Monday, January 30, 2012

Lost and Found

Today I lost a mitten. Not just any mitten, though. These were the
Ysolda Snapdragon mittens that very nearly defeated me. Several years ago, when I began them, I found the combination of knitting in the round and cabling so fiendish that after several attempts with the chart, then the written instructions, then both at the same time, I was ready to give up. In the end I struggled on and then, a year later (!) had the mental strength to struggle through the second one.
This morning I must have dropped one after I scraped the ice off the windscreen. I had that funny 'something's wrong' niggling, but was in too much of a hurry to stop and look if I'd dropped anything, so I didn't realise until I was at work. Turned out that the niggle was right. Boo!
Thankfully I didn't have enough time to grieve the loss of my handiwork before I was back at home and found the missing Snapdragon draped over the fence. You'll have seen these sad but hopeful little tributes to good citizenship before I'm sure, but in this case lost item and owner were reunited.
All's well that ends well and all that. But this, along with a conversation about C's need for new socks the other day has got me thinking about how our relationship with handmade items must have altered over the years.
When C was talking about needing new socks, I reflected that there must have been a time when, if you weren't in the income bracket that allowed you to buy socks knitted by someone else, the mother in a family (and quite possibly anyone else who could handle needles) would have had to have been knitting socks more or less constantly to keep a family's feet warm. Either that or making other garments, or mending them. With fewer clothes per person, and with time and labour needed to replace or repair them, people must have known their clothes better and forced to value and care for them more than we do.
That said, while our age is one of 'throwaway fashion', where dubious ethics in manufacturing and cheap synthetic fabrics allow us to spin through the buy/wear/bin cycle with alarming speed, handmade has retained or perhaps regained its value. With ideas of hippies crocheting waistcoats out of hemp or grannies knitting hideous acrylic Christmas jumpers now recognised by many as outdated and inaccurate ways to view handcraft, the quality, integrity and individuality of items made by hand is now valued by a growing number of people.
Time is an increasingly precious and rare resource in this world, so the time that's taken to make something by hand is part of what gives it this value. In addition, where once skills such as knitting, sewing, darning and so on would have been as normal for someone looking after a family as being able to switch on a washing machine is now, these days they are a rarer trick and that rarity gives more value.
While we may have lost a more widespread knowledge of these handcrafts, it appears to me that increasingly we are finding (or re-finding) our appreciation of them. Hurrah!

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