This morning I woke up with a thought lingering in my head of how far we have come as a society, and yet, how far we’ve moved away from what were typical knowledge skills of the past. I know, there were always those who did not work with their hands, but in this age with most of our work being virtual and most items we need for daily living being mass produced and in such a small price point as to make the necessity of either making or repairing those items an option rather than a necessity, it made me seriously think about the possibility of handcrafts becoming a lost art.
Although I know many people into vintage style think of the late 1960’s/1970’s as a horrible time period, I would have to disagree to an extent. Even if the fashions or the emerging new perception of society values at that time were not your thing (and I’m by no means up to date on the social changed of the 1970s, so I am not going to go into depth on a subject which I have little to no knowledge of), I know that at this time there was a resurgence of the lost arts and return to some of the earlier ways of both self-sustained living (like homesteading and living on your own using old techniques), and lost handcrafts (like weaving and a renewal in interest in the Renaissance and Victorian type arts and dying). I am thankful that there was this revival then. I think back just over the years I’ve been interested in vintage clothing and sewing, and think of how few people of the World War II generation there are left to actually speak to, and then think if I had started research into the past some 20+ years earlier… certainly there were more of the older generation around to learn from, and in turn we have forms of those arts today passed down through those who were interested a generation or two before us.
Just in the short time span since I graduated from fashion school (it will be 10 years ago this year, but that’s a story for another post), if I compare what I learned in school and how I learned it to that of a young lady friend who just graduated from the same school, the results are quite interesting. While we did most things by hand, with computer drawing of flats and illustrations as optional for our final project and a lot of people still doing hand graded patterns, etc, and many of the people not familiar with computers in the classes I was taking, it’s now common to do many things by computers. I am in no means lamenting the rise of the computer- in various job fields it makes our work much faster and makes a lot of things more crisp and clean- but thinking of this, combined with, as I said above, the easy to come by cheap goods needed for necessities, it’s not a surprise that working with your hands to create something or repair something are now considered optional in many cases. Most of our entertainment comes in the form of something you view on screen. Tv, movies, the internet, etc. I’m by no means immune to that and am not saying it’s a bad thing at all, I just enjoy a little bit of balance between the virtual and the tangible.
I have heard so many people lament the fact that they’re not creative, would love to learn to sew or craft but aren’t good with their hands, etc. In some ways I think it’s a result of not being trained at an early age to be able to work with our hands. I was one of the last groups of kids in junior high who was required to take Home Economics. I was HORRIBLE. I could barely sew a straight line (my cousin, who was really a key leader in my early interest in handcrafts and history, taught me hand sewing and crafts much before I learned about sewing on machines). But it really opened up my mind to the fact that I *could* make things in a relatively speedy way. I’m not saying that everyone takes to sewing, or any other craft for that matter, I’m just saying that practice in doing something helps us to be able to do it better. So many of our crafts come pre-packaged today from leading craft stores that all we really need to do is cut something out and stitch or glue it together. I *love* the fact that there is a growing interest in creating something from what are, essentially, basic materials. In the case of sewing, we may not be weaving and dying our own fibres, but we can take basic yard goods and, with a little ingenuity and some work, create a garment we can wear or use as a household item or gift. Often times, these days, the cost of creating these garments is far more expensive than the cost of buying ready made (for cheaper options check out my previous post on Sewing on a Budget), but we have the satisfaction of knowing that we created it ourselves, from our own hands, keeping the tradition alive of making objects on our own.
So that’s about it. I would really encourage you to try your hand at some sort of arts or crafts, if you’re not already involved in some way. The first try may be frustrating, but think of it as a learning process. I think it’s a wonderful thing to keep traditional handcrafts alive, and personally would love to try my hand at countless things I’ve never done before- even if I find they’re not for me. Dying, weaving, bobbin lace making, wood carving, sewing, building furniture or other useful objects- there’s so many options out there and we should try to track them down before we don’t have anyone left to learn from. You just might find out it’s a lot of fun! And if you don’t like it, at least you tried :)