The last three and half weeks have been very busy, as they usually are in the run-up to Christmas. Yes, there has been some gift shopping and food preparation but mostly there has been making. A lot of making, more than usual and… with some interesting twists thanks to Make Something Month.
The initiative is simple. It encourages us “to fall in love with stuff… in a good way”, not by scaremongering or guilt-tripping us about decades of profligate living… but by celebrating making.
Making things is second nature to me. Practically every meal involves making something from scratch, in some cases down to growing the ingredients. From homemade breads, pasta and pies to soups, preserves and sweets, cooking and baking are an such an inherent part of my life that I hardly register them as ‘making something’. And with three quarters of my cardigans and sweaters being homemade, the same applies to knitting.
Yet I still embraced Make Something Month and its call to “make one thing for yourself, one thing for a family member, one thing for a friend, one thing for someone you’ve never met”.
Obviously it is the complete opposite to the pre-Christmas/New Year buying frenzy that seems to dominate the festive season these days but this was not the reason it appealed. I loved the initiative for joyous reasons, not curmudgeonly ones, and here are just some of them.
Making things for family and friends is intuitive; making something for someone you have never met or do not even know is a gloriously simple extension of that instinct but one that can trigger untold ripples. It could make somebody ‘invisible’ feel they matter, affirm someone’s values or life choices; or through giving to a stranger you might get to know a kindred spirit, or even inspire others well beyond your immediate circle to try their hands at making.
- When I go to the effort to make something for somebody, I really want them to like it. There is no scope for giving something just for the sake of giving. Much of the joy in making comes from the thought and creativity that goes into finding something that is appropriate for the person (and within my capabilities), whether it is a jar of unusual chutney that will appeal to their taste buds or something practical they will enjoy using.
- Make Something Month also encourages us to learn new skills and so it was for me. Or rather, it prompted me to try my hand at some old skills that have long intrigued me. One such involved me sitting in the faint winter sun in a park – well the park entrance to a cemetery – learning the rudiments of green wood carving from and with a disparate but fascinating group of people. I left my first session with a hand-carved spatula and a desire over the coming months to replace our warped and burnt kitchen spoons with handmade ones from local wood.
- The Make Something Month manifesto implicitly recognises the trap of buying more stuff as part of the making process and wisely cautions us: “only acquire something new if you are also learning a new, useful skill”. As resource conscious as ever, I enjoyed scavenging my existing stores for as many supplies and tools as possible. And figuring out how to make my own tools, or make do with the ones I already had, was half the fun!
Making things, especially for children, reminds me of all the gifts my parents lovingly (and secretively) made for us as kids: e.g. the three Sindy doll outfits mum knitted for my seventh birthday; the Wendy house mum and dad constructed for the twins, with its red painted tiles, wallpapered interior and blue curtains; or the miniature theatre dad made for us one Christmas, complete with footlights, retractable curtains and three sets of scenery… As kids we loved the toys our parents made. And as an adult, I am still touched by the depth of their affection but also cheered by how much they must have enjoyed the making process, judging from the level of detail in these gifts.
- Leaving aside the benefits from learning new skills, seeing the product of our own efforts and making contact with others (whether though giving something or learning from others), I am a fan of Make Something Month because indirectly it connects us with the child in us. Making things ourselves allows us, amidst all the seriousness and grind of daily life, to be children again: to imagine something and find a way to create it, figuring it out as we go along and experiencing a sense of anticipation and pride in our ‘handiwork’ that is all too rare in our daily routine.
Make Something Month was obviously timed to precede Christmas but this inveterate maker hopes that more people will be bitten by the making bug. And that with it, we might see a resurgence of skills, as well as greater appreciation for the distinct nature of homemade thing compared to the bland uniformity of most of today’s stuff.
Check out The New Materialism pamphlet, which accompanies the Make Something Month initiatives. It contains many delightful examples of the psychological, social and human benefits of making more ourselves, as well as some wonderful wisdoms from down the ages. As a classicist, I particularly liked the quote from Iliad, in which Homer, the ancient Greek bard, describes the skill of the carpenter as ‘wisdom’. A far cry from the prevailing view in my country, where the abolition of apprenticeships has, alas, left us with a dearth of craftsmen!