Monday, December 26, 2005

Hand-Made, Home-Made

I'm very grateful for everyone's comments. I haven't had time to post them all, so if you don't see yours right away, please don't be offended.

My husband and I were discussing family living of the past, and the subject of gifts. One outstanding characteristic of those days was that not everything came from stores. Not everything was bought, but it was not because they didn't have money. They liked being creative and took great joy in using their artistry to make gifts for their family members.

Sometimes when I'm making something by hand, someone who happens by, will ask me why I bother, when these things are so available in the stores and can be bought. Why bake your own bread? Why make your own gifts? They don't understand it. It has something to do with a feeling you get from doing it, and the feeling you have for your loved ones.

And, lately, the things that people place the most value on, are those things left behind by their grandmothers, like quilts, hand-made furniture, paintings, personal letters, original poems and stories, diaries, and hand work of any kind. While they might enjoy having their grandfather's watch, the family photo album and scrapbook are equally treasured.

Even though the items were hand-made, neither one of us can recall that people felt pressured, stressed, or upset by the effort it took. Maybe it was because making things created an inner contentment in the maker. They were thoughtful people, appearing to be musing about something. While engrossed in hand-making an item, one would look up to focus on a far-away scene out the window. There was a two-fold purpose in this: one, to be able to work their creative minds, and two, to rest the eyes from close-up work. I don't know if people know that these days--that you have to look up from your typing or reading, and focus afar, for the health of the eyes.

Our fathers made things from wood, such as little shelves, toys, rolling pins or carvings, and yet, we can't remember hearing fits of temper over the work. Our mothers made tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, doilies and small carpets (which were in past times called "coverings.") At the treadle sewing machines or when hand knitting something, these women had an aura of calm. We couldn't recall them hurrying or trying to do things at factory pace.

I thought it might be interesting to find out more about things people made at home for ornaments or gifts. In my family, we used trash items such as empty egg cartons, tin cans, empty food boxes, or old cards and wrapping paper.

From the egg cartons, our mother showed us how to fashion silver bells which we used as ornaments to hang on the curtain rods so that they would sparkle in the windows. We just covered them with foil, put a bit of string in them with a wad of foil on the end for the bell.

You can make ornamental tea cups from egg carton sections, by using the cup part for the tea cup, and some of the flat lid for the saucer. Cover in any kind of thin wrapping paper, and decoupage it with glue, or, paint it and decorate with glitter. Make a handle out of some of the carboard or use metallic chennile wire.

Any empty container or box from the kitchen could be covered, painted, glitterized and used as buckets and baskets or treasure trunks holding even more gifts. Kitchen supplies such as applesauce and cinnamon, or waxed paper and parchment paper, were used to make everything from writing paper to scented ornaments.

We were enchanted with glitter, in those days. Glitter covered a multitude of crafting imperfections and the sparkle of it was very welcome in the dull winter climate that had hardly any light. Glitterized things would catch the light of the Coleman lanterns and the home seemed like an imaginary enchanted cottage. Old cards could be cut into shapes and the edges glitterized. We made our own greeting cards, so we used glitter liberally.

In the winter, fathers made sleds for their children, and in the summer, little sailboats to play with on puddles and ponds. Mothers made dolls by drawing out the shape of a doll on fabric from worn out pillowcases or clothing. These dolls had either yarn or pen-drawn hair and hand-sketched faces, sometimes embroidered. Now, there are dolls deliberately manufactured to look like these old hand made toys, but I am sure that as girls grow older, they would much prefer to have a sentimental, worn out doll made by their mother or grandmother's own hands, that would truly be one-of-a-kind.

I'm not suggesting that we should try to make everything we own, but that there can be purpose and satisfaction to making a few things, at our own pleasure and leisure, in this life.

Painting: Acrylic paints on wood. (Click for a larger view)


Anonymous said...

Ah, handmade is the best — the love which goes into it is nearly palpable. I am a sewer/crocheter/crafter and always enjoyed giving and receiving handmade gifts. We taught our daughters to appreciate them, too. Unfortunately, one of our daughters has in-laws who do NOT appreciate her lovely handmade efforts, which breaks my heart. When someone has the nerve to say, "Why didn't you just buy something NICE?" it is hard to feel the joy of giving.

Wanda said...

I have a very good friend who taught both my daughter and I to knit over the past year. With this new skill I created cell phone cases for three teenaged nieces, a beautiful shawl for my daughter, and a baby blanket for my new great-nephew.

My sons and husband all received pj/lounge pants I'd sewn. My daughter knitted doll scarves as gifts and also sewed hanging bulletin boards for her big brothers.

My wonderful husband received a coupon book from all of us for a variety of little things like him choosing the movie for all of us to watch one night, me making the morning coffee, going to sleep without me reading in bed first, uninterrupted time with his guitar and so on.

My elder son made an aluminum-alloy dagger with a custom sheath for his little sister (every girl needs one, right?)with his father's power tools.

We also made some stained glass ornaments for the tree. They look amazing and the children had a wonderful time creating them.

I think that's about it for us this year. Those gifts are so much more special in the long run for the love that went into making them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Lydia,
Your article has triggered me to bring up something that I do not believe I have ever discussed with any person... It has dawned on me, through pondering your post that there are a couple of things in our home that I really treasure.
And we use these items everyday.
A matter a fact, my Mother requested an apron while helping me with Christmas dinner. As I went to reach for this apron, I realized what I was handing her, so I made the statement...."Would you believe this very apron my husband made when he was 17 years old?" (My husband is now 47 years) A very sturdy, functional, simple apron. As I said this to my Mother, I was realizing that it was, indeed, a small article that has now become quite sentimental to our family. I am not a person who hangs on to things, but this item has somehow managed to hang around. Perhaps, because it really has been quite useful.
There are a few other items that we treasure. Though, quite plain.
When we began homeschooling our children, the oldest around ten years old or so, my husband put together three tables. One table about 3 by 5 with a laminated top, and two benches, to be used for our schooling. And two desks about 2 by 5. One daughter uses one, and I use the other for our computer. Very simple, Not fancy. Yet, rustic, and quite functional. They do look nice in our living room, and bedrooms. We have used them for 10 or so years now.
At times, I have mentioned to my husband how much we have all appreciated his humble creations.
Enjoyed sharing this with you.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy hand making items so much, I started a few years ago to make some cross stitched Christmas cards that we send to about 10 people. I work on them throughout the year. I hope people enjoy receiving them as much as I do sending them!! I, too, though have had the pain of having recipients NOT like homemade gifts. One year, I made knitted gifts for my in-law side of the family and they were not well received. Now that I'm older, I don't think it would bother me as much as it did then. I still find pleasure in the doing, regardless of the outcome.

Cherish the Home said...

Anonymous: I can't believe that someone wouldn't appreciate a gift that someone worked so hard on! I appreciate ALL gifts whether bought or made. The fact that someone would spend their hard earned money on me touches my heart.....Or, that someone would take time out of their busy life to make something with their own hands just for me blesses and warms my heart too.

People need to learn to be more appreciative of ANY gift that comes their way!

Anonymous said...

My most prized posessions are the handmade gifts my mother made for me over the years. When I look at them every day in different parts of my home it is like being hugged all over again by her even though she went home to the Lord six years ago. I feel so sorry for those who do not appreciate what they are missing when they pass up the love of someone's handmade gift - nothing can replace that kind of thoughtfulness or caring! - Meg

Anonymous said...

I made curtains this week. They turned out beautiful. I can't believe it myself.