Thursday 26 April 2007

Lost Lessons

My mother is an amazing seamstress. As a young girl I have fond memories of watching her make me dresses. I have even fonder memories of watching her dress my 3 younger brothers in matching shirts which she made herself. I am sure they don't share my fondness for their moment of humiliation. But, in fact, they were amazing pieces of clothing. And her love for us shined through.

I never learned to sew. Well, a bit. My grandmother, Tressie - my mother's mother - was a professional seamstress. She sewed leather. She made me a full length purple leather pinafore with orange butterflies n it. this was the 1970s. It was the bomb. I loved it and I loved wearing it. She taught me lots of things like embroidering and a bit of sewing. So if I have to sew on a button, I can. I can hem a pair of trousers although don't look too closely. But I never learned the skill to her level of expertise.

I taught myself to cross stitch. I took a class to learn to quilt. I am teaching myself to knit. I can't crochet.

I can cook. My mother and Nanny taught me this. My mother gave me a sock darning lesson on this blog.

But are we teaching our daughters (and sons) these skills? When I first met Marc he couldn't sew on a button if his life depended on it. In the name of progress (and to some extent feminism), I feel we are going to lose these skills within the next generation. When I tell people I quilt, they look at me like I belong in an retirement home. I once saw a comment on a knitting blog that said women shouldn't be knitting. That it was cheaper and faster and better quality to just buy the sweater/socks/scarf in a shop. And isn't that what feminism was all about, freeing women from the slavery of knitting jumpers?

Uh, no! Feminism was about getting the right to vote, equal access to education and opportunity in employment as men. And getting paid the same money for the same work. Feminism is about owning the choices we make about what we can and cannot do with our bodies and living with the consequences. Feminism is about allowing men to be house husband without stigma and embarrassment. There's a lot of things that feminism is about. Not knitting isn't one of them.

I've also heard people say that homemade presents are just an excuse for not spending money. Well, maybe for some. But not many. As a matter of fact anyone who has done one will tell you that the supplies for making things yourself are often more expensive than just buying the finished product. And that's if you don't count the time spent. I can tell you time is money and my time is worth a lot. If I charged you for the scarf I'm making at my hourly wage, you'd have to remortgage the house.

No, these projects are about making something with your own hands and heart. Picking out the fabric/yarn/thread with your own sense of colours and style. And then spending time putting it together for someone you love. And, in the case of my quilting projects, bleeding on the fabric. And in the case of my knitting, cursing when I have to start over. And over. And over. And then giving it away.

When Sebastian and Abigail were born we received a couple of quilts which were hand made. And loads of other store bought blankets. The blankets are gone. They've served their purpose. The handmade quilts are still on their beds. Still being used. They get rotated around as laundry demands. And I am certain that they will one day be stowed away in a memory chest. But come a later date, they will be pulled out and looked upon lovingly in remembrance of the person who made it for them.

One of my most cherished Christmas decorations is a ceramic Santa Claus face. My mother-in-law painted it and gave it to our family for Sebastian's first Christmas. Every holiday season it hangs in prized position over our fireplace. Whenever I look at it I think of her. And how much she must love us to have spent so much time and care painting it and firing it.

We must teach our children these simple lessons. There are so many things to learn. So many things to be taught. Get busy. The next time you are tempted to get in the car and drive somewhere to buy something, consider the impact to the environment. And make something instead. And teach a child to make it with you. I will teach my children. Soon!


Janell said...

My mom would agree with you: that the making of a thing is 90% of the gift. She had a tradition of making an Angel food cake for each of her grandchildren (within driving distance) for their birthdays. Shirley’s daughter, Cassie once asked her, “Why don’t you just buy one at the store like we do?” Mom didn’t really have an answer for that, but confided to me later, “I guess my cakes aren’t as good as the ones they can buy.” As her next birthday approached, Emily (my daughter) said hopefully to Mom, “You’re going to make me an Angel food cake, aren’t you, Grandma?” Mom’s face lit up and she said, “Of COURSE I will, Emily!” and Emily always had an Angel food cake for her birthday ever after, until Mom stopped baking. Thank you for stirring this memory for me.

Anonymous said...

To add to Janell's memory. Mom also
made all the grandbabies and some of the great grandbabies ABC quilts. The blocks were embroideried "A is for ??, B is for
??" and so forth. She was only 5'2" so everything she bought had to be shortened. She took all the
strips she had saved and made a quilt out of them. In the corner
was embroidered "Rachel 5'2".

Anonymous said...

Oops, can't even spell my own name.

Anonymous said...

Betty made me a ceramic baby boot with all of my information weight, height i loved it and still do. Also my mom makes very good candy during Christmas and it's a great gift to give someone. Whipper

Anonymous said...

This posting brought back such memories for me. Such a delight. I can crochet, but not knit. Both make me very stressed. The knitting took on my mood and would be tight or very infrequently loose, and fit for no one. My mother made a prom dress for my older sister out of the drapes in the dining room. She looked super! Later mom crocheted afgans for each of us, in our preferred colors. We all still have them. She even started to make winter long jackets (quilted)with snaps, to keep warm. Thanks

LaDawn said...

I made Sebastian a birthday cake on his first birthday. Everyone made fun of me. I now only make birthday cakes for our family birthday parties.

Myrnagj said...

I must respond to the Angel food cake memories. I made two Angel food cakes this week. One is on my table ready to take to Bodega Bay for the weekend where my family will celebrate my birthday. (Check my blog for details.)but not today.
Last night five friends came to my new apartment for the first time and I served Angel Food Cake, fresh strawberries, and icecream for a birthday celebration. the cake for today was cooling on the counter. My friend Joan who this year celebrated her 80th birthday last December said, "Now you have a lot of egg yolks you don't know what to do with." The rest of us, 15 years younger, said in unison "Oh no she has two empty boxes to recycle."

Here is the evolution of Angle Food Cake: First you had to get the eggs out from under the hens, separate them, beat the whites by hand with sugar and flour and whatever else. Then you bought a dozen eggs separated them and beat them with a hand egg beater. Then everything came in a box and you added water and used an electric mixer. Then came what Cassie knew about, buying them at the store.

Here's one more kid story. When my kids were small I made mashed potatoes from boxes. One day I made them the "traditional" way. The next day I overheard my oldest daughter, Denise, telling her friend: My mom has a new way of making mashed potatoes, she cooked the potatoes and mixed them with the mixer. OK so this might be too much. Myrna