As my pseudo-liberal, mostly Jack Mormon, extended family sat around the Christmas tree one Christmas morning years back, one of the children (then in their thirties), had only one present under the tree. He opened it up, and pulled from the wrapping a cluster of huge, purple glass balls, bound together by wire in a crude representation of a bunch of grapes. Laughter emerged from the entire room, as this object represented an aspect of LDS life the family had all been exposed to: the "wonders" of homemaking meetings.
The idealized role of a female member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is to be married, bearing as many children as possible, and staying home with them, raising them and educating them on how to be good people, and follow the teachings of Jesus. This has been referred to, not uncommonly, in a derogatory fashion as "barefoot and pregnant", and, in fact, many LDS families do take the practice to this extreme.
To encourage Mormon women to stay at home and feel useful, it is common to find "wards" (a ward is a group of people organized to attend religious services together, usually determined geographically) hosting Homemaking Meetings. At these meetings, various crafts, activities, and lessons are done in a group environment by the women of the ward. There is a strong social element to this. A large part of the success of the LDS church is its focus on community, and helping other ward members in need is almost expected. These Homemaking Meetings cover a wide variety of housekeeping related subjects. At such a meeting, one could learn how to knit, embroider, sew clothing from patterns, crochet, organize fabric fragments in cute holders, or braid rugs, for just a few examples from the sewing genre. Usually there is an emphasis on "cuteness", trending towards a bizarre form of kitsch.
The most classic sewing activity, however, is quilt making. Quilting often is organized when new children are born, or for charity for disaster victims, the poor, etc. There is a strong emphasis within the LDS church on charity work. The church has "welfare farms", where members volunteer to work, particularly during harvesting time. The produce generated at these farms is used in the church's massive welfare program for its own members. Most Mormons tend towards the right in their political beliefs, and believe that welfare is something that should be handled by communities and religions, rather than government. Many Homemaking Meetings are tailored towards charity work; providing information on needed services, and coordinating group efforts to craft or assemble needed items.
Another popular Homemaking Meeting activity is emergency preparedness. 72-hour survival kits, water storage, dried foods for emergency use, and first aid are common lessons. Many Mormon families have small stockpiles of wheat and rice in their basements. I remember throwing out many weevil infested barrels of oats from my families storage room, one summer. This focus is partially in preparation for the last days and the Second Coming of Christ, which will be preceded by natural disasters, according to LDS belief. But it also has to do with the strong urge to be self-sufficient, perhaps understandable considering the persecution-filled history of the church.
Homemaking Meetings can also cover a wide variety of other topics, such as finances, osteoporosis, family togetherness, gardening, and all manner of home decoration arts and crafts, including the canonical, and truly horrible, glass grapes. For the curious and/or craft-loving, this is a bundle of purple glass balls with holes drilled through each ball, near one of the edges. They are joined together by pipe cleaner wire strung through the holes, and bound to a wooden dowel painted dark brown, and decorated with artificial leaves.
The Relief Society was founded in 1842 by Mormon matriarchs who were, perhaps, unable to find fulfillment in simply keeping the house clean and the children watched over. They sponsor drives to provide food and supplies for disaster victims. Practically every national emergency is aided by this group. They have a set of "kits" that they recommend as general guidelines, which are frequently assembled in Homemaking Meetings across the nation. These are usually tailored towards specific needs, such as care for infants, children attending school, sewing kits, hygiene kits, etc. The Relief Society also provides a power structure to climb for ambitious women who might otherwise find their "restricted" role in the church uncomfortable.
A major component of the Relief Society is the "Visiting Home Teachers" program, where a pair of women will go and visit other members of the church, particularly those who may need companionship, aid, or appear to be losing faith in the church. They will often give lessons, share beliefs and personal testimonies, and help when needed.
In the LDS religion, men who are members are typically consecrated and given the power of the Priesthood. There are actually two kinds of Priesthood, Aaronic and Melchizedek, with the Aaronic Priesthood being given to young men typically at the age of twelve. The Melchizedek Priesthood is given to men shortly before going on missions, usually at the age of nineteen. This nebulous "Priesthood" is power from God, including the ability to perform blessings, baptisms, and consecrations. Women are forbidden from the power of the priesthood. This is an often controversial point among the more liberal of LDS women, but the status quo shows no signs of changing presently. Church leaders have attempted to placate women by stating that they have different powers, inherently, from being a woman, related to the family and childbirth. Their responsibilities don't overlap, nor do they require the Priesthood. Many LDS women claim to be glad to not have the responsibilities of the Priesthood.
However, trends have begun to shift at a glacial pace, slowly creeping through the church as popular culture becomes less and less tolerant of discrimination and segregation. One such example is the LDS Missionary program. Women are discouraged from being missionaries, but the church leaders have acknowledged that some young women feel the urge to proselytize as well. A shorter program for women, focused more on community service, is available for young women. Typically, women missionaries are older than their male counterparts. Most church leaders will recommend that if a young woman has a potential husband, her prefered role in the church would be to marry that man and begin a new LDS family. Women missionaries, not being given the Priesthood, can proselytize, but not baptize.
In 1890, LDS President Wilford Woodruff issued his famous Manifesto, which ended the church sanctioning of plural marriage. This was mostly because of the terrible legal issues that arose as a result, as polygamy was illegal throughout the USA, and prevented Utah from being allowed into the Union as a fully-privileged state. However, during the early days of the LDS church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, polygamy was a common practice. In fact, Joseph Smith had at least thirty-three different wives, many of whom were already married to other men. Their husbands served as witnesses to their own wives' marriages to the Prophet. An interesting note is that many of the early church members publicly admitted that the doctrine of plural marriage was what drew them to the church in the first place.
This practice slowly died out after Wilford Woodruff's Manifesto, but many groups split away from the core LDS church, creating "splinter colonies". Most of these migrated away from the core LDS areas of Salt Lake City and Provo, towards more southern Utah and even other states. Few of these anachronistic groups still exist, but those that do are often very unsettling to the contemporary observer. Marriages of pre-pubescent daughters, by their parents, to older men have been revealed to the press, and the public's indignant reaction has driven these groups further and further into hiding and obscurity. They are not publicly recognized by the church authorities.