Thursday, September 28, 2017

come on in my kitchen




Make do. Get by. Take what you get, and be still.  Words my grandmother spoke over coffee in her kitchen in Northern Minnesota.   Or, other words my sisters and I heard in the kitchen, hiding under the table while my mother and her friends coffee-klatched and smoked,  in the late afternoon, before the husbands came home.  Cigarette smoke mingled with  the scent of ironed, white business shirts wafting in from the warm, afternoon living room, where the ironing board was not yet put away.  Lulled by the sound of women's voices, telling the truth to each other, we listened and waited quietly, so they wouldn't shoo us out.

When they stood up to go home, we sneaked out and sipped the dregs of sweetened and creamed
coffee left behind in some of the cups, and developed a taste for coffee in the afternoon, and women's conversation.

I have been weaving kitchen cloths these days.  "You better come on in my kitchen, cause it's going to be rainin' outdoors," the old Robert Johnson country-blues song runs around my brain.  I'm weaving the Swedish drall pattern, that keeps reminding me of some past I never had, and now the little offset, ghosting white cross, floating in a plot of gray plainweave linen.  I'm glad to see it back again.  The elements in my weaving come and go, reappear, reacquaint, recombine.  Somehow, piece by piece, a fuller picture emerges.  I'm always here waiting to see what comes up.

I have an old cast iron flat iron, actually,  a set of 2 of them,  that have been an essential part of my studio for years. I use them to hold fabric down when I cut a dress pattern, or to hold a scarf while I tie its fringe, or an extra hand to hold paper, until I can cut a piece of tape to wrap a package. I have heard them called "sad" irons, too.  I use them for many things, and together with an old piece of soapstone (an antique bedwarmer), I have the equivalent of a small cold mangle.  Cold mangling is an old Scandinavian technique of smoothing linen, heatlessly, to burnish a sheen on linen fiber, and smooth the fabric. Flax can shine. It has grown in a short season, northern clime, and gathered long days of sun into its cells, which grow long in the midnight sun. When it is harvested, retted, hackled, spun, and woven, and then cold mangled, the luminous fiber emerges.  The midnight sun has been gathered and held in the long fiber, the long staple, and then in the cloth. 

My own kitchen has a life of its own.  Right now it's abundant with tomatoes, and a sack of just ripe pears from Anne-Marie's tree.  On the counter is a big bunch of fragrant basil that Mary Lee brought yesterday, and eggplants and butternut squash from the Amish road stand. Pots and pans, bottles of olive and sunflower oil. A  cupboard full of spices, nuts, and a half-full bag of chocolate chips. Zip-loc bags, aluminum foil, baking parchment. Good knives. My food processor, and my Farberware 4-cup superfast coffee percolator!

For me, the kitchen has always been a place of comfort and certainty, where women hold the room, where I would often find my mother.  A refuge in any storm.  Making these homely kitchen cloths, with their subtle gleam, soft hand, and mysterious past, is a balance point, a centering place, peaceful, like a kitchen. 

30 comments:

Hilary said...

i love the voice you write with
always a pleasure to visit

Cynthia Nicole said...

Your work moves my heart - I feel it there.
So beautiful.

Susan said...

Hilary, that is my voice, so I'm glad it's not annoying to you!
I wish I could say my singing voice was pleasing.

Dawn of LaTouchables said...

Ohhhh, those clothes...so evocative. Would love to snatch one. I'd hang it in my kitchen above my art print of the lost sea stories (ships that went down in the trade route between Wales and Quebec.

...and then I'd drink coffee, and every time feel the warmth of the midnight sun on that flax, even in the depths of winter.

Judith said...

I am glad you are back to posting your writing again, as the pleasure of imagining the worlds you create with careful descriptions are as much a pleasure as stepping into a certain loom workshop in an evocative place called Avalanche. I am blessed to be able to do both!

jude said...

like a kitchen, how beautiful.

Susan said...

Judith, good. I'm glad you take the time to read it. I'm surprised how many words and images build up in my mind.It's a relief to spill them out. Still, I wonder what is the point of making these pieces, of writing, or weaving, in the face of disaster and human failure? Maxine Hong Kingston wrote this, which I think justifies what we are doing as artists: In a time of destruction, create something, a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle, one peaceful moment.

Jacqui said...

I love your writing, it stays with me.

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EllenF said...

Thank you for weaving beautiful useful items that inspire me and writing wonderful words that evoke simpler days and kinder times. In all, we make do by doing.

Anonymous said...

I love your stories Susan. I needed one this morning. Thank you. Jean

christina said...

Hi Susan. I love your designs and use of color. I'm sure you have a number of looms, but do you have a favorite? I am in the market for a loom, have only used barn looms, and am wondering if you have any suggestions for a versatile floor loom that I will be able to use for anything from rugs, to blankets to scarves.

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