Not Your Grandmother’s…

You see it all over. Not your grandmother’s cross-stitch! Not your grandmother’s knitting! Not your grandmother’s [insert craft here]!

Black and white photograph of a smiling older woman, knitting with at least three long needles. WIthout looking.
Not my grandmother…but probably someone’s.

And it gets on my wick. There’s the note of triumphant rebellion, the unspoken yet heavily implied superiority to the grandmother. It was bad enough that the skilled craftswomen of the past had their work looked down on at the time; it is even more aggravating that some of those who are reclaiming these sidelined crafts are joining in the denigration of their predecessors and their work.

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Reinventing the… Combination Butter Churn and Baby Rocker?

Would you believe me if I told you someone invented a combined cradle-rocker and butter-churn?

Would you believe me if I told you two someones did exactly that?

La baratte
Why not rock the baby IN the butter churn?
Thomas Edmondson did it first, in the UK in the early 1800s. But the man who reinvented it in America in 1873 went further, claiming his invention would use “hitherto wasted female power”. (Because as we all know, the women of the 1800s spent their days sitting round on their bums doing nothing, while their menfolk raised the children, cooked, cleaned and so on!)

Not only could this allegedly underemployed workforce now rock the baby and make the butter simultaneously, using this new invention, they could do both these things only with the use of their feet. Which left those ‘idle’ hands free for “darning stockings, sewing, or other light work”.

But wait – there’s more. “Fathers of large families of girls… are thus afforded an effective method of diverting the latent feminine energy, usually manifested in the pursuit of novels, beaux, embroidery, opera-boxes, and bonnets, into channels of useful and profitable labour.”

Schaeffer-haeusliche Arbeit-1908
I’ll teach you to think about bonnets! Or boys!
Don’t let your womenfolk spend their time on reading, handwork, or the arts – no! Harness those slackers to a multi-tasking contraption and you could even “supply power for washing-machines, wringers, and other articles of household use.”

One cannot help wishing the inventor was made to work his machine himself: attempting to lull a crying baby to sleep while simultaneously churning several litres of milk and darning his own darn socks. Or, of course, some other “light work”.

Check out Eurekaaargh! by Adam Hart-Davis for more on this and other ill-fated inventions.