Friday, 21 October 2011

Handing on handmade


Last week I went a-visiting and took tea at the most charming little cottage in the country - a cottage quite out of a Country Living 'dreaming of the country'-style magazine spread - and there on the table I saw an array of pretty patchwork pieces, stitched together by hand.

My eye was of course immediately drawn to such prettiness and upon enquiry I found that this stitchery was the work of a little girl of very tender years, who has taken to working with the needle quite recently and with an enthusiasm and tenacity that made a great impression on me.


She had little in the way of equipment and her needle and thread sat in a recycled plastic tub.  I thought of the needle case that Jane Austen gave to her niece Louisa two hundred years ago, also the housewife or hussif (a sewing case) that Austen made for her sister-in-law, described by the recipient's son as 'the kind of article that some benevolent fairy might be supposed to give as a reward to a diligent little girl', and enclosed within which was a little poem:


This little bag, I hope will prove
To be not vainly made:
For should you thread and needles want,
It will afford you aid.

And as we are about to part,
'T will serve another end:
For when you look upon this bag,
You'll recollect your friend.



In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries women often gave gifts of needle cases and pincushions to each other, and I thought of this little girl taking up her needle and stitching away, an occupation which was so commonplace in th past, so bound up with female gender identity, and which now is really quite unusual in one so young, not something that girls or women are bound to do whether they will or no, and which has become purely an expression of creativity rather than necessity.


But perhaps in the loss of compulsion, other things have been lost, too, and somehow I wanted to encourage that expression of skill and creativity, and retain a sense of continuity, of things being passed on from one generation of women to another in a positive way, and that sense of feminine friendship and community inherent in the exchange of handmade gifts.


So I sat down and made a little needle case and pincushion for this little girl; she too is moving away, and perhaps one day she will pick up these small artefacts, and recollect a friend, and her first hesitant stitches, and the beginnings of creativity in her world.


And maybe you could give such gifts too - so simple and quick to make, two pinked rectangles of felt, a stitched felt flower and button on the cover.


The pincushion was eight squares of fabric from my stash (including some early Cath Kidston left over from a skirt) - I used my Go! Baby die to cut 2 1/2in squares, 2in finished size, to make up a 4in square pincushion wrapped in ribbon like the gift that it is, and trimmed with buttons either side.

A gift that was a pleasure to make, and a pleasure to give, a handing on from one generation to another of the joy of the handmade, and a lesson to me that actually giving is oh so much better than receiving.



(And if you want to find out more about needlework in the works of Jane Austen, the poem and the photo come from Jane Austen Fashion: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen, by Penelope Byrde, a delightful and informative little book which is a great introduction to the subject. You can get all colours of felt and felt shapes from Paper and String, and the original idea for the pincushion came from Indigo Blue.)

39 comments:

susan said...

What a lovely and generous gesture. I am sure this little girl will treasure your gifts!

Pondside said...

What a sweet gift. I have two little nieces that might like to have something like this from their Tante.

Mrs. Micawber said...

So sweet. And how nice to find a little girl who likes to sew and has the patience and persistence to keep at it. I'm sure she will treasure your gifts.

In the American classic "Little House in the Big Woods" the writer's mother gives her sister (the aunt)a needle case for Christmas, "with bits of silk for covers and soft white flannel leaves into which to stick the needles".

Just finished re-reading Claire Tomalin's bio of Miss A so your reference is especially poignant. How lucky her nieces and nephews were.

Shocking Hocking said...

how lovely - I'm sure that little girl will feel very special to receive such a gift.

encouraging the next generation is so important if we want to keep evolving our crafts

Fading Grace said...

This is such a lovely post. It is sad that stitching and knitting are not being passed on, I do think times are changing now, maybe it will all go full circle again. My daughter 3 years ago at age 9, did a project at school and they had to knit squares of a blanket and stitch them together...out of a class of 32 children, her and another girl where the only one who could knit.
sad times.
Your needle case and pin cushion are such a lovely thing to give, I have a feeling she will treasure
them xx sophie

Hen said...

That's a really lovely thing for you to have done, P, and I whole heartedly agree with inspiring the young folk to take up needle and thread. Now I was very interested when you mentioned Jane Austen as my sister and I are a little batty about her world and Adele is currently recreating something very similar to the infamous and very beautiful diamond patch Jane Austen quilt, in small form with English paper piecing. I do like a good huswif! I will look out the book, thank you.
Hen x

Claire said...

Hey Pomona, what a wonderful gift to make and then give to one so young.

I went to a local craft night this week and one mum had her 9 y.o. son with her. She traced a lego robot form a book onto a piece of calico, popped it into a hoop, gave him a needle and thread and off he went, a stitchin'.......I was very impressed.

There's a whole new generation of boys and girls taking up the gentle arts....

Claire :}

KC'sCourt! said...

What a lovely gift.
I'm all for encouragement.
The art of knitting and sewing may disappear altogether oneday then what shall we do?
Julie xxxxxxxx

**Anne** said...

You've made a gorgeous little 'hussif' and pincushion for you little friend. I'm sure they will be treasured.
Anne xx

ted and bunny said...

for 45 years my mum kept a hussif in the top of her sewing box, that her best friend Elsie had given her when she moved away from Northampton to be married and start a new life.
It was decorated with a friendship poem.
When mum died I sent it back to "Auntie" Elsie and in exchange she sent me the one that mum had given her all those years back.
Such a simple thing to stay with you through your life

Nicky said...

You remind me of the late Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter - his mother taught all her children to do needlepoint and you could visit the house and see the pieces they had done. He went on to create a fabulous garden later perhaps inspired by such early creativity....

Jooles said...

how sweet and what a lovely thing for you to do x
I think it is wonderful to encourage littlies into craft it is such an enriching hobby.
I am looking after my friends little girls on monday and i thought we would get lots of crafty goodies out and see what happens!
enjoy your weekend
love jooles x

Little Blue Mouse said...

What a lovely gesture, I'm sure the little girl will love your gifts.

driftwood said...

what a lovely gift and lovely sentiment xxx

carrad said...

What a lovely "Random Act of Kindness"! I do hope I can get my granddaughters into knitting and sewing when they're older. xxx

Lisa said...

A kind gift and one that is sure to be treasured.
Lisa x

Jenny said...

This is a lovely post, and hopefully your little gifts will inspire her to keep going with her stitching and crafts. I agree that it's so important that these skills don't die out with younger generations. I'm 27 now, and for example, have just learnt to crochet... I am completely loving it, and am getting so much enjoyment out of learning something new, but I feel that a lot of my friends and some of my family too, think that it is an odd choice of hobby for someone my age to be doing! I think they think it should be confined to little old grannies, no matter how much I tell them that crafts of all kinds are having a revival and no longer have such a stigma attached to them like they used to! Anyway I'm hoping that if we have children in a few years, I may be able to pass my knowledge on to them too! xx

Jak said...

A wonderful gift that any little girl would love, me included. I too feel sad that these skills are not being passed on to the younger generation. A couple of years ago my beloved 25 year old much used sewing machine died in obsolescence. Whilst seeking a replacement, I was astonished that my 30 or so work colleagues could not offer any recommendations as none of them owned a sewing machine, or indeed, did not partake in any crafts whatsoever! Even my own grown-up daughter showed no interest and still doesn't. Thank heavens for blogland, where I can rest assured that thousands of like-minded women all around the world are keeping the gentle arts alive.
Jak x

Barbara said...

A lovely poem. I remember hand made 'needle' cases being popular when a child and when husband Alan was first away at sea in the Merchant Navy in the 50's children from a school in the U.K. used to correspond with officers on the ship. Alan received a hand made felt needle case gift which he kept for years.

Kay G. said...

Oh, what a beautiful thing to think of and to create.
I am certain it is a gift that will be treasured for always.
Thank you for sharing this!

Katy Cameron said...

What a lovely gift, I'm sure she'll treasure it :o)

Crafty Green Poet said...

such a lovely idea to give the young girl this gift. These pincushions also look like something I could easily make to use up some of my stash!

taylorsoutback said...

What a dear gift you have made - and thinking about the look on her face when she receives it...discovering it is just for her...you will have a special place in her heart.

greenrabbitdesigns said...

Awww that is just so lovely. :)
I sure your beautiful gifts were much appreciated.
Vivienne x

Draffin Bears said...

So lovely to hear of the sweet little girl who does needlework.
What a kind and thoughtful gift you gave.

Hope that you are enjoying the weekend
Hugs
Carolyn

Catherine said...

What a delightful encounter & reflection! Thank you for sharing such warmheartedness. Love Catherine xoxo

Alix said...

This is such a lovely post! I love the gifts you made and I'm sure the little girl will treasure them. I make quite a lot of needlecases and pincushions, and people sometimes ask me why because, they say, nobody sews anymore. But I am happy to tell them that people do buy them - there's more sewing going on out there than we know, and anyway, everyone needs a needle from time to time!
x

harmony and rosie said...

That's so lovely Pomona, I'm sure she will treasure your gifts.
Thanks so much for your very lovely words on my blog too!!
Kate x

momof3girls said...

You are so sweet! I'm sure she'll cherish these gifts. I love your reference to Jane A. Her quote and your sewing-what a perfect combination.

Cheryl said...

What a lovely gift and I'm sure she will treasure them. I still use the strawberry pin cushion that my Grandma made and gave me when I was 9.

This week, my eldest's class of 9 to 11 year olds (year 5 and 6 in one class), started a sewing project - embroidering a piece of canvas. Boys and girls alike. It is leading onto another sewing project. I was so pleased and pleasantly surprised that her teacher was teaching sewing. Its not dead yet for the newest generation.

Helen Philipps said...

What a very sweet gift, Pomona. Hand made gifts, especially things which will be used over and over, are so special. Although I make things all the time for my work, I still love to make some things as special gifts, and am always delighted when people make things for me too, knowing just how much thought and quiet stitching go into them. That little girl will remember your kindness for a very long time....how lovely that she loves to sew and make things at such a young age, and is being encouraged to do so too.
Helen x

Mousy Brown said...

really, really lovely!

Sheila said...

Great sentiments - I live in fading hope that my daughter might one day wish to pick up a needle.........

{Leila}Where the Orchids Grow said...

What a beautiful post, I got completely sucked into your story. Wonderful gifts!!

Archie the wonder dog said...

Such a lovely and thoughtful gift, I'm sure they'll be treasured for years to come!

Rosa said...

So cutiest gift.She is a lucky girl!!

Kirsten N said...

Such a lovely gift!

Kwiltz by Stephanie said...

What a touching post...I love that little girl's mom for encouraging her!!!! I am inspired to make some pincussions!!!! Your writing is lovely.

Katie said...

A truly beautiful post through and through

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