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Needlework – Memories of a close-knit tribe

Needle work, crochet fabrics.
Image copyright and needle work by Tanya Munshi

When we were growing up, our schools were simple, pupil focused. We loved our teachers, and our teachers were nothing short of a mother figure for us in school. Their maternal approach within a classroom environment made us comfortable when we were little.
While we also had subjects similar to what many ICSE/ CBSE schools offer today, we also had classes on needle work. Yes, needlework. It’s a pity we don’t have this in our schools today, as people think needle work is either too sexist or has no value in current scenario.
Not realising that needlework is not sitting pretty in a corner and sewing; it is more of a life skill. It taught us more than just sitting with colourful threads and fabrics. It empowered us to fix something if it was torn or broken.

Since I was little, I learnt knitting, crochet and several styles of needle work (which, alas, being out of practice, I’ve regretfully forgotten).
But I have kept those needlework fabrics with me – from tablecloths, handkerchiefs and knitted dolls. What a sense of achievement that was. It gave us the hope of a possibility, that if we weren’t good in math or science or history, we could ace in something else, even if it was needle work!

Handsticed woolen sling bag.
Image copyright and needle work by Tanya Munshi

Now I realise, how vital those humble lessons were, as they taught us patience, to finish what we started, feel a sense of accomplishment, to follow techniques and processes to get a desired outcome. There were no set digital templates to follow, the way we have to build apps or bots online. Everything had to be done by hand and from scratch. We had knitting, crochet and stitching books, we had to read and understand patterns. There was math, analysis and problem solving embedded in it. Such a seemingly frugal task but had such an in depth valuable lesson for us.

Today, after all these years, as I use my stitched fabrics to cover a toaster or use it as a tablecloth, I feel such an immense sense of pride and accomplishment as it brings back wonderful memories of a simple childhood sans technology and gadgets. My classmates and I would sit quietly during our needlework classes and knit or stitch and only speak when we were stuck. We helped each other out, it helped build camaraderie. If someone picked up the technique faster than the other girls, she would assist the teacher by helping the other girls. What a lovely synergy it was.

Embroidered handkerchiefs
Image copyright and needle work by Tanya Munshi

Needlework instilled such a community feeling; it gave us the warmth of belonging to a small tribe. Sometimes singing a tune or just listening to the rhythm of the creaking ceiling fan. Have you observed the bonding of women from traditional handicraft occupations? They knit, sew and embroider together. They’re like a family unit, knowing each other’s personal stories, challenges and triumphs. They’re there for one another. That’s what knitting and sewing groups do. Nothing is as self-soothing and calming as knitting, sewing and embroidering (and also any form of art you pursue). Traditional hand stitched fabrics, sarees and bedspreads would be passed down as heirlooms, as they had a story to tell, of triumph and overcoming challenges. Something that a gadget or an app could only remotely match up to.

We would wait for our needlework classes in school as we were eager to see the finished masterpiece. My patterns were seldom fancy; I chose simpler patterns, as I always felt there’s elegance in simplicity. Years later, I taught my daughter needlework. I approached a friend who ran her own personal tailoring studio at home, and she willingly taught my daughter. My daughter learnt to stitch and mend; she made clothes for her dolls and graduated to fixing torn pajamas and t-shirts at home and charged Rs. 10 for it. (I guess entrepreneurship can evolve from anywhere, right?) If you think needlework has no value, well ask fashion designers, or your local tailor (or master ji), and you’ll realise how important this skill is. In a world that is so used to ‘one click’ and ‘swipe’ responses or interactions, needlework is far removed from it. We may not land up being designers, but we surely will know how to fix things on our own if we have a tear.

Needlework taught in school.
Image copyright and needle work by Tanya Munshi

Tanya Munshi

Founder, The Lifestyle Portal

Artist, Writer, Human…

The Lifestyle Portal

Tanya is a graduate in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai, a post-graduate in Communications and Media from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and holds a Master's Degree in Journalis & Mass Communications from Chandigarh University. A former writing mentor and a seasoned lifestyle writer, Tanya writes columns on The Lifestyle Portal of life and living.

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