Tag Archives: domestic

The Sweater Curse

Background: The sweater curse is a superstition commonly held in knitting communities. My informant is a 28 year old knitter from California who has friends who have claimed they experienced this phenomenon. 

Me: I’m more of a crochet kind of girl, but I dabble in knitting. I’ve definitely heard of the sweater curse on the internet. I actually first found out about it like, right after I had the thought I should make one for my boyfriend. It was spooky! But anyway, what’s it all about?

A: Yeah, the sweater curse. Brutal stuff… Basically, the sweater curse affects girls [or boys, nonbinary people] who are knitting a sweater for their boyfriend [or partner, assume all characters can be genderswapped or gender neutral], and says that they will break up. Probably before the sweater is finished. It’s only supposed to affect unmarried couples, so it’s not that everyone who knits their partner a sweater is doomed. But yeah, knit your boyfriend a sweater too soon and you will pay the price. 

Me: Geez yeah, why do you think this happens? Because anecdotally, this is totally true. Do you believe it?

A: I mean… yeah, I think there’s something to it. It happened to a close friend of mine a few years back. she was 25 and her boyfriend was the same age, and they’d been dating for like, 8 months maybe. She started working on this sweater for him as a Christmas present, like, back in the summer. Knitters can get so involved in their projects, you know that. I think probably even more so when you’re making it for someone special, so she was knitting ferociously and was putting a lot of her time into this, like, fairly complex sweater. Anyway, they broke up sometime around thanksgiving, which is kind of a thing of its own, y’know, breaking up before you have to meet parents… Family is stressful, being close to someone is stressful, and I think that’s why the sweater curse has merit to it. So much effort and love goes into making a sweater, it can be too much for some people. I think my friend’s boyfriend found out about the sweater around the time they broke up, and I don’t know too much about how it went down, but I think he might have been a little… off put. The sweater can signify a lot of commitment…

Me: Yeah, especially if that commitment is one-sided… I feel like girls who knit are pretty dedicated people. 

A: You have to be if you tackle those big projects! If you date a guy who just isn’t reciprocating that energy, it’s probably not going to work out. You should save your sweater for someone you’ve uh, vetted better *laughter*

My thoughts: This superstition sounds silly at first, but there are a lot of reasons why a large, personal gift like a sweater can cause a reevaluation of the relationship, especially if the relationship is relatively new. I don’t think that anything handmade is a bad gift idea, but a sweater represents commitment to a degree that people are understandably uncomfortable with. The sweater itself can represent strangulation quite literally if it’s poor-fitting. It can also be very possessive, wanting to clothe someone in your work. I don’t think the intention is usually so negative, but the reception is what matters.

For more information on the sweater curse, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweater_curse

El Cucuy

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and the other half is mestizo. Much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. She learned this story from her grandmother, who told it to her when she was a child.

Text:

JS: Tell me the story of El Quiqui (alternatively el cucuy)

MV: All right so el quiqui lives in tunnels in the mountains. And he’s a really creepy guy who takes away bad children and eats them. There’s this girl, her name is Rosa or some other Mexican shit it doesn’t really matter (laughs). And she’s such a good kid, always does her chores, is obedient and all that. Her sister, though, her name is… Margarita (laughs), she’s awful, just a bad kid all around. So one night el quiqui comes and takes her to the mountains. Rosa goes up and just as he is about to eat Margarita, she saves her, and also finds all these other kids in his tunnels and sets them free.

JS: What do you think the story means?

MV: Classic. Classic! “Do your chores or you’re gonna get eaten (laughs)”

Thoughts:

The practical utility of this legend, as the informant stated above, is obvious. It is a tool for persuading children to take care of household duties. Paradoxically, to give them a sense of responsibility, the story scares them into obedience. The informant’s response, “classic,” suggests that household duty and obedience are important parts of being a woman in a Mexican family. Interestingly, in this informant’s account, the two children were girls. This gendering of the objects of El Cucuy’s aggression suggests that young girls are more often trained at a young age to assist with chores around the house than young boys. The faithful Rosa is a model child, one with a sense of responsibility to her sister and to her family. She is a model of domesticity and virtue. Additionally, El Cucuy is masculine, suggesting that a girl who is not obedient will be taken away and consumed by a mysterious and dangerous man. The story can be used to scare children into doing their chores, but it also contains a gendered lesson of matronly duty and selflessness, that if one does not practice obedience, she will end up with an unfavorable man and meet her demise.

For a more comprehensive look at El Cucuy and other Mexican children’s folk legends, see Domino Renee Perez’s book There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture

Perez, Domino Renee. There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture. University of Texas Press, 2008.

Suzie Homemaker

Tell me about some of the other customs or experiences in your Culinary Arts Program:

“Another thing that caught me off guard was that the chefs used “Suzie Homemaker” as an insult. One time the chef saw me holding my knife as I was slicing pears and he shouted, “Rebecca, you look like a Suzy Homemaker holding your knife like that! You don’t look like a chef! Why aren’t you holding your knife the way I showed you?” and then shook his head at me. Another time we used pastry bags with interchangeable, decorative tips while learning different techniques to frost cakes. He scoffed and looked at me and said, “You probably have one of these don’t you? All Suzy Homemakers do.” I had to confess that I didn’t. The assumption is that amateurs often try to learn pasty skills at home and that we would be unsuccessful at it. Often times he ridiculed non-professionals who make themselves out to be experts by making Youtube tutorials or even publishing books that use wrong techniques. Before now, I thought the title Suzy Homemaker referred to somebody who was skilled and now I’ve learned a new use of the term.”

 

“Suzie Homemaker’ was a line of toys released in the 1960’s and is the derivation for the now commonly used term. The line of toys included dolls and other faux appliances. As such, it has been linked to domestic roles traditionally played by women. The participant, my mother, and I had similar a understandings of the meaning to be positive and descriptive of a female who was a good cook, kept a clean organized home and supported the needs of her family in the domestic sphere. Upon doing some research, I learned that the term has been adopted by feminists as a means of scorning women who still conform to these gender roles.

My mother was exposed to a new meaning for the term; in the culinary world it is used as an insult to ridicule amateurs. Depending on the context of the term, it can have different meanings.