Monday, December 14, 2009

No Idle Hands Here

by Sophie


I'm sure you've heard a variation of this quote:

For Satan finds some mischief still / For idle hands to do.

It's from Isaac Watts, the the "Father of English Hymnody," who wrote a bunch of hymns three hundred years ago and as far as I can tell was a fairly stuffy and no-fun guy.

I figure what he meant was "Hey, you there resting from a morning of washing stone floors on your knees, grab a feather duster and get busy." And who needs that?

But I do have one thing in common with the guy - I too am leery of idle hands. And idleness in general. I'm a fidgeter, an undisciplined thinker and imaginer, and I find that keeping my hands busy is a great way to calm my disordered thoughts and make sense of my environment.

I would have been great back in the day where every spare moment was filled, out of necessity, by chores, even when visiting friends. Folks came over and you'd shell peas together, or work on a quilt, or even put up a barn. Lots of chatting and gossiping took place, but you were also creating something of lasting value (well, except in the case of the peas, I suppose; in that case you were just creating dinner).

I was taught just about every kind of needlework as a child, and I loved it. Having your needlepoint or knitting in hand allowed you to sit quietly among the adults, privy to all kinds of conversations. When my kids were little, I relaxed at the end of the day with my sewing; it was a way to let my pent-up thoughts unspool at leisure. Even now, when my writing has edged out all of my leisure activities, I love to pick up a scrap of handwork now and then when I'm stressed. And it doesn't even have to be a thing of beauty; I remember an afternoon with my friend Trish when we made perler-bead suncatchers with our daughters - it was immensely satisfying to me to line up the tiny plastic beads in the shape of stars and hearts while we discussed the challenges of parenting and volunteering.

A week ago, my daughter announced that she wanted to knit squares that would be assembled into blankets for the needy (learn more about the project here) and she and I spent a wonderful evening together with the knitting basket that we'd both abandoned years ago. We watched Love Actually, which we do at the start of every holiday season, and we talked, and we knitted. Our squares weren't perfect - they came out a little lopsided, and my carpal tunnel flared up, and the puppy got into the basket and tangled up the yarn, and we scotched our original plans to do a dozen squares each.

But if indeed Satan finds inroads when hands are still, he didn't stand a chance that night - our fingers flew, our needles flashed, and the evening passed in the sort of happy companionship that's all too rare these days. I need to remember that the next time I'm stressing over a deadline or a dusty house or an unbalanced checkbook: sometimes the act of creating, no matter how humble, can restore us to the balanced place where we are at our best.


Juliet Blackwell said...

I'm at a complete loss when it comes to any kind of needlework, but I do cherish a memory of being in Germany with my mother, years ago when I was college-aged, and for some reason we decided she would teach me to knit. There we were, with needles and yarn, in restaurants, cafes, on a funicular, on park benches. I was a disaster, but local women constantly came up and tried to help, laughing with my non-German speaking mother over my lack of talent. I never managed so much as a square, but the memories are priceless.

Virna De Paul said...

It's such a great image -- mother and daughter working on a craft while watching Love Actually. I love little traditions like that, and yes, I'm the same way, sometimes I need to remember simpler and quieter can be just as satisfying.

Unknown said...

Lovely image of you and Junior and the dog....

I have always been happy that I live in this century because if I had to sit in a drawing room and do needlework while the MEN got to smoke cigars and drink port I would have been pissed because I am far better at drinking than I am at needlework. :)


I knitted a Christmas blanket - complete with Christmas tree, star and tinsel - for a toy unicorn today.
My daughters and I are making red velvet dresses trimmed with fake fur for teddy bears this week.
I knit, crochet and sew - the latter is usually people though...
I craft with and because of, my girls who wanted to learn. So I did too.

Pop Culture Nerd said...

I'm no good at needle work. Tried to make a shirt in 7th grade Home Ec and sewed both arm holes and neck hole shut.

But I'm a fidgety thinker, too, and my method of release is playing a trivia board game with hubby and/or friends. My brain has to focus on remembering useless facts instead of whatever else might be bothering me. Plus, it's fun!

Love Actually is one of my favorite movies ever! I watch it at Christmas time and during the rest of the year, too.

Adrienne Bell said...

Me, I'd love just a little more idle time. An extra half hour in the day to just close my eyes on the couch and do nothing. No guilt. No worries. No demands. Just a little blissful idleness.

Rachael Herron said...

You and Jr., knitting! Yay! Sorry about the wrists, though. I hate that... I knit left-handed, which is way looser than than the normal American way of holding the yarn in the right (even though I'm right-handed). (But when I do color-work, I use both hands.) Just something to consider, if you ever want to try being looser.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I sooooo want to be looser.....
aw, thanks everyone, I love how this topic can bring back memories or inspire us to think about how we spend our down time. Adrienne, learning to sit quietly is on my to-do-list....very long term. PCN, I so love that shirt that got sewed shut - hope you kept it!!

And Tina - what a wonderful gift to your girls, that you do these things with and for them.

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