I made this blue shawl for my daughter for Christmas, the loveliest thing I have made thus far. One year ago I began learning to knit under my sister's guidance. Simple though this shawl is, it represents a milestone in my ability to meld yarn, knitting tools, skill, utility, and artistry together. I am no longer a novice.
What does this have to do with sustainability and resilience? Plenty. When clothing used to be mostly made at home, often including the production of fiber, people knew how to clothe themselves without needing a factory a thousand miles or more away. I don't want to spend every waking hour sewing and knitting everything our family wears, but KNOWING HOW matters to me. By learning it and then teaching it to my grandchildren, I am building the resilience that we are likely to need in the future.
Three of my granddaughters are trying knit projects of their own, caught by the allure of creating something to their own taste, of making what their mind's eye sees become a reality, of independence in acquiring what one needs or wants. The satisfactions of craftsmanship are multifaceted.
Recently I began attending a Knit and Crochet group that meets at the public library two Saturday mornings a month. We sit in a circle, our knitting in our laps, working and talking. The program is simple: we go around the circle and everyone gets to show and talk about what they are working on. Conversations digress to other areas of life, laughter spontaneously erupts. Young girls already adept at knitting come with their mothers; college students knit while discussing a biochemistry class; grandmothers talk about the styles they knitted decades ago, in comparison to styles they knit now.
We aren't just knitting scarves and sweaters, we're knitting together a community and finding our place in it.
For a "green" granny I have a lot left to learn about knitting. I want to locate and begin working with locally produced fibers and yarns. I want to learn to knit socks that actually fit.
Meanwhile, I'm using my new knowledge of the craft to restore some of the beautiful old knitted things that have lived in my cedar chest for decades. The child's blanket that Grandma Vivian knitted for my daughter is wrapped and under the Christmas tree for the next generations to love. The white mohair scarf with intricate patterns and long fluffy fringe that my Aunt Rose made for me as a teen is still doing its job-- helping me breathe when the air turns bitter cold. But now, after surviving 50 years of service, it is restored to a semblance of its original glory.
The items crafted by past generations are used, treasured, and passed on. Every so often an old item wears out completely, but its place is filled by things the younger family members have made. Truly, handcrafts mean having more of what matters, far beyond the material item itself. How sad we have so digressed from this ancient pattern of life that was sustainable compared to modern ways of using natural resources, fast tracking them into garbage.
It isn't necessary to force old ways, old social patterns, onto young people today, in order to give them the gift of crafting. While the preservation of ancient arts and crafts is a worthy cause, the best outcome of learning crafts is resilience. Knowing how to make things "from scratch" empowers one to deal with adversity using ones own wits and hands. We are not helpless inhabitants of an industrialized world unless we allow ourselves to become that way. We don't have to go without something just because we lack money and a big box store. Now is probably a good time to expand our resilience a little further.
In that blue shawl for my daughter are woven many gifts besides the ones of warmth and beauty.