Lost skills

When you decide to live a more simple life there are certain things you have to learn how to do. These techniques and skills will depend on where you live and what your priorities are. For example, if you’re in the country and value organic food you might need to learn how to milk your own dairy cow, if you’re in the suburbs and want to avoid purchasing cheap mass produced clothes you may need to get your darning skills up to date. A problem arises when you realise so many of these old skills have been lost. If, like me, you’re of a generation X/Y vintage you might have had parents who both worked out of the home and as a result didn’t have time for knitting or making passata from scratch. Throw in ‘convenience’ foods and products which were cheaper to replace than repair and you can see how easily those skills fell to the wayside.

Something that was lost in the pursuit of convenience was the satisfaction and independence these skills offered. There is a special joy that comes from seeing your darling daughter twirl around in her favourite skirt that you were able to whip up on the sewing machine. The meditative clicking of knitting needles and warmth of an unfurling scarf in your lap can be comforting and cathartic. Want a long dress with pockets? If you can sew you don’t have to wait for a designer to produce an overpriced, poor quality version of what you seek.  Car need its oil changed? What a great feeling to save yourself the service fee and change it yourself.

You are empowered when you can do things for yourself and you get to make things exactly as you’d like them.

So if this upskilling is so empowering why aren’t more people doing it? I believe these skills have an image problem, they are often seen as ‘old and daggy’, because we don’t see our contemporaries practising them. Secondly, we have been told continuously that we don’t have time by advertisers wanting to sell us a quick fix. We are told our status is measured by what we can buy, not by what we can make and do ourselves.

Screen grab from the Work-Shop website

Screen grab from the Work-Shop website

This is why I’m so happy to see places like Work-Shop offer affordable classes where people can go to learn new skills that would be otherwise unattainable. Their classes cover everything from tattoo illustration to beginner harmonica. I was especially excited to see Work-Shop and City of Sydney come together to put on Nanna Knows Best, a series of classes on forgotten Nanna skills! The next class on 15 July is Chinese Knitting with Nanna MeiFen and it’s only $20. A bonus of this series is the opportunity to learn from another generation. I certainly wish my Nanna wasn’t so far away…

So what can you do if you don’t have classes like Nanna Knows Best available near you? I typically turn to YouTube and blogs for instruction. There is no equal to having someone sit by your side and talk you through a practical skill but YouTube especially can be great for picking up new knitting stitches for example. I pause and replay as often as I need, laptop balancing on my knee, needles and wool held directly in front of the screen for comparison. Do you have any video tutorials or classes you would recommend for those looking to upskill?

If you start to ask around you might be surprised at the skills that exist in our local communities, and just how willing people (especially the older generations) are to share and teach them. These skills don’t have to be lost. We can save them, one at a time, and have fun while doing so.

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6 comments

  1. You’re right that we don’t see our contemporaries practising these skills, but I think more and more people are becoming interested, from choice and from financial necessity. It’s good that there is a healthy frugal/simple blog community so that we don’t feel isolated – thanks for yours! I was lucky (though I didn’t see it like that then!) in that my mom was a single parent, back in the sixties and while she worked, my grandparents cared for me. They made be believe that I could do anything practical, not only knitting and cooking (and darning!), but woodwork and home decorating. And yes, you are right – YouTube is a fantastic resource for learning almost any skill. Remember to teach your daughter too, as you learn!

    1. There’s certainly been a growing interest, especially in skills such as knitting. I loved helping my father as a child- lots of gardening and tinkering with his truck engine. The confidence to ‘have a crack’ stays with you when you’ve grown up with people willing to try their hand at anything. My daughter loves to help no matter the task, and you’re right, even though it takes twice as long it’s so important for her to learn these skills too.

  2. I’m also looking at learning some of these skills. As a young adult, I regret not being more interested in gaining these very useful skills as a child or high school student. It’s funny, the subjects I did at high school that I am most grateful for now were the most practical ones, such as food technology (that were actively discouraged by the academic status quo/career counsellor). Calculus-level maths was one subject that I can say with confidence was a waste of time (given I’m not an engineer), encouraged as it may be in high school.

    I wonder whether the rising youth unemployment globally will force a resurgence of traditional-style families where one parent works a money-paying job, and the other works as a homemaker… I guess we’ll wait and see!

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