26 June 2016

Skills and Crafts of a Farmer’s wife

Memories of Mum’s work, skills and hobbies

Hannah Horgan (1912-2013) on the back veranda of her last house at 6 Kelly St, Riverton, South Australia
It is now three years since my mother Hannah died but she left us with many fond memories and a variety of skills. The work of a farmer’s wife encompasses a broad range of tasks often not associated with a stay-at-home wife and mother.
Here’s a quick review of some of the tasks my mother undertook and taught to her children.

Farmyard related

Eggs: Seated on the veranda surrounding the farm house we washed and packed dozens of eggs manually. A damp cloth was used to wipe the surface of any soiled egg. These were then packed carefully into layers in the egg crates used to send them to market. Layer upon layer were added as they were cleaned, then came the sighs of relief when the wooden crate was sealed for collection.

Fowls: Who else would teach you how to pluck and dress a dead chicken but your mother? I’m sure she was pleased to share this onerous task with her children so that we could all enjoy the chicken dinners to follow. The heavy kettle was boiled then poured over the dead bird. Plucking the feathers had to be done quickly while the bird was warm. Ooh, that wet bird smell, then inserting one’s hand to remove the innards. I’m glad this is a skill I no longer need!

Milk, Cream and Butter :  The fresh milk from the cows which some of my siblings had to milk, came to the kitchen still warm. The cream separator ensured we had a constant supply of fresh delicious cream. Yes, the separator had to be disassembled and every part scrubbed and cleaned – she taught all of us how to do that. We learnt how to make cream into butter and how to cook delicious rice puddings and many other dishes using the fresh and not so fresh dairy products, no food ever to be wasted.

Meat processing: The mutton killed for family consumption was delivered to the kitchen in it’s newly killed state. Mum would use every small skerrick of meat, cutting away the fat and turning the scrag ends into mince. We all took turns turning the handle of the mincer. We learnt all the parts of the beast and what meat was suited best for which meals.

meat grinder
The meat mincer

Indoor hobbies and skills

Sewing: A necessary skill for a woman with seven children. There were sheets to be patched and collars on shirts to be unpicked and turned. Men’s work trousers from the paddock often needed patching in the knees to “make them last.” The first sewing machine I remember was a treadle Singer. Mum sewed many of our clothes late at night when we were in bed. She taught us to sew both by hand and on the machine. We learnt by making doll’s clothes from leftover scraps and did the hand stitching required to finish items. One of my sisters remembers a new dress made for Tarlee school picnic day. She loved to climb trees and the carefully sewn new dress returned home dirty and scruffy.

1982 knitted by Nana
Knitting: Before the days of cheap clothing hand knitted items were treasured. Old jumpers were unpicked and re-knitted into new items. Mum knitted woollen socks for my father and in later years many woollen toys for her grandchildren. Several of her grandchildren will remember these striped woollen jumpers knitted with love. She taught her daughters to knit and crochet.

Crafts: As we grew up and Mum had a little more time she joined the C.W.A. ( Country Womens' Association) Each month’s meeting concentrated on new learning or a new skill. We saw woven baskets made, knitted and covered coat hangers, recycled cards made into boxes of every shape and size. The crocheted toilet roll cover sat for many years on the cistern. Who could forget the snowman that appeared every hot summer Christmas made with quilting wadding covering a large Milo tin? When Mum moved from her house into hospital care, there were many remnants of craft and sewing materials in her cupboards and drawers recalling many happy hours spent crafting a wide range of goodies.

Thanks Mum for the skills and passion for learning new things that you passed on to me.


  1. Thanks Carmel ! This was lovely to read.
    Lots of memories I share also. The chicken innards and meat on the kitchen table!
    Also, every winter I get inspired to knit. One of these days I'll actually complete a piece! This has inspired me.
    xx your neice, Kate.

    1. Delighted that you enjoyed it Kate. I've added one of those unforgettable toddler jumpers she used to knit. I'm sure I've seen some of your siblings in versions of these!!

  2. A lovely post with your live shining through. We may think we have lots of skills but they could teach us a trick or two.

    1. Different skills for different times. Yes, they certainly did teach us a trick or two.


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