THE KNITTING LESSON
In the picture we have been examining we have seen something of the outdoor life of the French peasants, and now we are shown the interior of one of their houses, where a Knitting Lesson is being given. The girls of the French peasantry are taught only the plainest kinds of needlework. They have to begin to make themselves useful very early in life, and knitting is a matter of special importance. In these large families many pairs of stockings are needed, and all must be homemade. This is work which the little girls can do while the mother is busy with heavier labors. The knitting work becomes a girl’s constant companion, and there are few moments when her hands are idle.
The little girl in our picture is still a beginner in the art, and the lesson is a very exciting occasion to her. Already she feels like a woman.
The mother and daughter have their chairs by the window to get a good light on the work. It is a large and beautiful casement window, of the kind almost universal in France, opening lengthwise in the middle in two parts which swing on hinges like doors. The window seat serves as a table, to hold the basket and scissors. The doll is thrust into the corner; our little girl has “put away childish things”—at least for the moment,—and takes her task very seriously.
The two chairs are drawn close together, the one a small counterpart of the other. The child braces her feet firmly on one of the rounds and bends her whole mind to her work. Both mother and daughter wear close white caps, though the little girl’s is of a more childish pattern and does not cover her pretty hair in front.
The mother has been sewing on some large garment which lies across her lap. She lets the little girl work by herself for a time, and then stops to set her right. Already a considerable length of stocking has been made, but this is a place where close attention is needed. Perhaps it is time to begin shaping the heel. The mother’s work is left altogether for a moment. Putting her arm about the child’s shoulder, she takes the two little hands in hers, and guides the fingers holding the needles.
We get some idea of the quaint style of the building from this glimpse of the living-room. Probably it is a low stone cottage with thatched or tiled roof. The deep window seat shows how thick the walls are. Overhead we see the oak rafters.
The room looks spotlessly clean, as a good housewife’s should. Though we see only a corner, that corner holds the most precious household possession, the linen chest. It stands against the wall, and is of generous size. French country people take great pride in storing up a quantity of linen; tablecloths, sheets, shirts, pillowcases, often of their own weaving, are piled in the deep clothes-presses. In well-to-do families there are enough for six months’ use, the family washing taking place only twice a year, in spring and fall, like house-cleaning in America. We judge that our housekeeper is well provided, by the pile of neatly folded sheets on the press. The little clock, high on the wall, and the vase of flowers on the chest are the only touches of ornament in the room. On the wall are some small objects which look like shuttles for weaving.