Grade 1, my first field trip ever was scheduled for a downtown Levi’s jeans factory. My teacher at the time was one of those fussy, humorless women on the cusp of retirement. Perhaps that’s an unfair judgment. Perhaps the teachers who followed her were all flibbertigibbets in comparison, and the price of their leniency would ultimately be paid by a reckless student. Maybe she’d had a prior bad experience that pushed her to take safety responsibilities seriously. Maybe she was perfectly normal and I was a hypersensitive child.
Whatever the case, she was so convinced that our trip could be hazardous, she drilled us on protocol for weeks in advance.
We’d stand amid giant industrial machines that could sever limbs as well as cut fabric, she said. Step the wrong way and we’d risk being caught up in a chain and strangled. And the sewing machines were incredibly dangerous. Best follow our tour guide’s instructions to a T, lest we distract a worker and cause her to sew her hand through.
After that warning, I had many nightmares filled with images of giant, scarlet-tinged needles and thread sewn into flesh.
As you might imagine, I was a tremulous mess when I stepped off the bus on the day of the excursion and stared at the squat, brick factory. It looked like a prison.
Inside, I was struck by the hum of activity and the MOUNDS of garments, but after all that wind-up and apprehension, not so much by the machines. My father’s table saw, which he navigated on a regular basis, possessed more noise and fury. (He had all his fingers, too.) And my mother had a Singer. While the seamstresses’ machines were bigger and fancier, they were recognizable as the same species.
Why all the musings and reminiscences about this field trip?
I’ve been decluttering, Zesties, and this week I peeked into a cupboard that has been sealed/tolerated/ignored lo these last…15 years. Inside? Fabric, zippers, thread, patterns. All ghosts of Christmases and birthdays past. All old friends I have let go.
Normally I don’t struggle with decisions about organization, but I’ve been stalled out on that cupboard for weeks now, unable to decide on a course of action. The choices before me feel primal and archetypal, like I’ve hit a dividing line that will determine the path of generations.
One aspect is to do with family traditions.
My grandmother sewed. She had a dress form in her basement when she moved from her condo to a senior’s center.
My mom made us dresses, bareback shirts for the girls, the most beautiful, ethereal drapes for the living room when we moved into a new home.
In turn, I voluntarily signed up for more Home Ec than required in highschool. I made doll clothes for my sister, sewed my first real boyfriend a corduroy shirt for Christmas with a fake label inside. (I wonder two things about that gift: Did he ever wear it past that first day? I’d guess not. 2. Did the collar choke him as much as our relationship? Ditto.)
I’d sewn the dusty rose summer dress my sister wore when she stood up as my maid of honor.
But at some point, after making a French blind for our living room and crafting a duvet cover for Frank–it’s a soft flannel which displays the Milky Way–I stopped. In the greater community, sewing had become a hobby, rather than a necessity. As it migrated from general department stores into pricey specialty shops, it could no longer be justified on an economic basis. Plus, though I might have kept it going purely as a form of entertainment, I just didn’t have the time.
Now I have two children who aren’t in the least crafty. Other than in their infancy, they haven’t seen me tackle anything more complicated than mending. They have ZERO understanding about how to cut cloth from a pattern, sew a dart, finish a seam. They have less interest in learning. Their generation, it seems, would rather take their clothing to a tailor for repair.
This isn’t because they are lazy, BTW. Their interests and competencies lie elsewhere, like tackling routine car maintenance, which has never appealed to me.
So question #1 for me as I mull my options: Do I even have a choice about whether to let a family legacy die? Maybe that horse is dead forever or will emerge, Lazarus-like, in their later years.
The BIGGER question, though–the one which has me reflective and moody:
If I prune these supplies down to the minimal level, what does this say about experiential learning? About my kids’ understanding of the greater world?
As a generality, we Westerners are detached from the natural world. This is heartbreakingly obvious when it comes to food. I’ve met 10-year-old children who do not know carrots grow in a garden and have lush, fern-like tops. I’ve seen the wonder break over their faces when I’ve uprooted juicy carrots, washed them in the garden hose, and they took their first bites of angular, deep-orange, sweet flesh.
Likewise, for many, cooking has become a spectator sport. I can’t tell you how many people I know who never cook from scratch–and I mean NEVER–even while they watch the Food Network and speak confidently about the peccadilloes of the latest celebrity chef.
Personally, I see this detachment as one reason our environment is suffering and our health is about to create a collective, disastrous economic and personal burden.
(Sorry that zany-Jan isn’t on deck today, but this is how I see it.)
Remember the basic necessities? Food, clothing, and shelter? We’re detached from food. If I let this go–if I let this sewing go–am I tacitly accepting and condoning detachment in another significant area? If/when another garment factory collapses, will my kids, who have never had the crap scared out of them by a nervous teacher, nor walked through a sweat shop, nor guided fabric through the path of a needle, have any visceral understanding of that world?
These are the things I wonder, as I run my hands over the upholstery fabric I’ve decided to donate. Because when it comes down to it, I’ve decided it’s more important to give them skills in the kitchen.
Now how about you? Do you sew? If you have children, do they? Do you cook? If you agree with the idea of detachment, where do you see the biggest knowledge gap developing in our society?