Our family was on vacation when the Tools of the Trade theme for this challenge was announced. My husband the long-time union contractor and I had a lot of fun brainstorming it in the car. So many occupations came to mind that have would have had wonderful image possibilities; sailor, glass blower and cobbler are a few that I wrote down, but I wanted more meaning. I use the Dictionary and Thesaurus religiously so I headed there to gain more insight. TRADE: 2. a skilled job, typically one requiring manual skills and special training. TOOL: 2. any instrument of manual operation. I was struck by the word “manual” in both of these descriptions. Manual labor… LABOR. Tools for labor.
So what is considered one of the most laborious jobs? This could be a contentious debate but my thoughts struck upon the working woman. We ladies have a long and strong history of picking up, pitching in, and leading the way to get it done! The constant multi-tasking and responsibility of motherhood create a life of labor, and I don’t mean it in the downtrodden or man-against-woman comparison way. On it’s own, it just is.
I began thinking about a fabric pattern to pay tribute to the adventurous women who were early American homesteaders, gold rush hopefuls, diligent farmers of the Dust Bowl and survivors of the Great Depression. Ingenuity and hard work were the hallmarks of these great women and it was said that “virtue was their guide.” From multitudes of brave women and girls on the wagon trail to the countless number of women who had to leave their own families to work as domestics— all had dreams and desires, and work to do.
I Dwell in Possibility, Women build a Nation is riveting book with detailed accounts of the hardship, struggles and the unexpected thrills of women’s lives from 1600–1920s. Thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862, single women flourished and could claim 160 free acres of land! Married pioneer women were the heart of their families and survival depended much upon their relentless back-breaking physical labor. Toiling day in and day out, year after year, cooking, canning, farming, animal tending, childcare, washing and mending, all the crucial tasks of daily life done without the aid of modern appliances of convenience. The entire house contained the tools of her trade. These tools were utilitarian yet decorative in their own way, consider the pattern on a nice iron trivet. Everything they owned had a purpose and was important. The Farmer’s Almanac was as valuable as the family bible. Where lumber was scarce, houses were made of sod, also known as “Nebraska marble.” Resourceful women made do by inventing their own remedies and efficient ways of working with the tools of their craft. I highly recommend you check out the book list at the end of this post, their stories are exceptional.
Process: sketches, lists, color inspiration, ink drawings and textures,
This girl pumping water with a look of satisfied frankness became my muse. I pictured her young family and the chores and responsibilities of her daily life. Tending the fire and heading out to the water pump in all types of weather, the recurring theme in her days. With the modern revival of homesteading happening now, there are some wonderful blogs to read and vintage items on Etsy to be found.
Other research turned up the fascinating photography rework of Russell Lee’s 1940s U.S. Farm Security Administration images by artist Debbie Grossman. These were taken in Pie Town, New Mexico, where many people lived in dugout homes.
My other inspiration was vintage kitchen fabric, many examples can be found on the internet. I love the patchwork and medallion combos shown here. Some of these are obviously from the 1950s when women’s work was elevated to a career. They make me think— wallpaper with crockery and utensils? Did she find irony or just fashion?
My goal was to create an updated version of these kitchen fabrics dedicated to all women. I was also very conscious to choose a color palette that I felt a quilter would be likely to use. So in the design process these other color ways resulted but I think the rose might be the most fun to quilt with. I envision a quilted oven mitt in the sage color way.
I have plans for other prints to complete this collection so sign up on my mailing list if you’d like to be notified when they are done! (Bottom left on main page)
My solution to this task was more along the lines of my usual novelty prints but as I hoped, I got to explore and stretch my limits thanks to the encouragement of the judges and Ellen and Madeline. I very much look forward to the comments and advise of followers, quilters and judges! Yay to ALL the hard working women who have paved and continue to lead the way!
mood board page links:
1. Mrs. Bill Stagg with 48 state quilt, Pie Town NM, 1940 photographer: Russell Lee
2. Young homesteader in North Dakota pumps water * (approx. 1890s)
3. Nebraska Pioneer Family * (1887)
4. The Jumping Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely, illustrated by William Siegel c. 1929 Read story here.
5. Using all parts of the hog. From A Pioneer Sampler by Barbara Greenwood, illustrated by Heather Collins
6. Elinore Pruitt Stewart, author of Letters of a Woman Homesteader
7. Woman collecting buffalo chips.
8. Woman and burro in Colorado mining camp * (approx. 1860s)
9. Vintage wares and tools from various sources.
* from I Dwell in Possibility, Women build a Nation by Donna M. Lucey
My reading list just grew! Books you may also want to know about:
Pioneer Doctor, The Story of Woman’s Work by Mari Graña
Montana Women Homesteaders, A Field of One’s Own by Sarah Carter
Staking Her Claim, Women Homesteading the West by Marcia Meredith Hensley
Women of the Northern Plains by Barbara Handy-Marchello
The Jumping Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely
The Adventures of The Woman Homesteader, The Life and Letters of Elinore Pruitt Stewart by Susanne K. George