Q&A with Jane Brocket/Author of The Gentle Art of Domesticity
What is the most gratifying feedback you have received about The Gentle Art of Domesticity?
That it has made many readers feel good about enjoying domesticity and creativity and that it has made them see what they do in a new light. I have received a huge number of emails and comments from people telling me that the book has inspired them to value the small details of their lives and to start or restart making things – it is always wonderful to open my inbox and read these.
If you could only use one adjective to describe The Gentle Art of Domesticity, what would it be?
How did you organize the process of writing such a long book that covers so many different aspects of domesticity?
I had a brilliant, clear-thinking editor and we came up with the categories together. Then before I started writing I made a list of everything that was to be included in each section and I worked my way through it, ticking off the various pieces as I went along. Careful planning made all the difference.
How did you come up with the title?
I knew it had to have the word “domesticity” in it. My first thought was The Art of Domesticity but that sounded like a book of paintings. I remembered that I’d read about the “gentle arts” of the nineteenth-century (crochet, lace-making, knitting – all the things ladies and young women did) and decided to add in the “gentle.” “Gentle” also worked on another level because I was keen to make it clear that this was not a bossy or prescriptive book.
What was the most challenging section of The Gentle Art of Domesticity to write?
There wasn’t one – I enjoyed writing them all.
Color. I could write a whole book on it!
What is one of your favorite photographs in the book? What do you like about it? Is there anything interesting you can tell us about taking it?
The photo on page 121 of Simon (my husband) and me, the one in which I’m wearing my just-completed hand-knitted linen apron. I like the simple but also very traditional composition of having a reflection in a circular mirror and the way we look comfortable together. We’ve been married for 20 years but we rarely get photos of us together – but I think the fact that we are old hands at marriage shows in this one. I’d just finished putting together the apron that day when Simon came home from work around lunchtime en route to the airport where he was to catch a flight. It was November and it goes dark early, so I nabbed him and said he had to pose now because I needed a photo. Poor man; he comes home for a few minutes to collect his suitcase and ends up posing in the bathroom for an apron shot. But that’s why I married him.
What is one of your favorite quilts featured in the book?
The Swedish Allotment Quilt (in a small photo on page 43 and in a large one on page 287) because I am so pleased with the way it turned out. It’s my own design and was an opportunity to use many of my favorite colors and fabrics. It was inspired by a visit to Stockholm in autumn and the quilt (which is on our bed and keeping us warm at night now) reminds me of the wonderful few days I spent there.
What is your favorite plant to grow in the garden?
Tulips, without a doubt. They are so easy – just put the bulbs in the soil in November and wait for spring when they come up in the most fantastic array of colors and shapes. They give me something to look forward to during gloomy winter days, and when they do appear, they not only look lovely in the garden, they also make wonderful cut flowers for the house.
If you could spend an afternoon knitting with one person in history, who would it be?
I’d love to sit and knit with Eleanor Roosevelt.
If you could spend an afternoon baking with one person in history, who would it be?
A cook in a large English country house at the beginning of the twentieth century so that I could learn how to cater for tea parties and afternoon teas, bake fresh crumpets and muffins, make wonderful pastry, delicious desserts, and all sorts of traditional puddings from someone who knows how it’s done.
If you could spend an afternoon gardening with one person in history, who would it be?
Definitely Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) who, with her husband, Harold Nicolson, created the garden at Sissinghurst in Kent, one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. She had very firm opinions about plants and planting but was also very open-minded and knew how to communicate her thoughts and tastes (she wrote a gardening column for years). She also knew everybody who was anybody at the time and it would be fascinating to enter her world.
What is your favorite form of domesticity?
Multitasking--so I can enjoy several aspects of it at the same time. Knitting or hand-quilting while watching a good film and eating a piece of homemade cake. Or baking with the children while listening to the radio.
What color are your toenails right now?
Natural. They have a break in winter and besides, I never see them because they are wrapped up in hand-knitted socks most of the time.