Friday, January 11, 2013

An Antiquated Skill Set

I envy people who have truly useful skills and aptitudes.  People who can fix houses, easily pick up languages, play many instruments, or are really good with babies-- those are skills that have always been important and always will be.  I can make basic repairs, struggle with Spanish, can sing most of the notes,  and only just manage with babies, but I really do envy those who can do useful things with ease and panache.

My special talent, though, would have won me friends and influenced people a few centuries ago. It's almost completely pointless in the throwaway age:  I can sew, hand-embroider, knit, or crochet anything.  If it's a stitch I don't know, I can teach it to myself from a book or a video.  If it's a daunting project with several hundred colors of embroidery floss, I can get it done.  It doesn't overwhelm me.  I can hand-knit or crochet sweaters, socks, hats, scarves, mittens, or blankets.  I can make clothes or fix damaged clothes.  I can take a blank piece of linen and do this:
Desiderata.  One L O N G poem. 

I've loved the Desiderata since before the confusion was cleared up that it was written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s rather than a monk in the 1600s.  It's a lovely poem with good advice for anyone on how to live in this world.

This tapestry took me several years to complete, with a long period of time where I didn't do anything with it and rather taught myself to knit socks, then made a red cashmere afghan, thinking I'd rather have something useful to show for my work.  I got about a third of the way down and put it aside. I decided to finish this by the end of 2012, because it's so large and I'd already bought the silk thread, and I hate to leave something even marginally worthwhile unfinished.  It's being framed now and it will hang in our entryway so the children can have it memorized by the time they leave home.

When I was dropping it off to be framed, an older lady stopped at the counter and asked if I'd done this.  I said yes, and she asked, "By machine?"  No, I replied, by hand.  She rolled her eyes.  "Too much work.  I don't think I could stand it!" was her response.  On the contrary, I find it relaxing to create.  I don't sit and watch television without something to do, ever, so the handwork gives me something worthwhile to create during that downtime.  I'm not that easily entertained by TV and this does help.

This is my last big embroidery project for the foreseeable future, and it was a big one.  I've already moved on to knitting a scarf to go with a hat I made for my daughter, who observed correctly that she had no scarf.  I'm hoping to have enough yarn for matching mittens.
Baby sweater with unfortunately-spaced buttons

But really cute buttons at that.
Maybe I'll take up carpentry one day and find out that I'm really good at it.  Maybe I'll learn to play the piano I dust every week.  I am working hard at learning Spanish (more on that soon), and the days of figuring out what babies need are thankfully behind me now; these days, those babies request handknit items and help select the wool.  Someday, I hope, my loved ones will look at these things made with love and remember me by them, more so than a dress or sweater or hat made in China and bought cheap.  Maybe they'll hang this Desiderata in one of their own homes one day. I'll stick to my knitting, quaint a thing to do as it is.

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