Saturday, April 14, 2012

Forgotten Arts

by Linda Rodriguez

In my mystery novel which will launch near the end of April, Every Last Secret, Skeet Bannion’s best friend owns a shop called Forgotten Arts, offering knitting, spinning, and weaving supplies. This shop is basically in the book because I love to knit, spin, and weave, and I’ve always had a little daydream of having just such a shop of my own.

It probably all began with my grandmothers. One of them was an excellent needlewoman who taught me to sew doll clothes and doll quilts, using the scraps from her many sewing and quilting projects. This grandmother even made spring corsages for each granddaughter from old nylon stockings, cut up and dyed into violets, iris, lilies, and roses. The other grandmother knit and crocheted afghans, sweaters, even golf-club covers. Neither of them knew how to spin or weave, as far as I know.
Both of my grandmothers were great “makers from scratch,” though, whether with food, such as bread, butter, cheeses, and such, or with household items, such as baskets, candles, lotions, soaps, washcloths, and dish towels. My Cherokee grandmother even made her own medicines with herbs from her garden and weeds growing in the wild. Most of these medicines, foods, and household items were more effective or better-tasting than the mass-produced versions available in stores and pharmacies.

Beginning as a childhood apprentice to these two grand old dames, I set off on a lifelong quest for the forgotten arts. I have a huge library, and one of the categories within it is that of how-to books. I have books on how to design and make furniture from cast-off materials, how to make braided rugs, how to make doll houses and furniture, how to make canned foods and jellies, how to make your own purses and shoes, and books on yogurt making and felt making—and I have made all of these things and more. I seek out books on forgotten arts, such as spinning, weaving, smocking, rug hooking, tatting, and bobbin-lace making. (I’ve done the first three, but haven’t tried the last three yet.) I even have books on how to build your own log cabin or barn from scratch, how to milk a goat, and how to grow and use your own natural-dye garden. If all these dystopian books come true and we have some kind of societal collapse, I’m the neighbor you want to have.

Of course, now that writing has taken over my life, my big floor loom in one end of the living room has become a cat gymnasium, my sewing machine sits permanently covered on a table where manuscripts have replaced fabric pieces, and gorgeous hand-knit projects languish neglected and unfinished in tote bags hanging from the doorknobs of my combination office and studio. I still believe these crafts have great value. I used to make time for them in a busy life, but I’ve lost that knack somewhere and need to recover it for a sense of balance. Meanwhile, I’ll write into my books a character who has that balance and that fiber craft store that I used to dream of owning.

In your own writing, what aspect of your life finds its way as a part of your story? Do you give a character some passion or aspect of your own personality? And when you’re reading, do you like to see these bits of the author’s personality embodied in the work?
Detail of one of Linda's quilts.

Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret, winner of the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Competition, will be published by Minotaur Books on April 24. Linda is the author of two award-winning books of poetry and a cookbook, and is the recipient of several writing awards. She swears she’ll shoo the cat off and warp the big loom just as soon as she finishes her book tour and the edits on her second novel in the Skeet Bannion series and the first draft of her third and…
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Anita Page said...

Linda, congratulations on the St. Martin's/Malice win, and best of luck with the book.

As for your question: I sometimes list the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Weeds and Dust among the organizations I belong to. If such an organization actually existed, I have no doubt my protagonist, Hannah Fox, would be a member.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Anita, you have me roaring on the floor with this!

I am, of course, the president of the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Weeds and Dust. I may have been infected with the crafts-skills mania by my grandmothers, but unfortunately was immune to their good-housekeeping. It just passed over me.

Thanks for your good wishes and for the chuckle--and very useful excuse!

Warren Bull said...

Both sets of my grandparents had similar skills, I remember my grandmother chopping the head off a chicken and my grandfather trapping and skinning animals. I'm not sure I would have survived in "the good old days."

Linda Rodriguez said...

Ah, Warren, they didn't do those things because they liked them. You'd be surprised what you can do if you have to. I have killed chickens as a child--and plucked and cleaned them, as well as fish. I've skinned and cleaned rabbit and squirrel and cooked them as a kid. I have no wish to do any of that again, but I'm glad that I know how if the need ever should arise again.

AnnOxford said...

I just love your quilt in that photo! Gorgeous colors. What a wonderful childhood, growing up with two artistic grandmothers. My love of textile arts along with embroidery, knitting, all learned at my grandmother's and mother's knee, as well. Oh, we do need to get together some day. Next year in Iowa? Great post!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Ann, are you going to Malice Domestic? Maybe we'll have a chance to chat there. If not, I'm in Iowa plenty.

Sandra Parshall said...

Linda, how long did it take you to make that gorgeous quilt? I want it!

THanks so much for being our guest this weekend.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Sandra, thank you so much for having me here at Poe's Deadly Daughters. It's been great fun!

Diane said...

Linda, that is the most beautiful and intricate quilt I have ever seen. Quilting is one of the needle arts I have never even tried, let alone mastered.

As for having a bit of the author's joys, whatever it might be, in their books, yes. Isn't there a saying about writing about what you know best? Besides, particularly in a murder mystery, it gives a nice break from what can be a tough subject matter.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thank you, Diane. It's a detail of a small art quilt that's been in a couple of art exhibitions, about 18" by 30". I like intricate and embellished quilts, crazy quilts also.

There are some dark and dangerous moments in my book, and giving the protagonist knitting and two pets and her best friend the shop, Forgotten Arts, tends to give some breathing space when things get very intense.