Apologies to Henry David Thoreau for my wee tweek of his words but I have been thinking a lot about time recently, where to find it, what to do with it and how to pay attention to it.
Things have been flying off the sewing machine needles recently, another pair of trousers for me, a skirt requested by Our Dear Girl, something to stick a plant into, a long cut-out dress finally sewn up and little quilt for a dolly. But I am not quite sure how it all happens. So I have been a-thinkin about time.
In the absence of great swathes of time, that perhaps exist only in myth, I realise I practice a kind of guerilla crafting. In the time that it takes to boil pasta, if everything else is ready to go, I can slip in a bit of hand spindling. I can knit while the kids are in their swimming lesson or while waiting to pick them from school or kinder. Does this sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be a kid thing, you might knit on the way to work, in a lunch break, quilt at night, spin after work.
I am going to call this gleaning, gleaning time. Gleaning is collecting, often by women and children, the bits of grain and other fruits and vegetables after the main harvest is finished. They are the bits left over after the useful stuff is picked. Gleanings are important and precious leftovers however that traditionally sustained peasant families in agrarian societies.
Because I have young children and my job for the moment is caring for them, I glean the time that is left over and in between caring for them. Now that they are becoming older, the time available for gleaning is increasing but will change again when my youngest goes to school and my responsibilities outside the home increase.
But right now, I have become a master at slipping away for half an hour if everyone is quietly playing or reading to sew a few seams, knit a few rows or cut something out. Spinning on the wheel is more difficult to fit between things…I need to plan for spinning time so that is usually a weekend thing or at night.
Indeed, many of the handcrafts traditionally associated with women, weaving, spinning, sewing, knitting and food gardening are particularly suited to gleaned time. Pick them up, put them down, little equipment, nothing dangerous for wee ones to be hurt with. Judith Brown, an anthropologist of women’s work noted forty years ago that the kinds of labour that became associated with women in pre industrial communities were those which were most compatible with raising children, particularly breastfeeding which until recently was typically continued for around three years. The labour and skills which families depended on women doing had to done around feeding and watching children. This is what makes many textile crafts so suited to bits and pieces of time.
If my handcrafts of choice were painting, pottery, iron work or welding, I wouldn’t be able to find an ounce of time to pursue these at the moment, they couldn’t fit.
Now all this squeezing in and seizing of moments, disquiets me at times as it sits along side a generalised culture of time compression. Texting whilst walking, phone calls and emails popping in all the time. There is little unfilled time, no empty spaces. Life at times can be a little over fullsome in just doing stuff. Over the years, I have adopted some mindfulness techniques to create calmness, presence and deliberateness to my headless chookery moments. This has certainly softened that feeling of time compression when I remember to do it!
Since my craftwork is neither our income nor our defence against a terrible winter, my driving desire to make stuff in odd moments suggests there are deeper compulsions at work here than relaxing over a spot of knitting. I recently came across a lovely explanation of the profundity of handwork here which resonated with me and perhaps you too.
How do you find the time to make stuff by hand?