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!
  • Crochet
  • Woodwork – I would love to bring in a carpenter to teach my kids!
  • Beading
  • 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?