Home economics

Sorry for the lack of a post last week. I’ve been extraordinarily busy with projects and family commitments, as well as dealing with what I assume to be a pinched nerve in my upper back and shoulder. Also, an ill-timed heat wave in my neck of the woods made sleeping impossible for several nights.

But enough excuses and explanations. Let’s open this post properly with a video from the Townsends YouTube channel. It’s short, so watch to the end. The points he makes after the three-minute mark will be especially relevant for the rest of this post.

If you’re not familiar with Townsends, you should really watch their stuff. Especially if the idea of “Home-as-Little-Factory” resonates with you.

And it should.

Seeing your home as an economic unit—and not just a place to sleep and watch Netflix—isn’t something which fell out of favor centuries ago. My grandparents on my father’s side of the family were born in 1901 and 1904, and they lived into their eighties. During this time they had fourteen children, and raised them in part by turning most of their yard into a vegetable garden. My grandmother also baked and sold bread to friends, family, and neighbors.

Even into the 1960s, many of the families around my town grew and canned their own produce, raised chickens or other animals, and made much of their own clothing. My mother worked for the local Singer store, selling sewing machines and related gadgets and gizmos to “housewives” all over the area. And her customers weren’t buying this stuff for fun and recreation—they were buying it to keep their families dressed.

It’s really only been about fifty years or so that Home-as-Little-Factory ceased to be the rule and became the exception in this country. It’s also interesting to note that this is about the time that the buying power of most Americans began to stagnate, but I’ll leave the question of correlation versus causation to someone else, and get on with my point.

Last month, I wrote about the ideas of proximity and connection, and how by doing even small things to reduce your reliance on the supply chain leads to greater interconnectedness with the world, and thus better magic. One of the examples I gave in that post is how I’ve been making my own bread for years, both from store-bought yeast, as well as sourdough. I’ve leaned into this theme in many other ways, such as by knitting my family’s winter hats and scarves, and by cooking everything I can from scratch.

Last week, I turned my attention to sewing.

I mentioned above that my mother worked for the Singer store in town before it closed. This was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was a salesperson, and as a part of that gig, the Singer would give store credit to their employees as a kind of commission. They also had different bonuses and perks for employees who sold over a certain amount of merchandise in any given month, usually in the form of other merchandise like fabric scissors, notions, and whatnot.

Because of this job, her commission, and the giveaways, my mother assembled a pretty substantial collection of sewing gear, which has since passed down to me. It’s mostly just been sitting around unused, since I know as much about sewing as I do about brain surgery, but it’s been calling to me lately.

Wild strawberries.

Because wild strawberries.

In that post on proximity and connection, I also mentioned that I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the plants growing in my yard. In particular, I’m learning what all of the various “weeds” are, and how we might contribute to each other’s health and wellbeing. It was because of this effort that last month I realized half of my “lawn” is actually composed of wild strawberries, which you can see in the photo to the right.

I’ve spent a lot of time and money in order to grow plants intentionally, but had never paid much mind to the plants which have been growing here whether I wanted them to or not. So I not only totally missed a strawberry patch that’s about a hundred square feet in size, I’ve actually been mowing it down every other week.

So what do wild strawberries have to do with sewing? Well, it’s a bird-in-the-hand situation, to be honest.

Here’s my mother’s sewing machine, which she bought back in the late 1960s…

Sears Kenmore Model 33 sewing machine.

That’s a Sears Kenmore Model 33, and not only does it still work like a charm, my mother had acquired about five pounds worth of attachments for it. Different kinds of presser feet, button holers, and who the hell knows what else.

And did I mention the three full sewing boxes of needles, pins, scissors, thread, ribbons, buttons, and other assorted bits? My mother was an excellent saleswoman, and won pretty much every employee “sales challenge” the Singer store had.

All of this stuff has been sitting in my house, unsorted and unused, since my mother passed away a few years ago. Enough equipment and supplies to stock a modest sewing room—a “Little Factory,” if you will, waiting like an unnoticed strawberry patch.

So I’m learning to sew.

I’ve been focusing on one or two simple projects to get my sea legs under me, since I have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s going well. In fact, I might even be kind of good at it. And that’s great since I not only want to be able to make things for myself, my family, and friends, but I also think that at least some of the things I’ll be making can be sold.

One of the things I’ve been telling my friends over the last year or so is that the best thing anyone can do in these Interesting Times is to skill up. Learn something new, preferably something which you can put to your own use as well as market to others. Maybe this means learning to grow some of your own food, or cooking more meals at home from raw ingredients. Maybe it means basic carpentry and home repair.

Whatever ultimately floats your goat, I think you’ll best serve yourself by looking around you and the world and asking: “What is the next skill I can learn which will decrease my reliance on the supply chain, and improve my living situation?”

Whether or not you turn that skill into a “side hustle,” or simply use it to lower your own cost of living is basically irrelevant. Growing vegetables to sell for fifty dollars versus eating them yourself and saving fifty dollars at the store? Either way that’s fifty dollars in your pocket that you didn’t have before.

This post probably sounds a lot like I’m advocating for twenty-four-hour capitalism, but nothing could be further from the truth. My hope, and my point, is that the more we can lean into the idea of Home-as-Little-Factory, the less we’ll find ourselves relying on supply chains and economic systems which buckle under the slightest pressure.

I’m pretty happy that I have access to antibiotics. And I’m pretty happy that I have a supercomputer in my pocket which puts the accumulated knowledge and entertainment of the human race at my fingertips.

But I also think we could do a lot worse than to take some time out, and live like it’s 1799.

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