handmade (part three)

I've written over the last two weeks about why handmade makes me happy. I first wrote about the way it helps me to connect to those that are dear to me. My mind, left to roam freely during many hours of design and construction, wanders in and around the memories, hopes and imaginings I have of and for that person. I always hope that somehow the indefinable essence of Time Spent with Good and Loving Intentions infuses a final je ne sais quoi into whatever I’ve turned my hand to (yes, even the 50s-esque crocheted tea cosies). However, don’t be fooled by all these softly lit ideals of reflection and intention, they are not all that leads me to hand make. Indeed, there is an equal, other force that drives me to drink pick up and create - that is my desire to work outside of, however imperfectly, the modern obsession with consumption and the global human and environmental damage that arises from this. I wrote about this (and potentially embarrassing moments of skirt immodesty that happen when I brave big, bland box stores) last week.

Now, while I’ve pondered on these and other issues over the years since that first baby blanket, this current spate of thinking about hand-making (mine and others) was prompted by some recent trips to local thrift stores. Whilst on the hunt for old woollen blankets to full (felt in the washing machine), I've found myself trawling the manchester aisles and feeling great turmoil at the many handmade items I find there: crocheted blankets, hand-embroidered linen, lace doilies, little cross-stitched extravaganzas, macrame pot plant holders (okay, perhaps the turmoil ends when I see the orange nylon macrame pot plant holders). I can’t see these things without wondering wildly, “How did this end up here?”

 There’s a term for this, it’s called projection. Standing there, midway down a musty thrift store aisle under bad fluorescent lighting, these crocheted blankets may as well be my crocheted blankets and I can’t believe they have been - gasp! - donated. When I first began to notice them, I would look at all the work that had gone into each one – the labour, the thought, the skill – and wonder at the story behind each one. Who laboured at this? For whom was it intended? How was it received, used? How did it shift from “keep” to “donate”? Why? And while answers for each blanket or handcrafted “masterpiece” discovered were never forthcoming, with practice I have imagined a thousand different stories that track the tale from making to donating.

And they’re not all bad - although, in my worst imaginings it is only ungrateful sods who have heartlessly given away the fruits of their own grandmother’s painstaking labour from frail, arthritic hands - but even that is surely a rare case*. Truthfully, every kind of story lies behind those now-donated handmade goodies – everything from the boring to the scandalous. At least one of those blankets will have never been intended for anybody and purely donated because the maker has no need for it. And at least one of those blankets will have been “re-gifted” because the receiver had no idea about what it is to make and receive handmade things and could never get past the fact that the neon-blue and rust orange alternating stripes of one granny square would always clash wildly with everything in their house. Whatever the case, the best part is that, whatever story was started with the first stitch of each blanket, the ending (and let’s hope it’s a happy one) is yet to come. Perhaps one day, a woman – someone, say, of great taste and beauty who has a penchant for the handmade – will wander into the store and see immediately the great artistry in combining lime green, black and silver feathery, acrylic yarn into a scalloped-edged crocheted knee blanket and snap it up enthusiastically, warmly imagining it was made just for her.

And perhaps it was.

* I did share a house once with a woman who threw away (that’s right, into the bin) a hand embroidered sampler - complete with name, date and birth weight – that was made by her grandmother to celebrate her birth. I thought she was an odd bod then (not to mention an ungrateful sod) and still do.

PS:  I took these photos, amidst much wry amusement from fellow shoppers, at a local thrift store.  These are Real Life Donated Handmade Items for your viewing pleasure.  

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