Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The lost art of homemaking

Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do or do without. This little saying was on the fridge at my best friend's house for many years when I was teenager and young adult. I always stopped to read it, maybe because it would become a mantra in my life or maybe just because it was next to the cupboard that always had cookies in it.

Over two years ago I presented a talk on the lost art of homemaking that I would love to share with you.

I think my generation lost it or maybe our mothers lost it and we weren’t taught to find it. Grandmothers used to teach us to knit and bake but I think our mothers taught us to work and succeed. Now those things are important but on the way we lost a valuable skill. With the economic times as they are I feel we need to rediscover these lost arts to not only enrich our own families but to help provide for others.

I came across this message in the 1978 Ensign entitled Degrees of Homemade Glory. It is from a Mormon Church Magazine and I think it really amplifies how times have changed.

"Relief Society sisters of the Kahului First Ward, Kahului Hawaii Stake, recently doubled their attendance at homemaking meeting with an innovative “degree” program, part of a series of miniclasses. By completing specified requirements in different areas of homemaking skills, women were able to obtain a bachelors, masters, or doctorate degree in the “Art of Homemaking.”

To obtain a bachelors degree, a sister had to complete fifteen out of twenty-three listed goals. Her visiting teacher or the Relief Society president verified the completion of each item by signing her goal sheet. These goals represented achievements in basic homemaking skills, such as making a crocheted or knitted item, darning a sock, making a girl’s dress or a boy’s shirt, baking bread, making a white sauce, setting in sleeves, sewing an item with gathers, making a tossed salad and a jello salad, sewing in a zipper, organizing a recipe file, giving the lesson for family night, and giving increased attention to one’s husband for two consecutive days.

Once the sisters had obtained their bachelors degrees, they could work toward a masters. The requirements for this degree emphasized more difficult tasks based on skills learned in the bachelors program. For instance, the sisters had to make a one-piece dress or suit for an adult, make a throw rug, prepare a year’s supply of sewing items, make a flower arrangement, make a quilt, add two new recipes to four sections of their recipe file, make a raised sweet roll, make one foreign dish, plan and serve a dinner or luncheon party, avoid gossiping for three consecutive days, or be patient, kind, and understanding for, three consecutive days with either children or husband. The sisters had to complete ten of twenty-four suggested items for the masters degree.

Seventeen enterprising ladies went on to earn their doctorates in the art of homemaking. They completed ten of twenty-one challenging activities, including painting a room, sewing on cording, putting a washer in a faucet, refinishing a piece of furniture, putting up a shelf, weeding the yard or garden, upholstering a piece of furniture, baking all the bread the family used for a month, making and following a schedule for routine work for two months, adding to their book of remembrance, reading the scriptures at least fifteen minutes a day for two months, having family prayers in their home night and morning for three months, and anonymously giving something homemade or homebaked."

How many of you can say that you could do the skills listed in the article?? That was written the year after I was born and I am pretty sure that most people my age or younger will say that they wouldn’t have the first clue how to set sleeves in a dress, knit an item or even bake bread from scratch. I wonder why. Are these not skills that we still require? Would we rather spend our hard earned money paying someone else to do it for us?

It continues to astound me that people think it is more worthwhile to buy something, use it once and discard it, then learn to repair it. I can however understand the feeling of not knowing how to do it even if you wanted to. Who do we turn to, to teach us? If we are lucky we still have grandparents, aunts, uncle and parents to ask advice of. But so many of us are not so fortunate anymore.We live so far away from family and many of use don't talk to our neighbours. With the passing of the older generations we are losing the skills that we may soon discover we need. By then it may be too late.

So how do we change this?? Talk!! Ask questions, speak to friends, if your own family is unavailable adopt another. Choose a skill and then find a mentor or just sit and chat with people in your neighbourhood,even your virtual world. There are amazing blogs out there of people that are willing to share their skills, learn from then. Thanks to Rhonda Jean at down to earth I have my first rack of homemade soap in my craft room nearly ready for use.

Make wiser choices when you buy products. Can it be repaired?Teach yourself how to repair it. Will it last the distance?Unfortunately this is becoming less common. Ask older members of your community what they buy, you can bet they are still using a trusted old brand.

And believe me when I say I know how hard that can be. With 4 children in my home I find it an uphill battle to buy goods that will last more then a month. The saying they don't make it like they used too is oh so true around here.

If someone can suggest a pair of shoes that last longer then a term I am all ears.

But I will continue to look and learn how to make the products stretch and last. It is a choice I am willing to make though I know I will not always succeed. I can bake, although I don't always do in preference to convenience snacks, I can sew, though anything more then a pillowcase gets a bit wobbly and I can garden.It's a start. But without conscious effort I would easily fall into the consumer trap and fill my trolley with $5 pairs of shoes!!!

So the real trick is to broaden your horizons and learn the skills before you actually need them.

I leave you the challenge to discover a new skill this month whether it be learning to bake your own bread, sewing on a button or give increased attention to your husband for two days. I can guarantee your life will be richer for it.

Oh and when you do find someone else to teach!!


  1. Yes! I am slowly trying to acquire new skills - or even to use the ones I have. I can do very basic sewing so am concentrating on making sure I do my basic repairs, sew on buttons. I am hoping that the more I do this, the more I will feel confident to maybe (one day!) make an apron or a cushion cover.

    I do bake bread but not every week - it is hard with young ones to get your own routine going isn't it? We are learning slowly to re-use things and to go without instead of running out to buy brand new. Clarks shoes in the UK are pretty good - my daughter had a pair that lasted her all year (although there was a definite start of a hole in the front by 23 July!)

  2. I love this blog, you have hit the nail on the head, I think you rival our dear Rhonda Jean with your insights!
    I love what you wrote about the degrees available in home making. My sister is doing her doctorate in history and sociology at the moment, I can't wait to send her this link and hear what she says about it.
    I couldn't do half the things listed to get the degree. Does making bread in a breadmaker count?
    I can sew quilts but nothing 3 dimensional, it gets wobbly too. I can garden and make soap and it does make you feel a real sense of satisfaction with yourself and your life. And I can give extra attention to my husband, that is easy!
    thanks so much