Mass production makes everything transitional and disposable, but the handmade object is personal. It takes times to craft, which gives it a permanence that factory-made objects do not have.... The handmade object, created with care and detail, embodying a history and tradition, is enormously powerful.
When we only buy mass-produced items, or only buy with a click on the internet, we become merely passive consumers. We're removed from the process of how things are made, how they work, the people who make them, and the raw materials and energy that go into their production. We're distant from all of these things and people, and in a sense from the real world.
We may not realize it, but we're surrounded by the hard work and innovation of people who came before us. The chair and desk at which you sit, the lightbulb in your lamp, the glass in your window, the book on your shelf, your pen, your eyeglasses, the qwerty keyboard on your computer. The coffee in your cup, and the cup itself. You're surrounded by history.
Crafts are pieces of history and tradition passed from one maker to another. My grandmother taught me to crochet, and I taught my daughter. My sister-in-law taught my son to knit. My husband learned to refinish furniture from a friend of his family. He'll probably teach our grandson model-building.
Have you read Little House in the Big Woods? The range of skills possessed by Ma and Pa Ingalls is astonishing. My grandfather did his own carpentry and engine repair, was a self-taught gunsmith and surveyor, and played several musical instruments. My grandmother grew a garden, raised goats and chickens, made cheese, preserved food, sewed, embroidered, crocheted, and quilted. These skills were not unusual for people of their generation, but their children used only a few of them, and I know fewer still.
We lose something when we stop creating.
At the very least we lose independence and self reliance, but it's possible we lose even more. Humans are supposed to create and innovate. Anthropologist Augustin Fuentes, author of The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional, says that "without art, we're not human."
It seems that there's a lot about modern culture that is dehumanizing. There's an old saying, "How we do anything is how we do everything." What I see in myself and others is that we want everything to be fast, even instant. We rush, we push, we're impatient, we "just want to get it over with."
Wow, is that life? Do we want to just "get through" our lives? Are we happy to waste what we've been given, with no appreciation, care, or attention? Really?
I think we'd be happier finding some purpose in life. When we imagine something, and then make that a reality, we're doing something distinctly human.
Working with our hands gives us meaning.
- It slows us down in a hurried world.
- It teaches patience, perseverance, and deferred gratification, values that counteract our speedy, busy, frazzled society.
- It keeps us active rather than passive; productive rather than pointless.
- It requires an investment of time and energy, so in order for us to commit ourselves to a project we must enjoy the process itself. Satisfaction is found in the work as well as the outcome.
- It obliges us to accept that perfection is an illusion, but that something serviceable and attractive doesn't have to be without flaw.
- It reminds us that we are capable. No one is born with the skills of a craftsman, and it's not magic. But with practice, passion, and time, we can create something useful and beautiful.
So what can you hand make this summer?
You can sew, quilt, embroider, knit, crochet. Maybe you can learn to spin and hand-dye your yarn (or purchase your supplies from someone who practices those crafts). I have a friend who creates exquisite costumes for a theater troupe, and my son has made several detailed and inventive outfits for cosplay.
You might not be a woodworker (or maybe you are!), but if a chair, table, or dresser is well-built from wood to begin with, you can refinish or paint and embellish it. My husband enjoys this work.
You can draw or paint or do calligraphy. You can make and illustrate your own pop-up cards or even a picture book (my daughter made several when she was in her teens).
I have a friend who creates stained glass. Another took ceramics classes at the local community college and has made some good-looking bowls, crocks, and mugs.
You can write a story or a poem or start a blog.
You can grow a garden, make jam or pickles or your own lavender sachets.
You can play an instrument, maybe create your own music or learn to improvise. I know people who play with jazz and oldies rock groups, and have many friends who sing and act in theater and opera productions.
You can pick up a hammer and build houses with Habitat for Humanity, or hammer out a dent and touch up the paint on your teenager's car.
You can figure out ways to reduce your monthly expenses and write out a new budget which allows you to pay off debt, invest for retirement, or start saving for that trip to Paris. And before you go, you can learn to prepare coq au vin and ratatouille and a perfect soufflé.
Or maybe you'll bake delicious artisanal sourdough bread using wild-caught yeast in your carefully nurtured starter, as my son-in-law has learned to do.
Why not make a pot of tea and hand write a letter to your elderly aunt who doesn't do email? Or to your pastor, thanking her for her ministry? Or to your husband, telling him why you still love him after all these years?
Do you have other ideas? Please share in the comments below.
Photo by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash
P.S. This post contains paid links.