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Monday, June 1, 2020

Forgotten Arts

by Linda Rodriguez
(Linda is taking a blogging break this summer. This blog was previously published on June 4, 2018)

In my series of Skeet Bannion mystery novels, Skeet’s best friend, Karen, owns a shop called Forgotten Arts, offering knitting, spinning, and weaving supplies, as well as a farm with a herd of sheep. 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 candles, lotions, soaps, washcloths, and dish towels. My Cherokee grandmother even made her own baskets and medicines with herbs from her garden and wild-harvested plants. 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 had a huge library (it's still larger than most), 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 raise and milk a goat, and how to grow and use your own natural-dye garden. If all these dystopian novels and movies come true and we have some kind of societal collapse, I’m the neighbor you want to have.

Of course, now that writing—and a move half finished—has taken over my life, my big floor loom sits, disassembled, in one end of the living room, my sewing machine is packed away in its box, my spinning wheels sit, neglected, in a corner, and gorgeous hand-knit projects languish unfinished stacked in plastic bins in what will become 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, so I wrote into my books a character who has that balance and that fibercraft store that I used to dream of owning.

Now that I have downsized and moved (though my unpacking and settling in was
interrupted by various physical illnesses and injuries), I have let go many of the books, including some of the how-to books (like building log cabins and raising goats), but most of those and the loom, spinning wheels,and sewing machine made the move with me. I've decided that a new house can also equal a new way of living and am determined to put more balance into my life. But I still won't have my own fiberarts shop or herd of sheep, except in the Skeet books.

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?

Linda Rodriguez's Dark Sister: Poems has just been released. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published to high praise in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2019. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at


Annette said...

I think I've had some of those books in my personal library too, Linda!

There's always some passion of mine in my stories In my Zoe Chambers Mysteries, Zoe and I share a passion for horses. I think a story rings more true and authentic when a writer shares something of themselves in it.

Jim Jackson said...

I collected the Firefox books decades ago when I thought about chucking it all and living off-grid. Now I do live off-grid, but with solar power and a generator we have most of the creature comforts -- not, alas, fast internet. Betting would be strong between our satellite internet and a sloth could compete to see who can crawl the slowest.

Kait said...

A woman after my own heart. I think I have a number of those books in my library too! If you ever want strange glances from people just tell them you hook and throw things when they ask what your hobbies are. Always good for a chuckle! When we were in grade school, we were taken to Pierpont School. It was no longer serving as a school in our town, but had been turned into a museum. The ladies there taught the girls how to spin over a period of six or seven sessions. I remember very little about the actual process of it now, but I do remember how soft the wool made our hands. I also remember that it began with carding and we'd find the darnedest stuff in the wool.

I love crafting, but having spent time on a farm as a child that had no heat, running water, or electricity did give me a head start on survival skills!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I write about the less glamorous side of interior design and historic renovation, my standard poodles, gardens and birds. But what my readers comment on is the mother-teenage daughter dynamic. After raising two daughters, I never run out of dialogue.

KM Rockwood said...

My life is interwoven into my stories. I do research when I need to, but a lot of it comes from knowledge and skills absorbed without conscious thought, and I draw heavily on it, especially for details. For instance, if a character is baking blueberry pies, she or he knows to make a large vent in the center of the top crust, and to periodically ladle the juice out as the pie cooks, or a properly-filled pie will overflow. This is not necessary with other types of pies.

Little things like that help bring a story alive.

Warren Bull said...

I don't think there is any random bit of knowledge or interest that hasn't shown up somewhere in my writing.

E. B. Davis said...

I've never been talented in the needle/fabric arts. Cooking is the primary home down skills I've acquired. Since I grew up in farm country, freezing and canning come naturally. I just finished making two batches of strawberry freezer jam. We were running out of last year's batch. There are many aspects of ourselves that enter our work, from an attitude, a favorite sweater, an old recipe to songs and events we've experienced. I wouldn't have guessed you were a sewer, knitter, or weaver, Linda. Online relationships have limitations in some ways. Of course, sometimes that also means we're freer to speak our minds as well.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Annette, yes! I really think that, even if we don't intend to, we put parts of ourselves and what's important to us into our books--if we are writing sincerely. It's just inevitable.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, ah, the Firefox books. I remember them well. I collected many of them myself, though they have all gone in the downsizing. I never particularly wanted to live off-grid, having done so when I was a kid--it's not all that it's cracked up to be. What I wanted was to be ABLE to if I had to.

Linda Rodriguez said...

I'm with you Kate. I spent formative years on a farm with an outhouse, pumping water for the kitchen and bath night in the galvanized tub, hunting and cooking rabbits and squirrels, killing chickens, gathering eggs, growing and preserving most of what we ate ourselves, cooking for harvest hands. It does give you a headstart on life.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, Margaret, the readers will always come back to those human relationships.

Linda Rodriguez said...

*Kait* damn voice recognition software!

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, Thanks for the tip. I've made a lot of pies from scratch, but I've not made a blueberry pie. Now if I have to, I'll know one of the ways to be successful.

Warren, yes, I think all of our interests and our concerns just naturally migrate into our work. I don't think you have to try and put it there. I think, if you're really just trying to write sincerely and well, that what you care about is going to show up.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine, I'll bet you have one of those odd tools that you screw on your table and it peels and cores your apples as you wind the handle, right? For the longest time, I was the only person I knew who had one of those and actually used it. Every year we travel to a small town in orchard country about 30 miles from where we live in the city, and wind up coming back with a bushel basket or even larger box of apples that I then baked into pies and cobblers and cakes and freeze and dehydrate. We eat off of those apples all year long. I used to do that with a lot more things than just apples, used to have huge vegetable and fruit gardens in the backyard of our old house. Over the years, those have all gone by the boards. I still do the apples, though I imagine this year that may not happen, depending on what happens with this shoulder.

And you're right. I would not have guessed that you were a food preserver anymore than you would have guessed that I was a fiber artist.

KM Rockwood said...

I've got one of those apple-peeler/corer things. The rural county in which I live is a major apple-producing area. There's an interesting phenomena of rural industrial areas--huge plants that make pie filling, applesauce, apple juice, etc. One of the local high schools even uses this for their mascot--their teams are called the Biglerville Canners.

I don't grow a lot myself. Our land is heavily wooded & very uneven. Besides, I have discovered that local kids grow produce, have road-side stands, and are thrilled when someone buys their veggies or fruits. And I suspect I pay less for them than it would cost me to raise them myself.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, my new house has a very small yard, so we'll be gardening mostly in pots. I'll be buying most of my produce myself now. Maybe a CSA farm share.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I stand by my 2018 comment, though have incorporated more bird imagery in the final draft.

Kait said...

I love this post and it's perfect for our recent experiences. It makes me want to pick up my crochet hooks again or finally figure out that danged sewing machine. I never did master it in my youth.