew or cook or all of those other things I mentioned. Some would say it’s just a hobby. For fun. Playing house. It’s decoration. Not important. Dispensable. Those are their opinions. But I would tend to disagree. The masks talk about women’s work in the home being undervalued, as if it’s just decoration. But I think there’s something to this work that we don’t give enough attention.


Erika Lee @ A Tiny Rocket said...

awwww your first apron :) my mom never had traditions like this. love it.

uccella said...

Kristen, have your floral prints had a gallery showing yet? Or is that something you'll have as a senior?

I thought this entry, and learning the thoughts behind your project, was fascinating. As a fellow craftster who enjoys watching a project form from my own hands, I feel that most people don't recognize the thought and energy that go into a homemade gift, nor the time it takes to produce a dinner spread. Perhaps the saddest thing, however, is the satisfaction and joy that others are missing out on when they pick up a ready-made meal. They never know the elation of successfully hemming a garment. And that's something your mother achieved at a very early age with her apron! We are lucky to have these role-models in our lives.

Kristen said...

Casey, Several of my flower photos have been shown! Actually a few are in galleries at the moment. They haven't all been shown together, but I think that will come in time as the series develops. I'll have an MFA show in May similar to the BFA show I was in at UCA, with hopefully all new work in it that is currently in progress. The apron piece might make it to that show, although the photograph pictured here I think of as more of a rough draft and I'll probably retake it soon. :) I'm also trying to find a really good way to incorporate the text.

I definitely agree with everything you said about making things by hand, and that is something I really want to get across in this series! I wouldn't know how to fill my time if I didn't spend it making things, so I feel that something would really be lost if we all just bought every single thing we need at the store readymade. I agree that we are very lucky to have parents and other role models who taught us the value of making things!