I took a poll on Facebook last spring about skills that have been traditionally been assigned as “feminine” and found that lots of us, all across the gender spectrum, feel like we missed out on some of them.
Thus, a new series here on Retrofitting Vintage: Femme Skills! A collection of tutorials on various “woman” skills that can be useful for anyone who wants to learn them.
Gender expression is sensitive territory for a lot of folks, and femininity is a strange space. It is not my intention to be proscriptive, or tell anyone how to express their gender. There are many ways to be a feminine person, and this series just breaks down skills for some of the tasks that are traditionally given to women.
Note: This is not the kind of femininity I’m talking about:
What I’m most interested in is celebrating the feminine. Too often the traits and activities which are most valued and considered the most important and “real” are those that have been ascribed masculine realm. In this great piece on “empowering femininity,” Julia Serano writes:
“Of course the reason why it is particularly easy to ridicule the idea of empowering femininity is because we (all of us, as a society) already harbor dismissive attitudes toward anything considered feminine. And the very point I was trying to make is that we should move beyond this knee-jerk tendency to dismiss and demean feminine gender expression.”
I am much more interested in the how-tos of feminine activity than I am in any “here is how to be a woman” kind of post. Be a person however you want to be, whatever your gender and how you choose to express it. If you’re interested in traditionally feminine activities, this series may be interesting to you.
I’ll be here with some how-tos and zero judgement. Upcoming posts include: How To Wear A Dress, How To Be Welcoming, and How To Talk To A Child.
What kind of feminine skills remain a mystery to you?
There are many reasons for that, none of which I’ll get into at the moment. My readership is full of lovely people of various theological persuasions, and as an essentially private person, I don’t feel a need to explicate my deepest convictions in a post that is really about my stockings.
However, there are a lot of elements of religion that are pleasing, whether they’re attached to any greater meaning or not. Community, singing together, learning something deeper about one’s values, these are nice. So occasionally I’ll make the Sunday morning meeting of the Ethical Humanist Society, or as we call it at our house, “Atheist Church.”
Please note: “Atheist Church” is a pretty inaccurate description of the Ethical Humanist Society. For one, it’s not strictly atheistic–members have a variety of opinions on the God question. You can learn more about what the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago is about here.
My home state of Michigan produces 70-75% of the tart cherries grown in the US. Tart or sour cherries are the kind used in cherry pie, and they’re just about my favorite thing. The season is short, the flavor is fantastic, and getting them fresh can be a challenge. So when Bob and I went on a family camping trip just a little ways away from one of my favorite Michigan orchards, Spicer Orchards in Hartland, we resolved to pick cherries on our way home to Chicago.
And pick cherries we did. In a marvelous bit of luck, the day was cooler than usual, with lots of nice cloud cover, so the day was comfortable and the orchard wasn’t too crowded. We picked about 13 pounds of tart cherries, and threw in six pounds of blueberries for good measure.
Arguably, after the obvious benefit of having cherries, the best thing about picking your own is watching the cherry pitting machine. It costs a little extra, but the mechanical wonder took care of my cherries in about a minute. Since I hand pit cherries with a bent paperclip, which would have taken at least an hour, I would have paid more than the twenty-five cents per pound the orchard charged. AND YOU GET TO WATCH THE MACHINE, I cannot overemphasize that. I didn’t take any video at Spicers, but this machine is quite similar.
What will be done with this bounty of fruit? So far, I’ve canned six pints of cherries in syrup, made a little more than a pint of sour cherry syrup for drinks, and made a batch of cherry and a batch of blueberry scones. The rest of the fruit is going in the freezer, where some of it will await a cool day to make jam, and the rest will be used in various baked goods.
It’s the little bits of everyday history that I like most.
Recently, I received a small treasure: my great-grandmother’s home economics class notebook.
Dating from the early 1920s (we think somewhere around 1923), it is a showcase of the sewing techniques she mastered in ninth grade.
“Granba,” as the family called her, was known as a talented seamstress, knitter, and general maker, and it was really neat to see early examples of the characteristics that would be her hallmarks: absolute precision, knowledgeability, and talent. Sadly, I know her only by reputation, as she passed away while my mother was still a child.
The book is a combination of demonstration and composition. It’s a fascinating sampler of things a high school freshman was expected to be able to accomplish in the 1920s.
Chicago’s Vintage Garage is a monthly all-vintage flea market, held in a parking garage in the Uptown neighborhood through the warm months. Over a hundred vendors of vintage clothing, appliances, housewares, and various sundries gather, set up their wares, and sell to the vintage loving hordes. And for some reason, I had never gone. I always mean to go, then end up skipping it. Not this year!
Each month has a different theme, and May’s was Mid-Century Modern. Clearly, this requires a mid-century outfit. So I assembled one. It ended up being completely covered by my coat. It was so cold! While 50 degrees certainly isn’t the worst, inside a concrete parking garage it was much colder. I felt bad for the vendors. On the plus side, the people selling coats and sweaters probably had a great day.
This is the outfit I came up with. This is also the first time I got up the gumption to wear cigarette pants out in public. I think the whole thing is rather sweater girl and cute.
Sweater: Vintage, thrifted.
Cigarette pants: Reproduction, from Collectif.
Scarf: Vintage, gift.
Basket purse: undetermined age, thrifted.
Shoes: Super cheap navy blue Keds knock-offs.