When was the last time you sewed anything by hand?
It’s now considered such a retro idea. Get new clothes! Take them to the dry cleaner for repairs!
Do you even own a sewing box, filled with needles and pins and a rainbow of spools of thread?
When I was at boarding school, we each had a two-tier sewing basket. I loved it and the sense of always being ready, that it gave me. We learned only a few stitches but I’ve never needed more, and have made tablecloths and pillows without a machine using these simple stitches.
I admit, embarrassedly, I don’t know how to knit or crochet or embroider, all arts I truly admire. So this, for now, is the extent of my skill.
Instead of being attached to yet another screen, touching more plastic and metal, there’s the softness of linen or cotton or silk. The endless challenge of threading that damn needle!
As someone always curious about pre-industrial life, I love how this simple action repeats one made over millennia and across every geographic boundary.
I find it meditative and soothing and love making little repairs or making small sachets filled with dried lavender out of vintage textile scraps, tucking them between ironed pillowcases in the linen closet or thrown into our suitcases when we travel.
I also have some lovely antique buttons, with no official use (yet!)
Here’s a pillow cover I recently made from some flea market white linen and a great 30s bit of cutwork I found in a Paris flea market that someone dyed indigo.
For those of you who don’t have one — and I’m guessing that’s most of you — here’s my current sewing box: needles, thread, ribbon, vintage and new buttons, a bit of vintage cotton, my beloved and very un-PC pincushion of Chinamen (wrong phrase, yes I know) holding hands. My thimble appears to have gone missing, but I rarely used it anyway.
I pulled it out the other day to repair a cotton rug whose edging, after only a few washings, had begun to come apart and fray. I think there are people who would have kept it looking crappy and others who might have simply thrown it away. Not me.
I also have some mending on my to-do list, old cashmere with a few holes.
I love using my hands to make and repair things.
Some of the things I can do, or have done, very happily far away from a touch-screen:
— cook a good meal, with sauces or nicely plated
— bake quick breads, cookies, cakes, pies
— sew and mend
— take photos, draw and paint, (both artistically and walls/furniture, etc.)
Loved this post, from one of my new favorite blogs, key + arrow, written by a young couple in Austin, Texas. This, from georgia, on the sensual, slow-moving pleasure of shaving, old-style:
I use an old style safety razor..the kind your grandpa may have used. A big heavy piece of chrome and a single double sided blade.
Once I found myself in the position of trying to explain why I prefer to use this older style to a friend of mine. He’s like most guys these days and use whatever 4 blade vibrating head gel strip gizmo they have selling these days.
As i described the process involved in preparing for a proper shave, the pleasure, the advantages….one item provoked the strongest reaction.
He couldn’t understand why I took up to 20 minutes or more to shave and that’s really when it hit me. When you look at the rise of technology and the death of manly rituals, inevitably the clock is to blame. We have sacrificed a whole host of simple pleasures for the sake of time and we are ultimately the poorer for it.
The pipe gives way to the cigarette. The ocean liner gives way to the airplane. The restaurant becomes the drive-through and the conversation becomes the text message…and all because we, as society, continue to believe that if we could just save a bit more time in our day we’d be able to really get to the things we wanted to do.
Ironically, in the pursuit of having enough time to do what we want we are forced to dilute or discard the very things we wanted in the first place…
While it’s easy for city folk to romanticize oldey-timey hand-hewn rusticity — who really wants to chop (all their) wood and haul their water? — I agree with his point of view.
One of the things that vacation reminds me to do — and I always, eagerly, do it wholeheartedly — is mostly ignore technology and its pinging, ringing, buzzing, beeping, dinging, lit-up demands.
Or else, what, exactly?
Unless you’re a head of state or awaiting the news of someone’s imminent birth or death, is anything really that urgent?
There is something so lovely and soothing and sensual about slowing down and doing things with a measured, thoughtful, focused attention.
Twice on our recent vacation in Canada, I simply lay down for a good half hour or more, once on the mossy edge of a granite lake-side and once on the smooth, rounded grey stones of another lake. I watched dragonflies and ants and small leopard frogs and got up again with pine-cone gum embedded in my leggings.
I also emerged completely refreshed.
You can’t really speed up the making of risotto, one of my favorite time-consuming recipes. Nor can you quickly and enjoyably make bread or soup or pastry or bathe a baby or give someone a really good massage or arrange flowers or stare into the night sky.
All of these activities take time.
They require our attentiveness. They can’t be rushed, without spoiling the experience.
Which is, in my view, the whole point of the blessing of our senses. If you don’t stop to even notice the roses, how can you make time to bury your nose in those pink or orange or creamy white petals and smell them?
Do you really want to rush patting your dog or cat? Hugging your sweetie?
One of my favorite books on this topic is by a fellow Canadian, Carl Honore, a fellow alum of the national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.
Here’s his 2005 TED talk in praise of slowness, the subject of his book of the same name; he was prompted to write the book when he found he couldn’t slow down at bedtime when he read to his small boy, tempted to do it at his usual frenzied pace.
In his talk, he says:
“We live in a world obsessed with speed…to quote Carrie Fisher, these days, even instant gratification takes too long…We’re hurrying through our lives instead of living them.”