Recently, I read Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting , which is an excellent book about not only the Fair Isle technique but its history. The author details how the women on Fair Isle earned money to feed their families by knitting elaborate Fair Isle sweaters, sometimes in a very short amount of time. They cranked them out and sold them, sometimes even spinning their own yarn to make the sweaters.
Then I read about Irish women crocheting lace to sell for money in the Summer 2011 issue of Interweave Crochet. As I thought about these women doing this, my first thought was "HOW?!" How the hell did they manage to pull this off while taking care of their children, doing the laundry, cooking, cleaning and all the other crap they had to do? I know the concentration that's needed in order to correctly execute a complex Fair Isle or lace pattern and I never attempt it while my children are awake. Nope, the complicated stuff waits until both kids are asleep and I'm fairly sure I won't be interrupted. And the last time I got my spinning wheel out while my 3-year-old was around, I couldn't even use it because she wouldn't stop screaming, "MY TURN! I WANT TO DO IT!" So how did these women do it? Did they just never sleep?
These women were WAHMs before the term existed. They, like WAHMs today, juggled their work with caring for their children, housework, errands and everything else. They did it, however, under the threat of their family not eating if they didn't do it and as I read in Starmore's book, many looked upon knitting as a hated chore, not as a delightful leisure activity.
Many WAHMs today, echoing the past, sell (or attempt to sell) their needlework on Etsy.com, at farmer's markets and through other outlets. Still more do it as a leisure activity, just for fun. As I read about the women of Fair Isle and Irish lace knitters during the Potato Famine, I feel like a huge slacker. I can't imagine having to knit super-complex sweaters all day every day so my family could eat, under the threat of starvation if I didn't work hard or my work wasn't good. I bet their houses were way cleaner than mine, too. I think of them and feel connected to them whenever I try (and occasionally succeed) to sell my own needlework or related work. Unlike them, all of my and my husband's and children's needs are covered. Selling my work would be more for extra money, not life and death.
Being a stay-at-home mom has always required hard work and sacrifice and a little or a lot of financial strain. When I experience a little bit of financial strain myself due to my choices, I think of what the wonderful knitting and crochet author Maggie Righetti refers to as "our foremothers," those women on Fair Isle, in Ireland and other places, and I remember how good I have it.