Friday, June 29, 2007

The Table

Now that I have a usable dining room table the inevitable has happened: it has been loaded up with a sewing machine, some bits of fabric I’m piecing into scrap blocks, and a stack of books I’m reading for a course I’ll teach in the fall. I’m using my Janome, which is permanently installed in the sewing room, to machine quilt my last QOV, so I decided to set up my Featherweight on the dining room table so I can do some piecing when I feel the urge.
I haven’t used the Featherweight in quite awhile. I’ve really come to love the automatic thread cutter and all the other luxuries of the new machine. But the Featherweight is as decorative as it is useful, and I like seeing it on the table. I also like seeing my work in progress displayed in my home’s public space.
A table is a powerful thing. I recently had a party for a friend and colleague who won a campus award. People from across the university were invited. In preparation, I cleaned my house, and especially the living room, so that people could have a variety of places to sit and visit and eat. However, most of the guests stayed in the kitchen around my green table and an expanding array of food (it was a potluck). Guests stood around the table two and three deep and only a few people sat comfortably in the living room. It was as if the kitchen table was a magnet. There were plenty of plates so that guests could serve themselves food and move around the house, I had even set up chairs on the porch, but the kitchen table remained the focal point.

The kitchen table is an important icon of African American feminism. Rather than exclusively a place of women’s oppression, it is recognized as a space where women build community and solve problems. It is a place where women’s confidences and wisdom are articulated and shared. The kitchen table is a space for spiritual healing and transformation, for nurturing and restoration.
The dining room table, in contrast, (for those of us who have one) is a formal space where we set the scene for meals that mark important days. But between formal celebrations, the dining room table gets reclaimed for everyday uses. The work of the kitchen spills out into dining room. It is a platform for both creative and mundane tasks.
A lot of dining room tables sport sewing machines. In my previous homes it was the only space where I could set up a sewing machine, even if I had to take it down daily so people could sit and eat there. It’s not coincidental that I’ve also used the dining room table over the years as a place to write. The dining room table is the crossroads of the domestic and the creative, of the familial and the individual. It can be the space in the house where we can claim even a temporary space for our creative lives.

10 comments:

Allison Ann Aller said...

As always, a lovely and thoughtful post, Barbara.
....and do please tell us about what you are reading for the new course next fall!

Rian said...

A lovely and evocative essay. Paula Nadelstern creates her wonderful kaleidoscpe quilts on a setup just like yours--Featherweight on Kitchen Table.

Finn said...

Hi Barb, what a great post! I love your 'take' on table. It is, indeed, a powerful symbol and of physical significance to each of us. Much as the central campfire was the place to gather and share, we have the table.
"The dining room table is the crossroads of the domestic and the creative, of the familial and the individual. It can be the space in the house where we can claim even a temporary space for our creative lives." I had never thought of it this way, but you are right on target. I use my table exactly as you do. Even with a lovely desk as handy as can be, I write out my monthly bills, sitting at the table with a mug of coffee. Thanks for sharing your insight! Hugs, Finn

Susan said...

"The kitchen table is an important icon of African American feminism."

Not just African Americans! Every problem every solved in our family was solved around the old red and white kitchen table. I learned to cook, chatting with my grandmother, or aunt, or mother at that kitchen table. I had after-school snacks and chats there, and I did my homework there. I even had my first kiss, on my 16th birthday right next to it! It was the focal point for all our family life, even though we ate every night, and brunch on Sunday, at the formal mahogany dining table.

Deb H said...

Very interesting post Barbara. I only have a kitchen table, I've never had a formal dining room. If I did have that space it would most likely have a sewing machine on it.

Jane Ann said...

I adore this essay, Barbara. Very thoughtful. Having a private creative space is wonderful, but being able to glimpse the tools and work in progress can be as good as passing a fabulous view from a window throughout the day.

Catherine said...

hmmm? did it work?

Catherine said...

Barbara,
Your kitchen table evokes memories of times we five women writers, mothers, daughters, painters, quilters, equestrians, bike-riders, jugglers, photographers, bird-watchers, tilers, readers, embroiderers, teachers, wives, and former wives have gathered to advise, console, think deeply, and best of all, laugh together. My dining room table now holds a printer and camera equipment—cluttered, but functional evidence of my creative life. Your sense of order and beauty inspire me.

You have found a universal theme. Thank you for teaching me how to blog and for thinking aloud. Won’t you pass your link on to the others, or should I?
Love, Catherine

Alison said...

The singer makes a beautiful display on your table. It has a real vintage look now so maybe you should display it as a work of art.

Shelina said...

What a thoughtful post. I don't have a kitchen table, but I too had food set out in my very tiny dining room, fully expecting everyone to sit where chairs had been setup - either in the living room or the family room, or both. They all dragged the chairs back to the dining room, and we all sat crowded around the table.