“Sleep In, Sweep Out”

Stitched by: Joshua Adair

Pattern designed by: This is my own creation. @Fallengentry

When I first discovered this 1930s vanity broom, I was taken with the fact that it presented a hybrid: part woman, part domestic tool. Her skirt literally became a broom; she morphed into the labor she performed. Then I started to think about my grandmothers and their endless domestic labor. Both women were avid embroiderers who toiled tirelessly for their families. They loved some of their work — and definitely their families — but they also frequently felt unappreciated and unrewarded. And they were — that they were taken for granted goes unsaid.

When one of the linen napkins that my maternal grandmother worked went threadbare and then manifested holes, I knew I wanted it to have a new life. I imagined her embroidering endlessly each evening and thought of an apron that told the truth about women’s labor; she became her broom. She often became her labor, unpaid and unnoticed as it was. I also started to think of the ways that men became far less important to women over time; I imagined my grandmother brushing my grandfather away and creating her own idea of beauty. He may have seen her as (at least) somewhat superfluous, but she came to see him as unnecessary altogether.

In receiving these vanity brooms as gifts — as I imagine they were often employed — women were encouraged to see themselves as things to be used. This particular object lesson — enhanced by my own needlework — suggests that women (and all feminine people) can reclaim their own narratives and tell a different tale.

My mother always talked about women who were treated as “Sleep In, Sweep Out” — in other words, good enough for sex and domestic duty, but dismissable otherwise. This particular gal simply isn’t going for that — her guy can be gone and she’ll be fine.

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