Handmade at home: keeping the skills alive

There are times when getting something done involves doing it as quickly as possible. And there are times when it involves clearing off the table, and doing it from scratch.

The task might take more time, and even sometimes (but not often), it’s more expensive. But to do something yourself – to completely finish a task starting from scratch, embodies simplicity. After all, simplicity simply means “freedom from complexity,” and handmade pays homage to the craft and task of doing a skill well.

There are a number of skills that are a dying art. In a microwave culture, certain skills require crock pot patience, and not many home managers can afford such luxuries as time. But simple moms, home managers who yearn for simplicity in their lives, should take the time to learn a few.

I’d hate to see certain time-tested skills fade away with our grandparents’ generation. Let’s celebrate the beauty, the honor, and the tradition of managing a home and cultivating a family by learning the “tricks of the trade” the long way.

1. Sewing

  • Why it’s useful: You can make your families’ clothes and tailor them specifically to size, color, and style; you can also custom-make your home textile furnishings. You can make purses, baby accessories, stuffed toys – the options are near endless.
  • Why it’s dying: It’s quicker, easier, and sometimes cheaper to go to your local store and buy it.
  • But it’s finding a resurgence because: Sewing is the latest knitting craze. The younger generation of home managers are finding reasons to use the skill, and fashionistas see the value that it adds to their creativity.
  • How I’m doing: Decently. I have a new-but-simple sewing machine, and I thoroughly enjoy sewing the basics. I just wish I had more time.
  • Useful sites to learn how you can keep it alive: Sew, Mama, Sew!J Caroline CreativeThe Sewing RepublicChickpea Sewing Studio

2. Gardening

  • Why it’s useful: You can nourish your family from your own plot of land, year after year. You’re eating locally, organically, and cheaply.
  • Why it’s dying: It’s quicker, easier, and sometimes cheaper to go to your local store and buy it.
  • But it’s finding a resurgence because: environmental issues no longer belong to just the minority folk, and gas prices mean a hike in groceries, too.
  • How I’m doing: Horribly. I seem to have a black thumb. Still, I’m trying.
  • Useful sites to learn how you can keep it alive: You Grow GirlBackyard GardenerOrganic Gardening

3. Canning

  • Why it’s useful: You can extend the life of your garden’s crops and your farmer’s market purchases, and eat your homemade concoctions year-round. And it’s usually healthier than store-bought canned goods.
  • Why it’s dying: It’s quicker, easier, and sometimes cheaper to go to your local store and buy it.
  • How I’m doing: Nil. I haven’t started learning yet, but I’d like to.
  • Useful sites to learn how you can keep it alive: Canned LaughterThe Simple Woman’s Cannery

4. Cooking (from scratch)

  • Why it’s useful: You’re actually cooking food, instead of chemical-ridden boxed goods. It’s cheaper, it’s way healthier, and it’s a community ritual – you can cook together as a family and bond.
  • Why it’s dying: Fast food chains have large marketing budgets, and people simply aren’t aware how easy cooking from scratch really can be.
  • But it’s finding a resurgence because: the pitfalls of artificial food are becoming mainstream information.
  • How I’m doing: Well. I haven’t cooked boxed food in years.
  • Useful sites to learn how you can keep it alive: Tammy’s RecipesAll RecipesCooking Light

5. Knitting and crocheting

  • Why it’s useful: You can keep your family snugly warm with personalized sweaters and accessories. The skill also provides great gifts.
  • Why it’s dying: It’s not exactly a necessity in climates that don’t demand it, and it requires quite a bit of patience.
  • But it’s finding a resurgence because: there’s simply something in people that yearns to create, and these skills provide a creative outlet while doing other things like watching tv or chatting with friends.
  • How I’m doing: Nil. I haven’t learned this yet, unless you count finger crocheting, which I learned in 5th grade study hall.
  • Useful sites to learn how you can keep it alive: CraftsterMason Dixon Knitting

6. Hospitality

  • Why it’s useful: You provide warm food and a safe haven for countless friends and family, and you expand your community to more than just your immediate circle. And you’re giving your kids a good environment for practicing manners and serving others before being served themselves.
  • Why it’s dying: Crammed daytimers. Families don’t make the time to sit down over dinner together these days, much less with guests.
  • But it’s finding a resurgence because: people are getting tired of running around like headless chickens, and they want to know their neighbors.
  • How I’m doing: Fairly well. Then again, it’s a bit easier to make time for this in the non-American culture in which I live.
  • Useful sites to learn how you can keep it alive: EpicuriousThat’s the SpiritDIY

There’s plenty of other skills – composting, making household cleaners, felting, woodworking, making yogurt, various forms of artistry. What would you add to this list? Is there something you’re proud to know and do well? Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do? I’d love to find more resources for learning important skills, so please share them if you know them!

top photo source
Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. A lot of my friends don’t cook at all. And some of them think that I’m a food snob because I do. I only learned to cook through humiliation, but I’m glad I keep doing it. Is has helped me to provide hospitality and help to friends and neighbors through good times and bad.

    I do wish I knew how to sew. I’m wearing a cardigan today that has two of six buttons remaining.

    I know what you mean about lost art. I’m saddened that so many women don’t cook anymore and are content to feed their families cereal at night. Their kids are growing up with example.

    Courtney´s last blog post…Cookies for breakfast

  2. @Courtney – as soon as the holidays are over, google for “how to sew on a button” and just do it!!! Or ask around for a live person to show you. If you live anywhere near Chattanooga, I’ll show you!

    Mary´s last blog post…Consider adding a taste of Savannah to your Thanksgiving menu …

  3. Good post.
    I am working on cooking from scratch more.

  4. Bless your heart for trying! I’m trying with the gardening, but most of the other things I can do, though canning is a bit hit and miss at the moment. Another good place to learn knitting (beyond someone who can teach you or your local wool shop) is knittinghelp.com. Figured out how to purl there!

    Kelly´s last blog post…The Aquarium

  5. I love this post. I garden, can, cook from scratch most nights, compost and papercraft. I have a sewing machine, but no time to learn more sewing skills. I wish I did! I do make my own greeting cards with rubber stamps, etc and am happier with them than what I find at the local card store. The personal touch is being lost in our consumer culture and I miss it dearly!

    MelissaS´s last blog post…Last Minute Gifts and a RAK

  6. We had a garden this year, and actually got veggies from it! This year we are going to expand it a lot. I hope to start most from seed this year…last year I did a lot of plants. One of my next goals is to can the proceeds of the garden. We have actively tried to step up our hospitality efforts, and I hope to do more in the New Year.

    Being a good neighbor is a lost art as well. Too often we don’t even know those in our community. I encourage people to step out of their comfort zones, and get involved and be available to help your neighbor.

  7. Too true. If I wasn’t so afraid of my sewing machine, I’d have made more gifts this year… on our site, we have a tutorial for easy kids pants made from a t-shirt and also how to make a fun toy for your preschooler from a piece of wood, some nails and a handful of rubber bands (to name a few).

    RookieMom Heather´s last blog post…Activity #1061: Customize your celebration

  8. I completely agree. I just started a number of the things above..I’m a new knitter and I just got a book out of the library about gardening (the new Square Foot Gardening book- makes it look easy..we’ll see!). I’ve been cooking for quite a while, but I just added bread baking to my list. I was always intimidated by baking anything with yeast, but I have to tell you, the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day completely changed me! I now have a fresh loaf of beautiful bread every day. It’s great.

    Robin´s last blog post…The Quickest, Easiest Pumpkin Muffins Ever

  9. I have another website to add to the knitting/crochet item: ravelry.com. This is such an amazing site! Its sort of like a social networking site, but SO much more! Just about every pattern can be found there, any research you need to do.. People who have done patterns have notes to look at, different yarns to substitute, groups, you can even meet people local to knit with! Its possibilities are endless!!!

    Elaine´s last blog post…Mission 97% Finished!

  10. Thank you for reposting this! Somehow I missed it the first time around and I am absolutely in love with this post. It echoes my own feelings and has refueled my motivation. Thank you!

    Micha´s last blog post…All I want for Christmas (warning: long rambley post)

  11. What a great post! My goal for 2009 is to learn how to sew, at the very least, enough to do curtains, etc. We’ll see how it goes!

    Shilo´s last blog post…Bakery Sugar Cookies

  12. This isn’t so much about homemaking, but I consider playing an instrument, especially the piano, to be very important and a useful skill. My kids and I have spent many happy hours gathered around the piano singing songs together. I am soooo glad my mother made/encouraged me to learn and practice. Now the time has come for me to do the same for my children.

    Great post. I agree wholeheartedly with you on this.

    Still working on canning. My sister is fantastic at it, but she’s too far away to teach me. 🙁 I think I’ll work on that this next year. Hey, there’s a new New Year’s resolution in the making.

    Kelley´s last blog post…Nervous breakdown in the making?

  13. Great links; thanks! I also think there is a big resurrgence in these things, and I love how we are adding our Gen X (or whatever) modern twist on the old way of doing things. Like quilting, for example. I love the new quilt designs coming out. Not that I’ve completed a quilt, yet, but I’m 50% there, with a quilt top done. In fact, that quilt top is exactly what I”m talking about when I say we’re figuring out ways to do the old things a bit differently: http://justpurelovely.typepad.com/justpurelovely/2008/02/project-a-tutor.html

    Just Pure Lovely´s last blog post…Handmade Christmas (& a tutorial on how to make a puzzle)

  14. RAVELRY.COM is THE resource for all things Knit and Crochet.
    Knitty.com and Knittinghelp.com should also make the list.

    Mama K´s last blog post…2 days

  15. I cook from scratch almost every mea. Feeding a big family can get expensive. The only “food from a box” my kids will eat is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Chef Boy Ardee Pizza. Those are my “cheater” dinners that I make when my husband is away on business.

    I canned one year but ended up not using any of my canned goods. I was too scared they had gone bad.

    Shelly´s last blog post…Great Jelly Roll Quilt Books

  16. Fantastic article — I dugg & stumbled it 😉

    Desiree Fawn´s last blog post…congratulations.

  17. I so agree with you and can place a “check” next to each of your statements! I grew up on a small dairy farm in VT and if we didn’t make it, you didn’t have it…which was a bit odd in the 70’s but… we were poor! I still believe in doing it from scratch, homemade makes it better! (in all categories..cooking, clothing, cleaning, etc) If only i could quit my job and have more hours to put towards this!

    Turtle´s last blog post…just a note

  18. Very cool post! I’m inspired to dust off my sewing machine for 2009! Thanks!

  19. As a young newly wed, I am so encouraged by this post. Most of my friends don’t share my new lifestyle yet, and it’s great to hear that others are trying to cultivate the domestic arts as well. As much as I love our modern conveniences, I am beginning to realize I need to treasure the wisdom and skills of my older relatives before they are lost (my granny and grandmother especially).

  20. I 100% agree with this post – it’s sad to see some things dying away. I do all the things on this list except the sewing stuff, to my chagrin. I want to so badly, but I’m afraid of my sewing machine! I am going to learn to knit, though. And I just have to brag that I know how to can. When I was a newlywed, I made my mother-in-law teach me how to can/process jars. Ever since, I’ve taught my mom and my Japanese friend. I’m always offering lessons on how to can because it truly is a dying art (seriously, in my hometown, the county fair still gives ribbons out for the prettiest canned peaches!). The only problem with canning is that it has made me a jam snob – I can’t eat anything but homemade jam (this year, I made pluot jam – delish!). Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for the simple, lovely things about home management.

    Heather´s last blog post…My Must-See Christmas Movie List

  21. Never before has our generation here in the US faced such trying times for providing basic needs for our family like food, shelter, clothing… My focus for the coming year will be to attain a year supply of food for my family of 6. We had a year supply last year and were so grateful for it when my medical bills were so costly all extra money went to pay them. We were able to use grocery money to pay off the medical expenses and then lived on food storage. There are so many reasons that people would benefit from having this!

    Maggie´s last blog post…Update: Something weird has happened to my blog

  22. What an inspiring post.

    I’m not too great at sewing, mostly because the sewing machine scares me, but I do make simple thing by hand sewing. I can knit and crochet and usually have something on the go, I don’t can anything although I do make a few preserves and such like. My garden’s a mess because I don’t have the energy to sort it out although I’m going to have a shot at growing some veg and herbs in pots this year. Cooking from scratch is something I do though. I still use the occassional convenience food for when my energy is really low but on the whole I make our meals myself. I don’t have a proper dining table to entertain at but I do make simple things that can be enjoyed around the big coffee table in the living room and invite people over so all in all I’m not doing too badly (although sometimes I feel that I am).

    Sharon J´s last blog post…Yay! I Did It!

  23. I have been surprised by the interest in just these home arts you mentioned over at our little website. Young people seem newly fascinated by the old classic home arts (they ARE new to them, of course!) and they are adding exciting twists to them–I just love the artistic and creative aesthetic the next generation is bringing. I think these things have a whole new life and will continue on even better than before (in their own way!)

    Tomato Lady´s last blog post…Menu Plan Monday

  24. Love the idea with the buttons….I sew but don’t do it enough..time. 🙂

  25. Fantastic post, Tsh!!! I am totally bookmarking. Thanks for re-posting. Merry Christmas!

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog post…Shivering, snuggling, and semi-sabbatical

  26. This was great! I literally just journaled about this last night!

    I feel very encouraged by my improvement in cooking from scratch – especially my growing knowledge of and appreciation for traditional and fermented foods. We just gobbled up a loaf of spelt and oatmeal sourdough bread and my kids love my homemade sauerkraut!

    In many of the things that I want to get better at (gardening, composting, canning, sewing), I find that I really desire a mentor and have had a hard time finding any. Though I’m a big fan of DIY websites, sometimes I just want someone to come alongside and teach me day in and day out!

    Some other “lost home arts” that I would add to the list are: frugality/simplicity/reuse, home remedies, and homekeeping. I hope to become a family herbalist someday through this website: http://www.vintageremedies.com/vr/

    I was also thinking that it would be cool to create some sort of matrix or “test” that allows you to work out which arts could become a a true habit down the road and which are just unrealistic pipedreams because of your personality wirings and shortcomings. I drool over the cute sewing crafts that I see on many blogs, but know that just learning how to sew a button on without breaking into a cold sweat might be more realistic for me. Sometimes the idea of regaining the lost arts can be really overwhelming and whip us into a frenzy of feeling like we have to become good at all of them right now! Perhaps it’s better to grow into a community where we learn from each other, find confidence in our niches, embrace our not-so-great areas and then trade skills and products that will benefit everyone.

    I wish there was a way that we like minded women could gather together conference-style every year or so. I’m so inspired by you all and would love to meet and talk face-to-face.

    melanie sunukjian´s last blog post…Cute Christmas Kidlets

  27. In the “hospitality” segment, you mention that you live in a “non-American culture”. I am all too interested in what nationality you are! Love your blog. 🙂

  28. I have taken up knitting. Sadly I can’t read a pattern for the life of me. I wish I had a grandma close by to teach me.

    d´s last blog post…Help ME!!

  29. Oh how I agree with this amazing article. In addition to all of the points you made, I would add that sewing, canning, hospitality, cooking, knitting/crocheting and gardening are all potential “memory makers” for the family. Having positive experiences working as a family, builds character, pride, and self-esteem.

    Shawn S.´s last blog post…Dear Santa

  30. Oh what a lovely post. In the past year, I went from being a career woman, to being a SAHM. I LOVE IT! I have done everything on your list, except for knitting–I would love to learn that, but I have too many sewing projects right now. 🙂 Sewing is my passion, I made all the curtains for our new home this year. I canned this year for the first time, and LOVED it. I can’t wait to do it again next year… It’s so fun to use the stuff, and get ideas for what I’d like next year. I did a garden too, which was not as successful, but I did get some stuff out of it, and loved it… I can’t wait to do it again next year, and hopefully get more.

    naomig´s last blog post…Fun weekend

  31. I grew up canning and sewing and drying and, and, and… It’s one of the things I miss about living where I am. I agree. Canning is great fun, especially if you have someone to do it with.

    I can, however, knit and crochet where I am and I’m using this for my creative outlet right now. I feel very blessed to have learned these things when I was young. I hope, someday, I can use all of them again. Thank you for re-inspiring us to keep up with the simple, old way, of life that is truly less hectic and a little happier.

    I might add writing letters on paper to the list. A letter received through the mail is such a cherished thing for me.

  32. I really enjoyed this post.

    I absolutely love to cook. I’ve been busy delivering dinners for friends who just had 2nd babies. Some of them feel bad accepting since I work. But I work part-time, and I have to eat too. I didn’t learn to cook until I was 32. I was pretty much a disaster in the kitchen, and I have the burn scars and stitches to prove it. But I got fat on my husband’s cooking, and over the last 7 years, I’ve developed some skill.

    I also love quilting. This has tapered off some since the birth of my son 3 years ago. I’m really into art quilting, but it’s going slow. I have a knitted hand towel, and I just need my MIL to show me how to finish it off! I started it about 12 years ago.

    I also enjoy crocheting, but that whole time thing…

    Gardening is a goal of mine. So is canning. For now, I will rely on my CSA, which is 10 months long.

    Marcia´s last blog post…Heath, Fitness, and Weight Loss

  33. One of the reasons I stumbled upon this post is I was looking for something like a matrix. Where do I go next?