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E: Embroidery, Ectoplasm, Ebony

August 6, 2007

Embroidery was the first needle art I learned. My first project was a classic 1972 owl pattern on coarse brown linen. I may or may not have finished it–but I remember having to take out crooked stitches and re-do them! When I look back at that, I marvel at my mother taking time to teach me lazy daisy stitch, outline stitch, satin stitch, and French knots in the intervals of parenting five children under the age of 8. We lived in a tiny, hot little row house in Quantico, Virginia, and my father was about to leave us for a year’s tour of duty in Okinawa. The perfect time to teach a child to embroider, no? And most particularly to teach her that handwork is important, important enough to do as well as possible, just for the sheer joy of making something lovely.  What blissful luck for me.

Ectoplasm–not the real thing, of course, if there is such a thing (I preserve a Fortean imperturbability)–but the many incredibly clever and icky ways that mediums produce it using muslin, glow-in-the-dark paint, and the will to believe.   Any Victorianist worth her salt knows something about spiritualism, after all.  But it’s a nasty business, those seances.  I think Sarah Waters got it right in Affinity.  But I will always adore the Fox sisters, and the naughty girls who faked the fairy photos.

Ebony magazine.  Yes, I know, it’s fairly implausible.  But here’s the thing.  As the lily-white parents of adopted black children in the Rainbow Seventies, my parents worked overtime to provide an Afrocentric perspective in our home.  Which meant, among other things, buying Beautiful Malika and Baby Zuri, getting lessons in how to pick out an Afro from a patient and kindhearted neighbor (from whom I learned the word “nappy-headed”), and subscribing to Ebony.  What I remember most, sadly, is the full-page wig ads in the very back, where each wig had its own seductive and descriptive name, as well as a picture.  I pored over those ads, and can picture them today–not to mention the padded underpants which gave the wearer a full, fabulous, and rounded bum. 

 So.  E.  I guess it’s also for eccentric, hmm?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2007 9:06 am

    I am really enjoying your vowel encyclopedia.

    I’ve read a bit about Victorian spiritualism but I didn’t think of the Fox Sisters and the fairy photographers as being anti-heroes. Affinity sounds intriguing too.

    Are you going to do “Y” ?

  2. Melynda permalink*
    August 7, 2007 7:20 pm

    Thanks so much! I don’t recommend Affinity, actually; it’s just so incredibly sad and sordid.

    I intend to do “Y” and “W” both, since I’ve taken the easy way out and limited my engagement to vowels only.

  3. August 8, 2007 12:12 pm

    I’m glad you warned me about Affinity, it doesn’t sound like it’s for me.

    I’m looking forward to both “Y” and “W.”


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