The post office called us today and my rowdy ruffians went mad with joy. They knew that their long awaited books had arrived!
Lightbulb Lab friends, two boxes we had shipped from our home in Singapore are here, with a third due any day now in shaa Allah. These good reads await you :)
I must extend my gratitude to a lovely sister in Singapore who donated the books in the pic below to the Lightbulb Lab. She has discerning taste and uses living books in teaching her children too. When there was a library sale in Singapore (we were so sad that we weren’t there, crazy bibliophiles we are!), she remembered us and bought us a huge bag of books. I am overwhelmed by her generosity and thoughtfulness. Jazakillah khayran Sister Normini. May Allah reward you abundantly for your contribution, ameen.
My rowdy ruffians have really taken to sashiko stitching. They’ve always been interested in needlework, but they have never been as diligent they have been the past few days ma shaa Allah. Perhaps it is because sashiko is, as Charlotte Mason said about how children’s work should be kept, “well within their compass”. They love the designs that are simple yet pretty and are looking forward to tackling the more detailed ones.
From the little I know about this charming Japanese craft, sashiko literally means “little stabs”. It was used to reinforce or repair fabric and employs the running stitch. Traditionally, sashiko was done with white cotton thread on dark blue or indigo cloth – I love the contrast, but have not made anything on dark fabric yet. (I’m waiting for my order of transfer papers to arrive!)
This craft is both decorative and functional – it can be used as a decorative surface for things like mats, bags, sheets and table runners and as a quilting technique to bind layered fabrics like blankets, coasters, placemats and pot holders. It is especially useful in strengthening household items that go through a lot of wear and tear. We intend to use our kids’ sashikos to decorate our walls in shaa Allah – our place could do with some prettifying! Maybe we can move on to making some dastarkhwans for our meals!
Here are some lovely sashiko creations – coasters, a runner and a pouch – that I found online:
You can see more pretty stuff here.
I don’t have all the necessary materials so I contemplated purchasing some kits, but they are a little pricey. (Also, not all the patterns come with dashed lines – i.e., you’d have to figure out the length of dashed stitches yourself and I didn’t feel comfy with this.) Since I do have a stash of embroidery flosses and calico, I felt it would be enough for us to just do an adaptation of sashiko and to focus on just the technique :) I used this tutorial and this one to get us started.
Here are some of the designs we have saved. You can download them and transfer them onto your fabrics for stitching. Not all are very clear so you’d have to tidy up the dashes when you transfer the patterns. (The stitches should be as even as possible.) I hope you enjoy them and let me know what you’ve come up with!
The kids and I have been more homebound lately due to health and transport issues. I thought that we’d have been driven mad by cabin fever and clawed each other’s eyes out by now, but it has been surprisingly wonderful. Deliberately slowing and paring down has allowed us to pursue new interests, to rekindle old ones and to have many meaningful conversations. We’ve not been harried folks rushing in and out of home for activity after activity. We’ve been able to tackle our projects with a clearer sense of purpose and been able to complete them with greater attention to detail in a way that we have not been able to before. It has been so refreshing.
Alhamdulillah for silver linings…
One of the things I’ve wanted to instil in myself and my children is stickability… persevering and seeing things through. As I’d said in an earlier post, I wanted them to do more worthwhile craftwork. We had begun stitching a couple of years ago, but I found something lacking in our sessions… there wasn’t a sense of aspiration, if you will. There wasn’t an expectation of bigger things to come.
I think one of my many mistakes was that I did not guide them enough. When they saw a pattern they liked, however difficult, they immediately wanted to leap into it and I allowed them, thinking that their enthusiasm would carry them through. However, their lack of skill and experience often caused them a great deal of exasperation and it would not be long before efforts would peter out. When a project was completed, they would be so unhappy with the results and experience that they would be daunted to try again, even though they itched to create something pretty with their hands.
I ought to have done a little more planning and introduced projects that were challenging, but not frustrating. Dexterity and skill need time to be developed. My kids tend to want to do difficult things and achieve the same results that adults do. While I need not curb their spirit, I can help them see the value of learning things gradually and celebrating small successes along the way, rather than be overwhelmed part way and be forever discouraged.
Last Sunday, we started anew :) We embarked on a wonderful new project – sashiko. At first, the girls were a little hesitant, thinking it was an overly simplistic craft, since it uses only the running (or “tack”) stitch. When they saw how pretty the results could be and how there are varying degrees of complexity, they were all for it. Since we didn’t have white transfer paper (heck, we have NO transfer paper!) or blue fabric (traditional sashiko uses white thread on indigo cloth), we made do with blue carbon paper, calicos and assorted flosses.
I was really very heartened to see the gusto with which they stitched. Both of them finished their projects in two days and immediately asked for new patterns to work on, ma shaa Allah. Below is a pic of their completed sashiko stitchery… Forgive the horrid quality of the photo – I had only my mobile phone on hand :P
Their second patterns are a little more difficult, with smaller and more stitches required. Here is Bear, working on her second pattern (it’s a pic of cute handbags!) while waiting for her sister to be done with her Arabic class.
On another note, I did some stitching too :) Bear was enamoured by Made By Joel’s vintage fabric dolls and begged me for one. We dove into my stash of fabrics and settled on a cheery green and pink print. We made several adaptations – I sewed on a calico face (which we agreed to leave featureless), embroidered a bob hairstyle (Bear used to sport this Dora-like look!) and stitched on Bear’s choice of cute buttons. (“Put star buttons at the top to show it is night, OK?”)
It is a simple project – the doll is essentially an embroidered 18-by-9-inch pillow (but don’t call it that in front of Bear… she has a name and she is Choti) and stuffed with polyfill fibre. If you have a sewing machine, you can probably complete it in a couple of hours or less. I did this completely by hand – I am still afraid of sewing machines! – so it took me a little longer. Still, I loved the whole process and when I knotted my last stitch, I was truly excited to surprise Bear with it. She had just woken up in the morning and her look of pure delight is something I’ll treasure always.
(Notice the little peg doll? We made it a couple of years ago and it is wearing a purple kimono… Bear says it is Choti’s doll. Again, pardon the awful quality of the photo – my Nokia is just rubbish, so I tried posterizing the pic but my graphics skills are even more rubbish :P)
Bear adores Choti and won’t let her out of her sight :) I guess I did SOMETHING right, alhamdulillah!
Again we know that the human hand hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts. Some day perhaps, we shall see apprenticeship to trades revived and good and beautiful work enforced. In so far, we are laying ourselves out to secure that each shall “live his life”; and that, not at his neighbor’s expense; because, so wonderful is the economy of the world that when a man really lives his life he benefits his neighbor as wll as himself; we all thrive in the well being of each.
~ Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, Philosophy of Education p. 328
I’ve just treated myself to some lovely redwork patterns … an `Eid prezzie so to speak :)
As I look at my needles and threads, I am reminded of the art lessons I had when I was in my second year of primary school, at age 8. Looking back on that time, I realise that my schooling that year had many Charlotte Mason elements! We spent a great deal of time on penmanship, reading and useful handicrafts. The crafts we learnt were not dime-a-dozen projects… rather, we made things that were very worthwhile. We did weaving, raffia stitching and even needlework.
I remember when we spent a few months working on our cross stitch samplers. The entire class had to work on this, even the boys! We were each given a piece of Aida fabric and assorted embroidery flosses. We would form a queue in front of the teacher’s desk and hand her our cloth, whereupon she would help us individually. She demonstrated how to stitch a pattern and sent us back to our seats to repeat the pattern. Once we successfully completed a row, we rejoined the queue to get a new row of patterns to work on. When we had filled the entire fabric, we got them stitched into a rectangular pencil case. (Our mums helped to sew up the zippers and hems.)
It was very painstaking work obviously, but one that gave me a lot of satisfaction. My teacher, who was NOT known for her patience, admirably curbed her temper during art and craft hour and persevered in guiding us through our projects. That was the only time I believe, that I received any useful training in art.
By the time I was in secondary school in my teens, education had changed a great deal. It was all about textbooks, exams and grades. Art lessons were reduced to only drawing and painting. We did campaign posters, still life, tiles and such and used different paints and pencils, but it was really essentially just drawing and painting. No real coaching was actually given – you either had the talent or you endured the lessons and horrid grades you received.
I would have loved it if we had art appreciation and art history woven into our lessons and learnt the techniques that the artists employed. I wish we had also been taught other forms of art and craft like knitting, crochet, collage making, stitchery among others as well. (I was terrible at drawing and sketching so I would have liked to have been given the opportunity to try other art forms and media.) I guess that would have taken too much time and been too difficult to grade for exams.
It wasn’t until I had children that I had the desire to get involved in handicrafts. Prior to that, I’d never thought that I could. After all, my grades in art were dismal, weren’t they? I loved the idea of passing on something made with love, by hand, to my children.
So, I tried overcoming my fear of failure and my tendency to overthink things and plunged into craftdom by embarking on a few simple embroidery projects. I’m not what you would call competent and I don’t have the time to be more committed, but I find joy in trying and I think that is what matters.
I want my children to have skills which would serve them well in their adult lives, skills that would bless not only their lives, but also that of others. There is a quote by Charlotte Mason that struck me:
The points to be borne in children’s handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such a pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass.
~ Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, Home Education pp 315, 316.
I’ve been thinking of appropriate handicraft ideas for my children… projects that they can easily manage and which they can further develop. I’ve been so inspired by sisters like Fruitful Fusion, Kate and Umme Yusuf. In shaa Allah no more waste and creating of futilities! Here are some I’ve come up with:
- Baking and cooking – We’ve been cooking together almost everyday and as a special `Eid celebration, I’ve taught them a simple baked pasta recipe today!
- Cross stitch – Mars has done a few and can read the patterns well. Bear is working on a sampler.
- Long stitch – Bear is slowly working on a small project
- Sashiko – this would be particularly good for beginning embroiderers I think as the stitches are easily executed.
- Embroidery – there are primitive/country designs that are easy for young ones to tackle. I made a simple pattern for Bear to tack.
- Braiding and macrame – Mars has made a few friendship bracelets… things get a little messy and tangled though!
- Knitting – Mars has learnt this from her grandmothers! I’m still talking about learning how to knit :P For shame!
- Woodwork – I would love to bring in a carpenter to teach my kids!
- Felt projects
- Mending, repurposing and refurbishing clothes and other things – I think as Muslims, we would do well not to waste
What handicrafts have you taught your kids?