Sometimes simple questions can set us off on mental excavations and prompt us to unpick what we consider second nature. So it was this week when Kate from A Playful Day asked her listeners “What does making mean to YOU?” I know why I make as much as I do, but this question is subtly different and made me delve a little deeper.
Making has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child I was always making something, whether it was clothes for the menagerie of dolls and bears at home, cardboard houses and shrubs fashioned out of sponges for my brother’s model railway, traditional cakes and biscuits to help mum out, or sheds and Frankenstein electronics to get precious time with dad. Along with reading, making accounted for 90 per cent. of my spare time as a child (and into adulthood too).
With this background I could easily conclude that making is just something I picked up, a learnt behaviour. The confidence to ask “How hard can it be?” and give something a go was definitely learnt but making is much more.
To me making means:
- a never-ending conversation with my mother and father – Although they died years ago, my parents are with me every time I make a meal, pot on a plant, wield a tool… Whether I am sewing or baking I hear my mother’s “Collect all your materials before you start”. And whether I am sawing in the garden or using a cutting tool at the potter’s wheel, I hear my father’s mantra “Let the tool do the work”. While I’m making, I share the experience with my parents knowing full well that it will resonate with them based on their own years of making, no matter how alien the particular craft may be to them.
- delighting in endless curiosity and learning – Not just curiosity about new skills, or even ancient ones, but a lifelong exploration of the world. Making means experiencing materials and processes, which always piques my interest. Where did the fibre, grain, clay, wood… come from? Who grew, harvested or made it? What processes was it subject to? How will it change depending on how I treat it? I was always an eager student but I have probably understood more of history, geography, chemistry, biology, physics, economics… in the kitchen and garden, at the pottery studio, during music lessons or simply whilst knitting on my sofa than in all my years at school.
- taking a stand against the homogenisation of life – Making affords me real choice rather than a semblance of choice. By making a vegetable garden I can experience a variety of flavours I would never find in shops, which pick varieties based on convenience and cost. By knitting my own woollies, I not only get to wear designs that suit me regardless of what trends say (as well as tweak them to suit my shape), I can also choose the most appropriate material for the garment. Making means vegetables, wool, clay, soil, flour, cotton, wood… are no longer generic things but a diverse treasure trove packed with particular characteristics and qualities.
- clawing back control from anonymous corporations – Making is all about empowerment, living skills, conscious connection with the world… Making is refusing to be cast in the role of infantilised or passive consumer. Making is choosing which resources to use, which livelihoods to support, which issues to prioritise or mitigate,…
- a connection with ancestors and future generations – For all the technological advances down the ages and refinements of tools, the essence of kneading and proving bread, sewing a seam, turning a bowl, spinning yarn, planting a tree… has barely changed. There is something deeply satisfying about experiencing the same processes as people have done for many centuries and may do so for many more to come. In the fast-paced 21st century I enjoy feeling rooted in millennia of human civilisation.
- Satisfying headspace and enjoyable me time – Although making may involve intense concentration and acute awareness of materials and ancient skills, it also allows me to shut out distractions and enjoy the process, a space, a smell, a flavour, a feeling or even just an awareness of how my body is responding to such stimuli. For somebody whose mind whirrs at a zillion rotations per minute, making flicks a switch that allows my mind to coast in neutral for a few moments.
In short, for me making is both a radical act and a visceral pleasure. And just like nature, it is more powerful and life-enhancing that most prescription drugs!
I’ve been making since childhood, too. It’s so funny how making has become this thing where people say such paradoxical statements such as “I wish I had the time!” because I learned to approach the world as a maker from my grandparents. Working class, short on time and money, doing work with their bodies as well as their minds — they had so much less time/materials/energy than the average person today. I don’t understand!