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Time is but the stream I go a-crafting in

April 7, 2014

IMG_2123Apologies 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.

IMG_1996Things 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.

IMG_2116In 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.

IMG_2106Now 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.

IMG_2134But isn’t that the wonder of making, that what the process reveals to us about ourselves or our world is always so much greater than the finished item which after all is simply a thing.

How do you find the time to make stuff by hand?

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  1. Rebecca, your blog is such a gem. I love how you dwell not only into your craft but craft in general. Will definitely check the Judith K. Brown article.

  2. And to answer your question: I crochet in the car. Still trying to figure out the rest but I guess Zoe is still very little and she has only now started to play on her own for more than a minute or two. Then again she seems to be quite the extrovert and loves to have an audience. That said I’ve basically without planning to do so, replaced my ‘crafting’ with drawing and painting with Z plus an odd nature weave thrown into the mix and other such shenanigans. And I must say I love play dough as much as she does. Something satisfying about the feel of it I guess.

  3. I’m a time gleaner, as well. I don’t yet have children but even still my hour+ chunks of time are rare to come by. I usually force them by staying up well past my bedtime to steal a couple solid hours of knitting or spinning, and I pay for it in exhaustion the next day. I’d love to hear more about your mindfulness techniques, I think I could use some guidance in that arena.

  4. It’s so true that using all those little moments really add up to valuable time spent creating.It’s amazing how much you can get done even in 10 minutes. Time is my biggest battle, I’m always trying to fit more into my days, but then I’ve been told if I had more time I’d just find more things to do.

  5. A beautiful post about making and time Rebecca. And Renate Hillers’ eloquent observations resonated deeply with me and reminded me of why I do what I do.

  6. I saw Hiller’s video a few years ago and it was a treat to see it again, thank you. Now that I am retired I wonder how I ever had time to ‘work’ as I am so busy with things that I never really had time to do, spinning, knitting, weaving, sewing……….I find I like a chunk of time to be able to get into things. When I worked it was always a midnight shift so not much got done! Including house work 🙂 I like the term, Gleaning time. You always give such good ‘food for thought’. Nice.

  7. “Gleaning” is very apt. I doubt I will ever be able to return to the way of practice I had pre-children; these snips of time, the series of gleaned moments, seem to have become my ingrained method.

    I do recall the luxurious days of spending dusk til dawn in the studio, though!

  8. What a lovely post. I remember Agnes Varda’s film ‘The Gleaners and I’ and how it was paced so beautifully. Now I’m off to check your links. Thank you!

  9. I’ve just had a week where I didn’t manage to glean any crafting time at all ( I lie I did spend two lunch hours and a bus journey at work knitting…but not enough!) and it’s made me realise how important all those little moments are to my sanity and how much I treasure them…love your post and your projects now I’m off to check out the links, which I m fairly sure I’ll love too! 🙂

  10. I think I may have to send the link to this post to every person who has ever asked me how I find the time to knit! I love your choice phrase “gleaning time” – perfect. I think this is why I have chosen knitting over any of my other craft interest, it’s so very easy to put down and pick up and tote along..all to fit in between moments of activity. Thanks for the Renate Hiller link which I have watched before (such a beautiful video) but forgotten the all important details like names and titles – good grief. xo

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