As society looks at most objects as easily replaceable and disposable, the act of making and mending helps us appreciate the value of the things we own.
A couple of months ago, my husband and I were talking about what our respective lives in school were like. Amidst the banter about (him) giving teachers sleepless nights and (me) messing up grades in pursuit of first love, we came to talk about craft classes, aka SUPW. My husband joked about the pointlessness of the subject, whereas I was of a completely different view. I used to adore those classes! They offered a much-needed breather from the anguish math lessons caused me. They allowed me to use my newfound skills to make pretty things I could proudly claim sole ownership over. They often even let me colour outside the lines and create stuff that was offbeat and whimsical.
My love for ‘making’ stemmed from a habit that I cultivated very early on in life. Thanks to my mother, at the start of every summer vacation since my 8th birthday, I was presented with the task of completing a creative project by the time holidays ended. Sometimes, it was cross-stitch embroidery, sometimes, stained glass paintings — you’d often find me holed up quietly in a corner with my head bent over for hours on end, intently focussed on bringing this thing of beauty to life. My mother also taught me basic hand mends. By age 11, I could masterfully sew on buttons, fix holes in my Barbie’s dresses and do some rudimentary embroidery that would go on to adorn the walls of our house.
Over the years, I succumbed to the changing ways of the world where hustle culture leaves little room for one to revel in leisure activities like slow handwork. I began losing touch with my creative universe that once brought me so much joy. I could no longer get myself to sit in one place and indulge in slow craft — there were more important, more ‘productive’ things to do.
It appears that for a lot of people, self-worth is tied to busyness and hustle. According to a 2017 research paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research, “a busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol.” As such, the art of making things for the sheer sake of pleasure is dying out. Furthermore, the consumerist society we’re in has made the purchasability and subsequent replaceability of things so easy that the idea of making things by hand seems unnecessary.
In his book titled, ‘The Case for Working with Your Hands’, author Matthew Crawford brings to light the aforementioned shift in our relationship with things — the things “people once made, they buy, and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely.”, argues Crawford. The latter part of Crawford’s argument especially holds true when it comes to fast fashion fuelling a rampant culture of disposability. Last year, fashion and beauty writer, Esther Adams Achara, wrote a personal essay for Vogue.com where she narrated an incident where her 5-year-old daughter tore her new jeans while playing and responded with a nonchalant — “Never mind, mom. You can just buy a new pair on your laptop.”
Activities like sewing, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, and darning that were once considered essential life-skills, and were passed down through generations, are today looked at as unique art forms only known and practised by a few. Art and craft subjects that require kids to channel their creative energies and work with their hands are on the verge of disappearing from school curriculums worldwide.
It may seem that handiwork is losing its relevance in this day and age, but there is plenty of evidence in its favour. Last year, an article published in The New York Times reported a sharp decline in the manual dexterity of medical students and residents, attributing it to their over-dependence on technology rather than handiwork that helps develop fine-motor skills. Researchers have also found the psychological benefits of working with hands as it helps “engage the brain and alleviate anxiety.”
A year and a half ago, fresh out of fashion school and bursting with ideas, I decided to start working on a slow fashion project that helps me reconnect with my family’s material memory and my love for making. This is how The Baksa Project came into being.
Working with my hands, I have come to realise, is a calming, almost meditative experience for me. It’s when I feel the most in control and absolutely free at the same time. Most importantly, as the throw-away society we’re in looks at objects as easily disposable commodities, the slow and intricate act of making makes me value and (re)love the things I have all the more!