Passing the Torch


By Rose Anne Hutchence

Our senior neighbours, recently honoured in Calgary, are invaluable; worth far more attention than one week’s celebration. We can learn a great deal from them: the skills and abilities they’ve acquired in their lifetime – including but not limited to woodworking techniques and other handicrafts – seem to be disappearing with our incessant race toward technology. If we don’t make haste to learn what we can while we can, their knowledge will, sadly, be lost to us.

Handmade items are more than a carved end-table or crocheted tablecloth. They are a labour of love, an investment of time and attention, skills practised and honed. Handcrafted projects provide immeasurable satisfaction upon completion as well as relaxation during the process, the latter sadly lacking in our addicted-to-information world. Machine-made furniture and household linens simply do not compare, in terms of quality.

Exploring the possibilities and finding out if we’re the least bit creative is easier than one might think. Many materials suppliers, such as Lee Valley Tools and Gina Brown’s Yarn and Needlecraft, provide classes. The Alberta College of Art and Design is another good source.

One fairly vocal advocate of soon-to-be-extinct fiber arts is Ghislaine Cleiren, who talks about her childhood in Antwerp. Knitting and sewing, crochet and making lace were a regular part of the curriculum. A former ACAD instructor, creative Calgary senior and expert artisan, Ghislaine continues to teach lace techniques, privately, ever hopeful of finding people interested in making things by hand. She offers a free introductory class to anyone willing to learn lace; students of all ages and genders are welcome, no experience needed.

Happily, the crafting of bobbin lace is enjoying a surprising resurgence of popularity in Europe, Australia, South America and Japan where lace makers, men and women, are creating jewellery with the centuries-old techniques and using such various materials as fiber optic cord and steel cable to design innovative light fixtures and even fences.

Consider what we could learn from this very important group of people; our parents and grandparents, their friends and associates. And – like the jewellery, fence and lighting designers – perhaps adapt those skills to current needs and materials.

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