Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Our hands, our future

There's a simple, almost primal joy in creating something by hand. As technology takes our hands and applies them to a keyboard-only world, I feel that I am rebelling by doing more handwork. 

I've talked about my hand-piecing, hand-quilting craft before on this blog. But it's really much deeper than just the Zen quality I gain from putting needle and thread to fabric.

As you become more familiar with a task, you stop thinking. Your body - often your hands - take over. While piecing and quilting I find myself sometimes looking down at my hands in wonder. 

How did I get to the point where my hands work so quickly to thread a needle, move two pieces of fabric together almost without effort into the correct position, and even recover from a mis-stich so effortlessly?

I get that same feeling when I play guitar. A couple of weeks ago I was teaching a friend (with only two formal lessons under her belt) to play some basic chords. When did I become such an expert? How did my hands become so familiar with the neck of a guitar?

I know you'll say that it's just a matter of repetition but it seems more than that. I think intuition plays a big part. Creating things with our hands is as true to our nature as mammals as we can get. Yet, we are quick to delegate "manual labor" to others. Handwork is quickly becoming a blue-collar specialty.

When I was a kid, my dad and his friends used to get together on Saturday mornings and build dormers on each others' houses. Then they moved on to picture windows. No one ever hired a carpenter unless it was a job outside of their common-sense realm like building a house from scratch.

Where has that trust in our own sense and our own hands gone? 

When my friend Lynne was teaching me how to quilt a few years ago, I was (and still am) adamant that I would make my quilts entirely by hand. I wouldn't have it any other way. No machine ever touches my quilts.

There are people who look at me like I'm insane when I tell them that. But their looks of confusion quickly turn to wonder. My grandmother made quilts by hand but no one looked on in wonder then. It was a standard answer because most people didn't have the money to buy fancy sewing machines and certainly never considered outsourcing the final quilting to a quilt shop as is often done today.

So how do we capitalize on that sense of wonder and inspire others to get back to the basics? 

I don't know anyone under the age of 50 who quilts, knits or sews. Will texting replace the beautiful handwork skills we've inherited from our ancestors? Will we begin giving up life-sustaining and creative skills like cooking and baking and delegate them to a trained few? 

I worry about these things as I see computer skills become more and more important in school curriculum and social interactions. And then I think: Who can I pass this wonder down to?

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