Someone gave us bags of wool. Not the nice clean stuff. This wool came “au natural”. Complete with clumps of straw, thistles and even manure. After washing, it was hand carted with the use of paddles before being rolled on a drum. That was where us children came in. Having 7 had to come with benefits!
Water was scarce. All of our water needs came from the heavens or was hauled from town once a week. So, using a minimal amount of water, we spent many evenings washing, clipping, and cleaning. The wool was then used to make quilts out of old clothing – cut into large squares, avoiding holes and other worn or weak spots. They were handstitched using long running stitches. These quilts were thick and warm. Although not pretty, they were a luxury on cold nights in a house that lacked central heat and had little if any insulation. We shared beds and we shared quilts. That way you didn’t need as many. The biggest problem though, was that they were not washed very often. In order to wash them they had to be taken apart so that the wool and covers could be washed separately. Then the quilt was reassembled. Even though the quilts were tied, making the job of deconstruction and reconstruction easier, it was a job that did not happen often.
Mom came to Canada at 16. It was a strange culture; she had grown up on a colony where all decisions were made for you, and all jobs were shared. It was a strange language; she spoke 2 languages but neither one was English. She also had a serious medical condition that required several open heart surgeries before she turned 50. She was raising 7 children on a farm in poverty conditions, often alone. Her extended family did not live close, and she did not drive. But her faith was strong. Her favorite verse was “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who gives me strength.” (Phillippians 4:13). She honestly believed that. There was nothing that she would not try. She had to be strong. She had to be creative. She had to be resourceful. She had to do everything.
The advantage of living on a farm is that resources are available even when money is not. Storage space is not an issue; nothing is thrown out. Over time you collect all kind of things – things found, things bought on sale or things that were given to you. If you needed something, you made it. Didn’t have what you needed? No problem. You searched for appropriate substitutes. All objects were viewed with potential. Granaries, barns, sheds, boxes, cupboards – these were the stores we visited. One might contain glass, another wood, another boxes of old clothes, another tools and trinkets.
On one occassion mom needed extra large knitting needles for a loopy pattern that was popular at the time. Not having any, she searched for a substitution. Her solution was to use 2 welding rods kept stable at both ends with a narrow block of wood. She drilled holes at half inch intervals (1”, 1 ½”, and 2”) and inserted the welding rods. Instead of buying 3 different size needles, she was able to use the one she made for all different sizes.
The clothes people gave us were my playground. I did not have toys but here I was given complete freedom to experiment and be creative. Buttons. Zippers. Fabric. I spent hours sorting through the boxes, planning projects. If I wanted something new to wear, I had to make it, but there was seldom enough fabric in any one item to make into something else. I was forced to make it work. Mix fabrics, mix patterns, adjust closures, and adjust sizes. Fortunately it was the 60’s. Anything went.
Patterns were only guidelines. Mom and Grandma spent hours looking at patterns they could not read. It was the pictures that accompanied the patterns that helped them either work the pattern out or make it up. You would never have known that by looking at the fine lace tablecloths grandma made. Or the drapes that mom made.
Clothing in the stores became my benchmark. I could not buy them but I could look at how they were constructed. Even though I had to make my own clothing I did not want them to look homemade. I felt slightly insulted if someone asked if I had made something. What gave it away? To this day, following a pattern is difficult for me.
The wool carding paddles and drum are still in our garage. They have not been used for decades. Somehow I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them. Now that I am quilting, is there a chance I may use them? I might need to find some sheep first.