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Passing Down Sewing & Embroidery Skills Through Generations

May 16, 2024

by brittany cotton, guest contributor

Many people have fond childhood memories of sitting with their grandmother who taught them how to sew, crochet, or do embroidery, praising their fumbling attempts at mastering the skill. Few people know that there is a term for this: generational craftsmanship. This refers to the time-honored practice of passing down certain skills from one generation to the next, such as a form of craftsmanship, artistry, or specialized practical skill. Not only is this practice essential for preserving traditions and cultural heritage, but it can also be a bonding experience across generations of a family.

One-of-a-Kind Artwork

When someone creates an embroidered or hand-sewn piece, they are not just creating an object of beauty or usefulness; they are also creating a new page in the family’s story. Many artisan skills have traditions that are unique to the practice, such as wool-spinning songs or stories told in such a way as to pass down a knitting pattern. Oral instruction and demonstration, rather than books, often served as the primary means of passing down many of these skills. In fact, many people find learning a skill such as embroidery from a book to be frustrating, cumbersome, or even impossible. While certain patterns might be recorded and passed down, learning the actual skill is often best done in person, with the master demonstrating for and hands-on with the student.

There are many different types of art pieces to make and pass down to family members. Some common ones were lace doilies and tablecloths from those who can tat lace; hand-sewn wedding dresses and baby christening gowns, hand-sewn quilted bedspreads, and fine embroidered wall hangings depicting gardens or exotic animals. Many of these items, crafted by an ancestor long ago, are prized family heirlooms.

Value of Sewing and Crafting Skills

Many of the handicrafts passed down to the next generation are based on practical skills. Before stores were easily accessible to the majority of the community, many things needed for daily life, such as clothes or food, had to be made at home. In addition to being practical, many skills, such as sewing, had other benefits. Sewing and embroidery improve focus and concentration, teach patience and self-control, and enhance fine motor skills. Handicrafts teach the person to set goals and encourage them to increase their skills, as each new piece might require further development of complex skills to master. Finishing complex pieces also enhances self-esteem and confidence and gives one a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, the ability to sew means that a person can make minor repairs or alterations themselves on clothes or household items without having to buy new clothes or pay someone else. Crafting skills are also a great source of secondary income, as trends shift back to valuing handmade items over manufactured items. This is especially true of baby items, as handmade christening dresses, toys, and clothes are seeing a resurgence.

 Challenges and Value of Passing Artisan Skills

The world today moves quickly, and passing down these skills can be challenging. Mass-produced items are always going to be easier and cheaper to obtain, and the value of handmade items will vary from person to person. Whoever wants to learn a skill like sewing or embroidery must value the items made from this skill enough to be willing to put in the time and effort needed to learn it. Teaching, in and of itself, is a challenging process, and younger generations might seem to lack the patience required to master complex and delicate handicraft skills. In a world where Amazon delivers items the next day and screens deliver content immediately, instant gratification is the norm, yet many handicrafts do not offer this. However, the value of passing on these skills through generations is evident in time spent and heirlooms created. Also, many of these skills are flourishing in the digital age through YouTube tutorials, online pattern-sharing sites, and the use of new digital tools such as Cricut cutters and laser engravers, showing that many traditional skills do indeed have a place in the modern world.

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