Handcrafts and Dying Arts

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We watched the movie Gandhi the night before last. One thing that caught my attention was that he and his wife were always spinning thread/yarn, I think it was cotton. He was asked something to the effect of why was he doing this when there were more important things. The answer was that he felt it was important to keep such skills alive, that if his people were dependant on others they would then be in poverty. It seemed to make sense, and to mesh well with the Coutrysider philosophy.

Then I went to a quilt group last night. Some of the work that was done was simply stunning. Almost all of it was both pieced and quilted by machine. Of course, it was still a lot of work to make those quilts- and I am not intending to degrade the work of those ladies at all! But some of the ladies are in awe of handwork, and they ooh and ahh over hand applique and quilting. Very few piece by hand. Patterns that mimic blocks that would usually be done by hand (curved piecing, Baltimore Album), but allow you to make something similar by machine, are very popular. They don't want to do that much work, but they would like to have the look of handwork. Catalogs have clothing that is hand embroidered, appliqued, sometimes the crocheted lace is even done by hand, and these items go for a good price.

There must be something about handwork that attracts us, that we hold precious, even if we don't do it ourselves, and all the more so if we do.

For myself, I really like the handwork. It's soothing and a pleasant way to fill spare moments. It's really satisfying to look at something beautiful that I made, knowing I could never afford to buy something like this- if I could find it for sale in the first place. There is also a voice in the back of my head that says that we should keep these handcrafts alive, so they don't die out.

What do you think are dying arts today? What kinds of handwork do you do?

-- Rebekah (daniel1@itss.net), February 20, 2002


I have learned many, from knitting and crochet, to needlepoint, quilting, embroidery, craft clay ornaments and more. What I can't do is tat. I think of all the different crafts out there, this one is in the most danger of dying.

-- Bernie from Northern Ontario (bernadette_kerr@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

Handiwork, whether it be furniture or shelter making, cloth dyeing, cane work, needle arts, home forgeing, quilting etc. is vital to the survival of the human race.

It is my fervent hope that in each generation there will be enough people to carry on and pass on basic survival skills and art forms. I'm an incurable optimist, so I carry the hope in my heart.

That said, I've tried my best to pass down knitting, crochet, basic weaving, dyeing (using plant parts), sewing, and quilting. That's in addition to survival camping, cooking, gardening, animal husbandry, and carpentry and mechanics(hubby's domain).

So far, we've seen some progress within our own family as the children mature and become parents themselves. Parenting seems to drive the promotion of skills and tools necessary to allow the young to prosper.

We pray for America and all who serve - in any capacity.

-- Michaela (flhomestead@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

I can tat. I taught myself by getting a book and reversing everything in the mirror. I am a lefty. It was tricky, but not impossible.(Husband thought that I was a hoot!) Wish you were closer. I could teach you. I don't tat anything fancy yet. Just some trims. I love to hand quilt, crochet, knit, embroider, and make rag rugs. The one thing that I would dearly love to learn is how to make those neat wool rugs with the wool strips. I have a friend that just completed one. It is really nice. I have taught my 11 year old to do the same things. She has yet to learn to tat. That is a little trickier, but not bad. She is also a lefty.

I agree, there is just something about looking at or using some of the things that you have made! It makes a house more homey for sure! Something special about those homemade quilts especially!

-- Nan (davidl41@ipa.net), February 20, 2002.

I was very fortunate to learn how to tat this past summer. It is an amazing skill to learn with a lot of history if that interests you, too. There are lots of books that teach the basics but this is one of those cases where having a real live person teach is the best way to learn. I was surprised to learn that there are quite a few tatters still out there (do an internet search and see how much comes up). But you certainly don't see it as often as other handwork. (I had never seen someone tat until I took the class.) While taking the class, I found out that my great-grandmother tatted. Boy, would I love to have a piece tatted by her. Unfortunately, nothing was kept. :(

-- Bren (wayoutfarm@skybest.com), February 20, 2002.

I am a weaver and belong to a weaving guild. It was always something I was interested in. When I quit my job and moved to the country I bought a used loom, took a class and joined the guild. Before I did this, I had the mistaken impression that weaving was a dying craft. I have been pleasantly surprised to find out that it is in fact very much alive and well. Our local guild is small and I'm the only and youngest member to join in over 5 years now, but we keep a regular meeting schedule and offer each other encouragement on our projects. Through this local guild we are linked to the larger guilds at the state and national levels. We do demonstrations at the county fair and several other local festivals to keep weaving alive in the community. I can't say enough about how important local groups like this are to keep things going. These older women have given me much encouragement and expert advice, while never making me feel bad for being a beginner. If anyone's interested in learning about weaving or other crafts like spinning and quilting, start with your local guilds. If you don't know who or where they are, look at a state or national level, they can help you.

-- rose marie wild (wintersongfarm@yahoo.com), February 20, 2002.

I have a foot in both sides. I love to do handwork, and fully appreciate the self-sufficiency it gives me to look after my family in the case of emergency or neccessity. However, I also fully appreciate the sheer practicality of modernity as well. When our ancestors were making quilts (except for show and trousseau guilts) they were a neccessity and generally were needed yesterday if not sooner - any one of them would have clocked a "hardcore traditionalist" over the head with her wooden pressing clapper if they denied her the use of a modern technological advance to make these neccessary chores go quicker.

I use the machines for practicality, and do handwork when it's for myself or when the result would be better. If I'm making a crazy quilt item - handwork. If I'm sewing up DH's jeans for another go around - machine. Having the freedom to choose the best of both worlds is truly one of the joys of living in today's society.

-- Soni (thomkilroy@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

I would have loved if the specials I had seen on Tasha Tudor and been alot more about her farm, animals and the raising and weaving of flax, rather than her flowers and drawings/books. My Mom also was never successfull at teaching us how to tat, though I think it is about the only skill that will go to the grave with her. I have been much less successfull with teaching my girls. Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh TX (vickilonesomedoe@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

I agree with you so much. I feel so proud to see something I have made. It is very important to me to pass these things on to my daughters one who will be 6 next week. I am 23 and I wonder are people not worried that one day no one will be able to make a very simple sampler, or quilt a wedding quilt for their grandchild will everything be store bought and mass quanity manufactored. I homeschool my daughter and right now she is learning to embroider and it is just as important as math. She will know how to sew a button on for her child when needed. My daughters will know how to do all these things. I will teach them how to. I feel deprived having to learn from books with no gentel grandmother or mother there to guide me and give me all the secrets that I needed to be a great woman. Maybe this is one of the reasons so many women get married not knowing how to be a wife and mother. I feel so stupid at times because not many feel the way I do about such things but I cant help it. It is nice to find people who are like me. God Bless you All

-- Jennifer (jenniferthf@aol.com), February 20, 2002.

Oh Jennifer, there are any number of us older ones that would adopt you and teach you any of those things that you would like to learn. My grandmother on my Mom's side was the quilter. She hated using the sewing machine and did them all by hand. (probably because my grandpa was a tailor and was the expert on the "machine") We each got a new quilt every year from her. There are only 3 grandkids, but that is still a LOT of quilts. She also knit me sweaters. I was the only girl on that side of the family and the boys didn't like the homemade sweaters. I loved them and still have every one of the ones that she made me. She would threaten to not knit me any more if I didn't get rid of the ones that I had.....I refused and secretly I think that she loved hearing that. She is dead now and I still love to do the things that she taught me to do. I have the quilt that she and I made by hand together when I was only 10 or 11. It is a simple one with 2 inch squares. LOTS OF squares! heehee! I didn't realize at the time that they would be so much smaller when you sewed them all together. LOL My grandmother on my dad's side was the tatter. She also crocheted and quilted. She was the type that had to have her hands busy at all times. That is where I must have gotten it. She died before she could teach me how to tat, but she showed me how to crochet rag rugs. I have all of her shuttles and tatted doilies, tatted pillow cases, and hankies. When she died that is what I asked for out of her house. That is what will always remind me of her! I am blessed with a mother that taught me to sew and 2 grandmothers that taught me the rest. Oh Jennifer, it makes me want to adopt you and help to continue on our rich heritage. Uh Oh...I had better get off of this thing before I get all teary eyed....God Bless all!

-- Nan (davidl41@ipa.net), February 20, 2002.

Has anyone here ever bought the magazine Sew Beautiful. I am in love with that mag. They always have lots of patterns and great stuff.


Little Bit Farm

-- Little bit Farm (littlebit@farm.com), February 20, 2002.

We raise 90 percent of our food in the gardens, can enough for us and three other people, children and sister in law, we even can our meat, chicken and deer. Wife raises four different colors of cotton, flax, spins, weaves, quilts and even has me building a cotton gin this week. We both do wood work, turning and carving. It drives some members of our woodcarving club crazy to see us both working on the same carving at different times but we always share the ideas and some things one is better than the other. We have killed, dressed, and cured our own hogs over the years but the doctor told me I could still do it just don't eat it. We will have a web site up in a week or so so you can look at some of our projects. Yes we have to keep the old crafts going or they will become lost and gone for ever. You would not belive, or mabey you would how much time the wife spends learning some old craft that the infromation is about lost. We collect books on old methods spend many a winter evening reading them.

-- David in North Al (bluewaterfarm@mindspring.com), February 20, 2002.

I am a spinner and I knit, crochet, sew,have learned to use a lucet and do a bit of felting. I grow herbs,forage wild plants to cook with and make medicines from. I bake bread, can, freeze and dry food. The wool I spin is from sheep raised by friends and I process it myself...BUT...I CAN'T TAT! Several ladies have tried to teach me and I just can't seem to get the hang of it, but I will try again. Right now I am crazed to learn to make baskets and pottery is something else I want to learn. The tri-loom also is calling to me, I just can't afford to buy one and my "tool-maker" is so busy that it will be a very long time till he gets to that project! Natural dyeing interests me and I have done some very, very limited experiments, but that will come...someday. Spinning, knitting, working with herbs and so on are meditations for me and I think that creativity reaches our soul and our spirit and love manifests in what we create.

-- nancy (stoneground@catskill.net), February 21, 2002.

I do it all, and I'm always looking for a "NEW" thing to learn, a tip for the ones wanting to tat, use large yarn to learn the knot, it is the same as a Lark's head knot used in macrame, as long as you over then under, then over and so on it will work, you might come up with an extra 1/2 knot when you close the ring but it won't hurt anything, then all you have to get used to is the hand cramps from holding the loop. The bigger yarns make very pretty ornaments, for trees and windows, or gift bows.

-- Thumper/inOKC (slrldr@yahoo.com), February 21, 2002.

Ha, I forgot to answer my own question! I do hand quilting- piecing, applique, and the quilting itself. I used to spin and weave a little, don't have a wheel anymore. I do embroidery, and dabble around a little in various types of needlework. What seems to be a dying art, and I love to learn, is lace making. Not the crocheted type (though I'd love to learn that too, already crochet but the lace is so teeny), but the kind with bobbins and pins that is worked on a pillow. Would love to know how to make the battenburg lace especially. Also stained glass, pottery, and glass blowing has always looked like fun. I've always wondered how they make cloisonne.

-- Rebekah (daniel1@itss.net), February 23, 2002.

Little Bit, does the Sew Beautiful magazine have a lot of handwork, or is it mainly done by machine? Think I'll check if the local store carries it. Is it mostly clothing, or does it have a variety of articles?

-- Rebekah (daniel1@itss.net), March 01, 2002.

I learned to knit when I was five. To crochet when about 8. Mastered the sewing machine at 8. Learned to quilt in our church sewing circle when young.

Recently learned how to make wonderful soap from tallow, lard, etc, and lye. Am going into business making this soap to sell.

But this computer is entirely too addictive. Typing is the "handwork" that I am best at these days. I know, I know... I should be ashamed...

-- daffodyllady (daffodyllady@yahoo.com), March 01, 2002.

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