Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hand Made

In past generations, well educated young women learned languages, art, music and handwork from governesses at home or at finishing schools. My paternal grandmother, Eveline, was always knitting, crocheting or tatting something. She made a lovely handkerchief with a finely crocheted border for me to carry on my wedding day. My mother sewed nearly all our clothes when we were children, including pajamas, and coats. My sister-in-law has made numerous quilts over the years.

The first knitting I did was to earn a Brownie badge. I had to make a 50 by 50 stitch square which was added to an afghan that the entire group contributed to. In 7th grade, the girls in my home economics class were taught how to make a proper cup of tea and how to sew from a pattern. We all made shift dresses out of cotton that year, as they were the style in 1968. I have done crewel work, knitted slippers and scarves, crocheted a poncho (think granny squares, hippies) and have sewed a lot of clothes over the years.

When my daughters were in grade 7, the girls and boys were not separated for shop and home studies. The girls and boys made CD shelves and metal boxes, and they all sewed an apron of their own design. I never taught my girls to knit or do any kind of needlework, other than threading a needle to mend a button. Grandma T. would be horrified to see how little her great granddaughters know about domestic arts.

Most cultures have unique handwork and art with techniques that have been passed down for generations. When I first visited Mexico, there was hand painted pottery, embroidery, hand weaving, leather and wood crafts and more found in markets and on street corners. This past year, I went to a couple of markets and found that most things sold were “Made in China”. The merchandise was similar to what is seen in our local dollar stores. My daughter found the little embroidered “doll” that covers a bottle of hot chili sauce for sale from some indigenous Nayarit Indians in the town zocalo in Tepic. But that was a rare find.

In our instant world, taking time and effort to craft something by hand is quickly becoming a thing of the past. I rarely find time to sew, and may cut just one or two patterns a year. I still knit dishcloths from cotton yarn, so simple a pattern that I do not have to concentrate on them at all. (I cannot watch TV without doing something else with my hands).

There will always be crafters, but the average person is unlikely to practice and learn skills which were once common for most people in the recent past. It is important to nurture our creativity and there will always be new ways to do that. Whether I pick up my knitting needles, or my camera, I can create something I enjoy and can pass on to others.

(I had this post done as a draft a couple of weeks ago. See what Laura says about her latest handwork project. Must be the season that provides similar inspiration.)


  1. When I was a teenager, I knitted and crocheted scarves and other simple things, but I haven't done anything like that since... It was fun, though.

  2. Indeed it's becoming a lost art... handmade things.

  3. It's funny that I'm reading posts about needle work now as I've been thinking about it for a while. I think for me it's being stuck in the house in the evenings this winter that make me want to get my hands busy. A friend gave me a pattern to crochet cotton bandages that her church sends off to a mission (I belive in S. America). We bought the materials and both my husband and I hope to start this weekend. Busy hands might make the evenings in front of the TV seem less wasted.

  4. I think it is the season.

    I would really like to learn to do something useful, rather than so decorative like cross-stitch.

    My husband can sew better than I do and knows how to run a sewing machine. My mom made some of ou clothes when I was little, but she never taught me any of that.

    I would love to learn to quilt - a friend at work is taking classes and says it's really enjoyable.

  5. Mary- When we were teenagers, crocheting was the rage. Now a teenager wouldn't be caught in a homemade scarf or vest!

    Jayne- Yes, we are too busy and children (and bloggers) would rather be at the computer than doing a craft!

    Lynne- Some of our nurses do handwork on night shifts, as our hospital is not an acute centre. The crocheted bandages sound like a great project. They would likely be reusable too.

    Laura- You can do something useful after you finish you challenging sampler. I think the best thing about quilting is the group effort and companionship. The Mennonites here make the most beautiful quilts which are auctioned off each May at the Mennonite Relief sale for charity.


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