Craft groups and the female space

craft groupsThere’s something special about taking part in a craft group, whatever kind of craft you do, due largely to the return to the female space that it offers. This is something that is so hard to come by in our modern life. Except for baby or toddler groups (where the topic of conversation tends to be limited to the one, rather narrow, subject of children) we don’t often get the chance to spend time working together with other women in a way that would have been the day-to-day norm for our forbears. Whether poverty stricken field workers doing the laundry and spinning together, or upper class ladies all sewing on their samplers, we would have occupied this same, busy, feminine space where we could just ‘be’ and work together.  Much like those heart-to-hearts parents and children find so much easier in the car; removing the sense of observation and confrontation makes it easier to be open.

It’s something I’ve noticed as a mother – that caring for children and doing housework is not so onerous a chore when performing it in company. We’re social creatures meant for the community of the shared environment and the current isolation of everyday life is both alien and hard. Something about being with other women, too, is important. Whether it’s the shared experience, or the shared perspective – perhaps if society ever becomes truly equal it will become less of an issue, I don’t know.

There is so much that is soothing in doing a craft. It is work that leads to an end product that is valued by us and others and is, usually, either beautiful, or useful or both. When you compare that to our normal activities (whether paid work, childcare or housework) where so much of what we do is of fleeting duration and little valued you can see the appeal.

If you’ve never taken part in a group like this, you won’t have much of an idea what I’m talking about, so let me paint you a picture…

craft group 1It’s evening in someone’s home. As a crafter their sitting room is liberally bestowed with the fruits of their labours, and probably gifts from various crafty friends. A crocheted blanket in cheery colours is draped over the back of the sofa. Embroidered and appliqued cushions adorn the room like sprinkles on a cake. On the wall are various pictures, from a cross-stitch, to a heart made of buttons, some drawings, photographs and a large felted landscape.  A soft glow from lamps is cast across jars full of knitting needles sitting on decoupage coasters whilst a handmade dreamcatcher sways in the window.

At one side of the room is a set of shelves. Books on all kinds of craft from crochet to quilting are ranged in subject order and boxes full of fleece, yarn, fabric, and paper are stacked underneath. On the table in the centre of the room is a large plate of cakes, a bowl of crisps and at least one open bottle of wine and several glasses.  All sorts of women sit around the room, on the sofa and chairs, a bean bag, a pouffe and cross legged or sprawled on the floor, colourful projects filling their laps.craft group 2
The conversation is muted at first – a quiet discussion on this month’s ‘Let’s Knit’, or queries about which charity shop was selling off a job lot of yarn.  As the crafters warm up, and more wine is consumed the conversation gets more animated, more personal.  Babies are mentioned, as they always will be at gatherings of mothers, but the group is diverse and the ‘babies’ in question are all ages, from newborn through to grandbabies.  From babies the transition to sex and menfolk is simple and inevitable and raucous bursts of laughter spill across the room.  Sometimes there are tears and shared sorrow, too. Perhaps (as happened in my group) one of the mothers has lost a baby and the group draw together to support her and each other and to organise his funeral. This is womanhood at it’s strongest – sharing strength, sorrow, joy. Being together.

craft group 3Some of the women craft furiously – listening in, but working hard, their clicking needles providing a soothing backdrop of noise like a heartbeat. Others let their work lie idle in their laps, too taken up with the chatter to concentrate on both.  The most skilled have their fingers flying as fast as their tongues wag, finishing a whole sleeve of a cardigan whilst ripping the reputation of their son’s form teacher to shreds.

Eventually women begin to make excuses. It’s a school night, they’re tired, the toddler is teething and it’s not fair to leave himself alone to deal with it.  One or two will carry glasses out to the kitchen and the conversation will drift back to the muted level of the early evening as they wash and dry the glasses and plates and help tidy up.  The evening is over and everyone returns home but with a sense of community, shared experience, support and the whole of this entwined in the fabric of the project they’re making so it stays with them always.


Another Day For Me

another day for me and another cup of teaBoth The Boy and I were humming a merry tune as we went about our various business this morning.  The culprit was, as it usually is in this house (especially since we banned TV and all its associated irritating ear-wormy theme tunes), a Nick Cope tune – Another Day For Me.
The main theme of this catchy little tune is based around the multitude of cups of tea drunk by the singer during the day (Nick, if you’re reading this – think you might have a problem mate).  The Boy particularly likes the line about having to go to the toilet “because of all the cups of tea”*.  I find a rather deeper meaning in it and want to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that, despite also having written songs about the baby having done a poo and a nose in the middle of his face, Cope is not completely unaware of the subtext present in his music, albeit more evident to the parents of his target audience than the children themselves. Depending on your point of view it can be seen as a reflection of the mundanity of everyday life.  As a (currently) stay at home mum of two, consumed by laundry, cooking and tidying, it certainly reflects the reality of my day to day life. I find myself humming the perky little hook “it’s just another day for me” as I peg out nappies, sweep up crumbs, wipe up baby sick, make another meal…

And yet… it’s upbeat, perky – as I already mentioned, and the final verse has the line “I think it’s been a good day” so perhaps a truer interpretation of this song is to take a more Buddhist approach to life. Live in the moment. Appreciate the little things. Or maybe Nick Cope just really really likes tea…

*yesterday I caught The Boy with trousers down as he sang along to this bit of the song and asked him what he was doing. Apparently he was “just havin’ a wee wiv Nick Cope”. I really do wonder what goes on in his head sometimes.

“Another Day For Me” is the first track on Nick Cope’s latest album “The Pirate’s Breakfast”.  The CD can be purchased by clicking through this link. Nick Cope is an Oxford-based singer-songwriter who creates music for children that doesn’t drive adults loopy.  We’ll probably do a whole post on him at some point so I won’t drivel on too much right now, but if you have children and the chance to see him live then you really really should.

Oxfordshire – the murder county of England?

More than once I have asserted that Oxfordshire is, in fact, murder central of the UK.

You wouldn’t think it to look at us. Everywhere you go there’s chocolate box houses, cutesy market towns, even our ‘capital’ is known as the town of the dreaming spires, yet many of its most famous vistas have played their part as a backdrop to the most gruesome crimes.

No! Wait! Don’t call the police yet. I’m talking fictional crime here.  You might think London had it sewn up, or maybe Glasgow with it’s grim urban outlook, but actually the rolling hills of the home counties seem to inspire authors and TV producers to think about gory ways to kill off their characters. From Morse to Midsomer we’re surrounded by easily recognisable landscapes.

Thanks as much to Inspector Morse as to its own inimitable beauty, Oxford itself is landmark after landmark; from the rotund, domed Bodelian to one of the many bridges with punts drifting gently underneath.  Perhaps we should dedicate a whole post to the landmarks of Morse?

Midsomer Murders are a little less easily identifiable, portraying a generalised bucolic rural idyll of English countryside, only lightly marred by the horrific death rate.  If you know what you’re looking for, though, you can easily spot a few gems.  Head to the South of our lovely county, mostly, as Dorchester-on-Thames hosts a number of favoured filming locations, notably The George Inn – AKA ‘The Maid in Splendour’ in the episode of the same name.

Wallingford, just five minutes down the road, is the fictional town of ‘Causton’ and Henley-on-Thames, 15 minutes further on from Wallingford, appears in no fewer than nine episodes (and that route, incidentally, will take you through Nettlebed which appears in seven episodes).  If Midsomer Murders is just your cup of tea (and do check for arsenic first, if it is) then we’ve found this a wonderful website for identifying film locations: – so plan yourself a scenic tour!

Agatha Christie's grave, Cholsey

Agatha Christie’s grave, Cholsey

And if those weren’t enough, perhaps a pilgrimage to the Murder Queen herself, Agatha Christie might be in order? I last visited her grave on a frosty January when I was trying to walk off my 40 weeks-pregnant belly.  It didn’t work, but was a lovely walk in the pretty town of Cholsey, just round the corner from above-mentioned Wallingford – and itself yet another Midsomer location!

Thank you for following me around this grim and grisly fictional tour of our county.  Perhaps we can do it again some time with a different theme – I quite fancy a fantasy fiction tour and with CS Lewis and Terry Pratchett connections it should yield some results.  TTFN