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4.21.2009

West coast family, An auntie's wisdom, the Handmade process

great grandma's hand-stitched quilt

We hail from the west coast - my whole family, both sides, live all up and down the west. My sister lives in a village in rural - make that "the bush"- Alaska, I have cousins in Seattle, an aunt and more cousins in Boise, my folks here in Sactown, and more cousins and an aunt in various places in southern California. I had one aunt in Texas. She lived south of Houston, on a little island - right up to about last September. My husband, son and I were in Boston as we watched the news of Hurricane Ike in all of it's doppler radar colors creep slowly up over Houston. My aunt had fleed north to weather the storm and escape its eye, but her little house was flooded beyond repair, and subsequently razed, along with many of its - her things.

I often think about how my aunt's devastation was my mother's and my luck. In January, she came to our town to live. Strangely enough she had been considering moving here - as we are her only family - and well before she had considered moving here I had had a dream that she lived here and was quite comfortably celebrating Christmas with us. Presto-chango, my aunt - whom I really did not know aside from the occasional card, crafted gift and infrequent visit - now lives here. It is great having her here. My mom is enjoying their time together too. My mom (who is also great with her hands, although uses different mediums - like beadwork = gorgeous necklaces) only recently, surely due to my aunt's influence, has picked up a crochet hook and knitting needles and gone to work on a ball of yarn. Friday evenings have become a semi-regular dinner date for all of us, where we get to show off our latest project. My aunt is a master craftsperson - although I'm not sure she would describe herself that way. She's done just about every thing a person can do with handcrafts and it is awesome to be able to learn from her.

In her house was many a project, books, and the things that make up a life. Much of it, save for the items higher up, was lost in the hurricane. I think about the handmade items that she can never again take out - the time spent on them, the resources lost. She works on new things now every day, and every time I see her I learn something new about her and tips or advice about whatever project I happen to be working on. What a gift for me - I only hope she enjoys sharing her knowledge and the wisdom that comes from all that she's done as much as I enjoy receiving it.

One of her latest projects is working on a quilt top. She's doing it by hand. Hand sewing. Not machine. "Why would you want to do it by hand when you can do it by machine?" I asked. "It's part of the process," she said. Of course. The sound you hear is my future master's degree bonking me in the head. That's sort of hard to explain. The whole idea of doing any work with your hands is to slow the process down, right? The truth is, we can buy just about anything we want. Just purchase it. But to make it yourself - to twist the silver with pliers, cut out the shape you have drawn, or pull the needle and thread through the fabric - the process of making something out of nothing, that is why we do it. The end product is great, yes, but the idea of the end product - the vision in your head of what it will look like before it is complete - that is what moves our hands. The repetition of the process, the more fluid way the hands move each time something is done, the way that the hands move as the motions go from being awkward and new to becoming fluid and familiar. All of this is the process. It has been done since forever and the speed with which we can produce things and buy them now makes it easy to forget how long it once took to create an item. A shirt, a chair, or a quilt were once so cared for that they went through numerous incarnations. Let us not forget our humble beginnings - we are rediscovering some humility as our dire economy toils on.

Anyway, here's a great big shout out to my aunt, and a real long explanation for the new button on my sidebar. Buy handmade - you'll know who made it - maybe not personally but at least by name, and it might not be perfect but it will have heart, something Walmart doesn't have.

3 comments:

jenny woods said...

Genny-
I so appreciate this post. My Mom quilts, a lot. On all of our beds we use her quilts, even the boys. She does hers by hand as well. It is so very special to cuddle up and go to sleep under something that my Mom worked so hard on and put so much love into. I am with you on handmade items!

Lisa said...

Beautiful pictures of grandma's quilt. Ahh, the importance of handwork. Why do I live in this frozen wasteland (just kidding we have trees) if not for the constant reminder that what is real comes from what our hands participate in--directly. Hunting, fishing, cutting up meat, putting it in the freezer, making engine repairs, so many things my husband does. As our lives absorb more modern activities, including financial recordkeeping, internet surfing, and television, (requiring only minimal handwork for writing, typing, or operating a remote control) my husband reminds me that those activities don't put salmon in the freezer, and I wonder if I'm neglecting something important . . . I haven't sewn in years. I haven't gardened in two years. Thanks for reminding me.

The Well-Rounded Child said...

I love handmade things! From notecards to quilts...I would much prefer something handmade over something store bought.

For the last few years I have been trying to buy only things that are made in USA, organic, and/or gently used. Adding "handmade" to my list is a perfect addition!