A Common Thread
Hand crafted. Hand painted. Hand woven. Hand quilted. These terms bring a higher value, represent a special touch, and mark a rare individuality. Before the Industrial Revolution, “by hand” was taken for granted. Gradually, mass production and machinery changed our world with no thought of turning back. Speed, efficiency and quantity made sense to a progressive society. We’ve all reaped the benefits of the ideas and dreams of inventors and entrepreneurs. We’ve also borne the consequences of a fast-paced, throwaway culture in which standards of quality have been lowered and the personal element lost. Perhaps this is the reason we treasure items made by hand. They represent time, warmth, durability and something unusual, unique.
Technology has also changed the way we work. We have our own set of “servants” in our homes: a washing machine and dryer, dishwasher, food processer, vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, etc. Our cars, complete with push button windows and locks, zip us to destinations of our choosing. Businesses have gone paperless. Banks offer direct deposit and automatic withdrawals.
I appreciate the ease in which we live, but I’ve also made some choices that leave my kids shaking their heads. I have a small kitchen where I cook from scratch-without a dishwasher. I’d rather use the space to store my ingredients. Though I use e-mail a lot and Facebook a little, my handwriting finds its way into the mailboxes of others. Who doesn’t appreciate a hand written note in the mail? It feeds my soul to use a needle and thread, work in the garden or knead bread.
Quiet Valley is a working farm. The grunts, squeals and squawks of farm animals can be heard coming from barns and pens. Many roam freely. The bake oven yields lingering smells of bread. Pots of homemade soup warm over fires contained by a circle of stones. Hand-dipped candles drape over wooden racks. Hemp twists into rope by turning the handle of a simple early invention. Wool from the sheep is dyed using local plants, then spun and woven on looms into ribbons, belts, rugs and blankets. Straw tubes, soaked and braided, become hats.
One of my jobs was to shuck corn from the garden and blanch it in a huge caldron of boiling water over an open fire. If we needed to turn up the heat, we simply added another log. Then we piled the steaming ears into metal pans and let the water from the hand pump splash them cool. I also brought my thimble to the open barn where several of us gathered around a quilt stretched out over a wooden frame. I hand quilt at home using a plastic Q-snap, but I found something special about many hands working together to complete a common project, loose chickens at our feet notwithstanding!
Many differences exist between the two time periods, but I also found commonalities: the laughter of children, flowers and weeds, colorful butterflies and pesky flies, a sense of accomplishment and of frustration, gratefulness for a simple drink of cool water on a hot day…. Drawn to the familiar, I often detoured to the garden on the farm to identify the plants (and puzzle over a few I didn’t know). We, too, have a large garden where I like to look for blossoms, pick a mess of green beans for supper or find a zucchini for bread. Time stands still there. It wears a hushed expression. And when I stroll back to the house, hands loaded, I carry a bit of the stillness with me.
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