If you are around my age and were blessed to know your grandparents, you likely have memories as I do of your grandmothers knitting, crocheting, sewing, needle-pointing, embroidering and otherwise using their hands to create. The next generation was the first to see the shift from hand-crafting into using your hands to type a keyword into a web browser's search bar. And my own generation can order a garment in seconds and have it delivered to the door in just days, even hours. Yet there has been a resurgence in young adults, teens and children taking up the arts and handcrafts of our grandmothers and great grandmothers. The two worlds have collided in that we can order our supplies off Amazon, search for patterns on Ravelry, post our successes on Pinterest and even sell the results on Etsy. But what is the true pull toward handcrafting? I believe it is an innate desire to slow down, to feel the work of our hands through the texture of yarn, burlap, wood, embroidery floss and not just plastic computer keys. To hear the clinking of aluminum knitting needles or the whir of a sewing machine and not just the clicking and beeping and pinging of our screens, tablets and cell phones. I think we have a desire to bridge the gap between this not so distant past and to embrace the way it can now connect us in our faster-paced, modern lifestyle. I have wonderful memories of watching and sometimes learning from my grandmothers as a little girl and later through organizations like 4H Club. And now that S is 3.5, even his little hands are eager to learn and explore the handcrafts of yesteryear at his own level.
I love teaching and learning handcrafts with young children for a variety of reasons. It is a beautiful way to share quality time together. It is also a sneaky way to incorporate fine motor development and pre-writing skills for developing hands! Many handcrafts are portable and can be great take alongs for appointments, trips to the park or even your own yard. Additionally, I believe that using their hands to create beautiful and creative works of art also instills a sense of value in beautiful and artistic materials both in the home and beyond.
One of my personal pet peeves when teaching in a classroom and with my own children was the natural tendency for children to believe that all of our resources are inherently always available, disposable and replaceable. Food can be thrown away after one bite. Water left running. Caps left off of markers. Toys and books stepped upon as little feet run toward the next best thing. One line drawn across a piece of paper before it is set aside and another one is claimed. And then, I must ask myself as a teacher and a parent, what have I done to teach about the value of our resources? If children do not know how things are made, acquired and maintained, they cannot be expected to feel any level of reverence toward that. Adults feel a strong connection toward items that are delicate or expensive or finely made or irreplaceable, but as children, we were not able to discern between a hat purchased at a big box store or one hand knit by a loving Aunt unless someone told us! And so I do make a point to talk about using materials to their greatest potential. And being resourceful versus wasteful. And letting children see how things are made and even making them on their own.
S has recently taken an interest in my knitting. To allow him an age appropriate ability to enjoy the craft on his own level, I stocked a basket full of yarn scraps that were left over and too small for any of my own future projects. At first he enjoyed cutting the yarn and exploring ways to tie knots. He liked taking the basket outside to decorate "trees" (branches we found on the ground). Later he really wanted his own pair of knitting needles, so I shared a large sized blunt wooden set for his "knitting basket."
S also really enjoys lacing activities and I decided to expand on that and introduce us both to the art of needlepoint and embroidery! I have never done needlepoint before, though both of my grandmothers did and even my own mother at certain times. I bought a couple of wooden embroidery hoops and some burlap (a particularly easy material to work with for little hands). I also purchased a set of large, blunt tapestry needles and gathered my collection of colorful embroidery floss. Handcrafting with children as with any art form is very process based--this is naturally the way that children explore and also ensures that creating together is something enjoyable and not frustrating. S was so excited to learn something together and I could tell using "real" materials made him feel very important. He chose the color he wanted to work with and I helped thread the needle with a large knot at the bottom so the embroidery floss would not pull all the way through the burlap. He needed a little help to get the rhythm of pushing his needle through one side and then back through to the other and when to flip the embroidery hoop. The great thing about burlap and a blunt needle is the ability to easily "undo" a stitch if the string gets wrapped around the hoop (which happened a few times). He loved making "designs" on the burlap.
I took him to a space on our wall where a needlepoint created by my late Nana hangs and he was enthralled! He couldn't believe we were doing something like that! Ok, we both probably have a while to go before creating something like that, but the process has been so enjoyable and meaningful! For now we will continue to practice with our needlepoint to add more colors and designs. Later, we will use it to create another, more permanent work of art. Handcrafting together has been a wonderful way to quell S's thirst for special time with just me, a beautiful tool for us both to slow down at the end of a long day and a meaningful means to connect with family members both alive and in the World to Come who inspired me with their handcrafted works of art and now continue to inspire yet another generation. As my boys grow older, they may continue to work with their hands creatively or they may not. They may at some point give in to gender stereotypes and set aside crafts like knitting and needlepoint in favor of other hobbies. But whatever they do choose, I will treasure these times spent creating together and enjoying the benefits of art through play!