“Could you sew this up, please?” My husband handed me one of his favorite pieces of clothing the other day, and I handed it back to him – repaired – shortly afterwards. Only then it occurred to me that I had simply used a skill my mother had taught me when I was barely out of my toddler years. That you don’t unlearn such a skill. And that it helps with sustainability.
Needlecraft. When I was about four years old, I learned how to sew a seam, how to mend a sock, how to sew on a button, how to crochet. The first piece I sewed was an apron for my favorite doll. I was proud as Punch. Of course, the stitches weren’t as even and as straight as my hand-sewing would render them in later years. But the result kept till I gave away my dolls to an orphanage, wardrobes included.
Don’t take me wrong, I wasn’t always keen on needlework just for the sake of wielding a needle and some thread. Repair work can be pretty tedious even though the result might be surprisingly rewarding. I fell in love with embroidery watching my mother do crewel work in her sparse leisure time. She taught me cross stitch, and from then on there was no holding anymore. She also taught me knitting. My sewing skills came in handy with patchwork and quilting. In short, what I learned as a kid often became hobbies. If my needlework didn’t add to my wardrobe or my home decoration, it helped with repairs. It even came in more than useful when I worked for a magazine for the needlecraft industry over in Germany.
My mother taught me lots more. So much came with observation. How to cook (I always found baking much more boring), how to make provisions stretch and ends meet. She taught me to garden – it hasn’t exactly become a hobby but a useful skill when adding to the pantry. She taught me to craft and use those skills for repair work, too. In a way she taught me the self-confidence to simply try something new and do it as well as I could. When I had my first household, so much came in handy. I just wished I had learned how to handle a Hilti, too, or how to do more around a car than just exchange lightbulbs, spark plugs, and windshield wipers.
I have no idea how much money I saved over the years in simply applying skills that I was taught as a child, having learned some even inadvertently. Just by being invited to watch. Putting silicone around bathtubs. Tiling. Covering walls with wallpaper. Painting walls and ceilings. Learning how to clean difficult stains.
Some of the most rewarding times I had was when I was able to hand these skills on to kids myself. How to design an embroidery pattern and actually put in all the right stitches. How to make a beautiful light from a terracotta pot by painting it and putting on decoupage. How to knit. Even how to defrost and clean a fridge. How to prepare a simple but tasty meal.
Some of my best times have been when I was able to apply one of these skills to lasting projects. I have been embroidering for 45 years, until I decided I wanted my eyesight more for writing than for creating decorative objects. And everybody knows that I simply love cooking.
Hand skills come in handy so very much. We should figure which are ours way more often and try to hands them on before they are lost. I am happy for all the facts and more abstract knowledge that I have been acquiring in my life. But it fills me with infinite happiness and pride when my hand skills can help find a solution to a problem somebody entrusts me with. And if it’s just a seam that needs mending.