Now, look around yourself and think about how much of that material culture you have made, yourself. Me? There are four knitting samples, that's it. Sitting in my office, facing my computer, I can see just four little knitting samples that I have made myself. Behind me there's more, in the closet, but of ALL the material culture sitting in front of me, my hand has made just four little samples.
Think on that for a bit, go grab a coffee if you need to. Contemplate your coffee mug, where the beans came from to make your coffee.
I'm asking you these things because within the profession of Living History, there is an overwhelming feeling that we must make every piece of material culture we use. Every. Last Piece. And in the 'progressive' side of things, for many, we feel that every piece we make must be as perfect as we know how to make.
To this, I say hogwash!
I've been faced with overwhelming feelings of not being good enough of late. For various stupid reasons, I'm sure. I don't think I am alone in these feelings though, as I see random snippets of inadequacy (feelings, not founded in any factual thing) from time to time in my friends feeds on the book of faces. I'm writing this post to remind myself, but also to let you all know that you are not alone.
I have a theory that this 'can do EVERYTHING' attitude comes out of the whole 'homespun' propaganda put out during the American War for Independence, and then the early 19th century. I'm reading a book on the history of Pictou County Nova Scotia at the moment, written in the 19th century. In this book, the author goes on at length about how the Scots who settled there were completely self reliant, making all their own clothes from flax and wool produced on the farm. He informs us that most folk went without shoes, going barefoot in summer months and wearing moccasin-type footwear in winter months. Since the author hasn't cited any sources at all, it is an interesting read, but I have to wonder how much is being made up, 'tradition', if you will? How much of this narrative is actual fact? I have read enough newspaper ads from the period to know that in many small ports and communities in Nova Scotia, many types of goods and material culture were available for purchase, including cloth and shoes.
There are interesting snippets in this book though, worth following up through primary sources. And maybe, people were self reliant in some things. In the meantime though, I'm going to pish-noosh that little devil from my shoulder that's telling me that I have to make every last item of material culture I own, and that those items all need to be absolutely perfect. I'm going to drink my store-bought coffee from the mug that my friend Hugo made, that I paid for by making him a pair of breeches. I look forward to the flame-stitch piece from my friend Laura that I will stitch into a wallet for myself, knowing full well that I absolutely suck at counted work embroidery. I will probably make Laura a pair of stockings in return. I sold a pair of shoes to another friend, which the proceeds were then turned around to buy another pair of shoes from Burnley and Trowbridge. And while I am a weaver, I'm looking forward to buying the linen cloth to make Pierre a new shirt.
Even in the 18th century there was an economy of goods being traded and purchased. To think otherwise is foolhardy and crazy-making.
a snippet to follow up on...
January 1775 at Pictou
population: 23 men, 14 women, 21 boys, 20 girls (78 total)
produce raised: 269 bushels wheat, 13 rye, 56 peas, 36 barley, 100 oats, and 840lbs of flax
livestock: 13 oxen, 13 cows, 15 young neat cattle, 25 sheep, and 1 swine
manufactured: 17,000 feet of boards
Not all of that was to be used within the county, much of that lumber was for export. One wonders what sorts of goods the people of Pictou county imported?
"History of the County of Pictou, N.S."; archive.org