John Seymour

Forgotten Household Crafts

Author: John Seymour | Publisher: DK

“I’m only a housewife, I’m afraid.” How often do we hear this shocking admission. I’m afraid when I hear it I feel very angry indeed. Only a housewife: only a practitioner of one of the two most noble professions… When a woman says she is a housewife she should say it with the utmost pride, for there is nothing higher on this planet to which she could aspire.

Nothing? Really? Nothing whatsoever…?

It saddens me to see mothers carrying far too heavy a load of housework while thousands of young girls fritter their lives away.

I know, doing things like getting an education or travelling, enjoying their life. Terrible. Quite terrible. Don’t they know they should be looking desperately for a good man, so they can set up a home of their own, or at home helping their mother pound the sheets through a mangle?

Why do I assume that it is only women who can really understand the mysteries of the home? There is a strong move in the Western world today to pretend that there is no difference between women and men at all. I once lived in a farm community in which this view was the prevailing one. The women were out in the fields ill treating the tractor, with which they had absolutely no affinity, while the men struggled on in the kitchen and living quarters, making a mess.

Considering this book was published in 1987, its author seems to have some shockingly dated views. I laughed quite hard at the bit about the tractors. I mean, pesky women, trying to use the gosh darned machinery… That’s men’s work! So funny. Can you even imagine someone saying that today? I have a feeling, even in the 80s, that was considered a bit old-fashioned! The outdated views on gender roles are also pretty cringy…

I know that some people feel these types of views in older texts need to be properly excoriated. We should point them out, allow it to really alter our view of the text, talk about the wrongness. Honestly, I don’t feel that way. Views and opinions, what’s acceptable, has changed. Obviously, these things are not correct – do you really need me to point that out to you? Like, we know more and we know better, in many ways, now. But, these types of views were widely held not all that long ago. It’s interesting from a social history point of view, but not offensive. I’m a “laugh a lot at the ignorance and move on” type of person.

If this was someone writing now… I would feel differently, of course. It’s not acceptable. But we’re talking about historic texts here, and there is a contextual difference.

Many of the activities may be seldom practised nowadays – some of them are sadly dead and gone – but many of them are living activities and several of the skills that seem to be dying are now being revived, for many people have passed right through the pimply-adolescent stage of post-industrial civilisation. They are tired of the take-away way of living and the machine-for-living way of living… They have tried living in the dwelling in which the television is the most important feature of any room and rejected it, turning anew to the true altar of the hearth.

The prevailing view throughout Forgotten Household Crafts, that convenience culture is not actually beneficial to us is one I agree with, to some degree. It’s interesting that people were already talking about the dangers of TV and convenience foods and so on even 30-years ago. However, unlike the author, I think some skills might be better off in the past. There is a balance to be struck. For example, I’ve lived without a washing machine (in a particularly sketchy student flat) and I can tell you that washing your sheets by hand is a complete pain in the a**.

I thought the pictures and illustrations were good – if a little instructional. It did bring some of the more esoteric crafts to life. It also helped because the book had a tendency to go on a bit. I mean, there’s really only so much enthusiasm I can feign for cleaning floors…

All in all, I found Forgotten Household Crafts interesting and instructive. It isn’t a “how to” book, so if you want to know how to make cheese or lace or properly black your kitchen, you’ll need to Google it. But I was amazed at the amount of work, and the heavy labour, that went into looking after a house before we had all our modern conveniences like hoovers and washing machines. I can’t help thinking that we take these things for granted… I enjoyed the reminder to be grateful for the ease of our modern life. The information about textile crafts was particularly interesting; and I would genuinely love to have a go at spinning wool. This book was a real celebration of the home, for all its outdated opinions, and a fascinating glimpse into the past.

3 out of 5 Archimedes

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