Handicraft: The Ancient Tradition of Creating Things with Your Hands

Anyone who’s spent significant time creating with their hands – whether it be painting, carpentry, knitting, carving, building – can appreciate the distinctive satisfaction it evokes. (I’m using the term broadly.) Handicraft, as wide a spectrum as it can encompass, isn’t about routine chores or fix-its. There’s a difference between grudgingly doing your own home repairs to save money and savoring the experience of meticulously renovating your own home. It’s about the love of the craft on some level. Not everyone would put it in those specific terms, but the people I know who practice handicraft acknowledge they’re drawn to what they do on some subconscious level. Picking up a familiar tool feels comfortable, even calming. The balance of its weight in your hand feels sure. Spending an hour at one’s own workspace (e.g. basement studio, garage workbench), however plain or disheveled, feels like time in a secluded oasis. It’s in the craft that you find focus – flow even. The brush or needles, chisel or knife, spade or hammer become an unconscious extension of self. The mind devises, but the hand itself thinks, designs, knows. In its fullness, we lose ourselves in the full physical experience of craft – in the sensory nuances, in the emotional associations, in the intuitive energy. I’d venture we’re the happier and healthier for these endeavors.

We live in a society enamored by passive entertainment and increasingly invested in the virtual experience. Fewer of us have jobs that show us the tangible results of our efforts. Rarer still are full claim on a project or creative license in our work. It leaves a gap, I think, in how we live – in how we exercise the innate physical and creative abilities that make us human.

Although we tend to think of our pre-Neolithic ancestors as living a life stuck in the dirt with no sense of the arts or any other “refinement,” we’re far off course in that assumption. Artistry is indeed an anthropological indicator of modern behavior, but evidence of these inclinations date back tens of thousands of years before the Agricultural Revolution. Our Paleolithic ancestors were creating jewelry from eggshells and bone fragments. They were sewing clothes with animal sinew. They formed vessels and wove baskets. They created paints and dyes. They chiseled spear heads from metal so brittle few of us can even imagine the deftness required. They meticulously whittled shafts for the most aerodynamic, accurate spears. They designed vast stretches of nuanced cave art.

As anthropologists suggest, these inclinations toward craft and artistry were selected for. They increased the survival chances of individuals and their communities. A skilled spear maker added obvious value. Yet those who could design jewelry or other adornment introduced “material metaphors” and “social technologies” that enhanced kinship relationships and community identity as well as expanded the terms of inter-band negotiation.

Artistry then was usable if not practical. Today, Western society has largely segregated art to an aesthetic corner. It may represent life but doesn’t intersect much with it. However, individuals still practice crafts handed down to them by family or community members. Likewise, many traditional societies continue to pass down the art forms and crafts as “collective wisdom” that help define their distinctive cultures.

A recent study (PDF) conducted by the University of California Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities recently highlighted “the link between traditional artistic practices and mental and physical health.” Although examining such an association isn’t a simple or clear cut task with the methods of standard research, interviews suggested traditional handicraft bears positive impact on measures like “interconnected mind-body awareness,” “spiritual and emotional growth; physical vigor; strengthening of personal and community identity; and mitigation of historical trauma” as well as therapeutic “distraction from illness” and “enhanced respect for elders.”

Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities, explains that several “protective factors” are at work here. The practice of traditional arts, particularly as they’re handed down within a cultural community, affirms “intergenerational involvement” and “community engagement.” As Amy Kitchener, executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, notes, cultural practices are “embedded in everyday life, in ceremonies and family rites of passage” for many traditional groups and have long played a meaningful role in the concept of personal wellness. According to the researchers, traditional handiwork also enhances more individual-based factors like “resilience” and “self-efficacy.”

The study, I think, underscores far more than the power of acculturation. Many of us partake in handicraft arts with only personal interest or perhaps familial, but not necessarily cultural affiliations. Nonetheless, there’s still a gratification that comes from its connection with tradition. We understand that we’re one in a long line of individuals who have practiced the art for decades, centuries, even millennia. The urge to create – what is useful and tangible – is deeply human. There’s something about it that releases stress and brings us back to center.

We develop a reverence for the craft and even a relationship with the tools themselves. They can become more personal than the items we build or create. For those of us who know or have known a craftsman/woman, we honor that association. We pass many things on through the generations. What means the most, however, are the things that our forebears used and made. A decorative item reminds us of a great-grandparent’s home, but a tool or even a baking pan that we saw a grandparent use over the years makes us absorb his/her very presence. We see the years and feel his/her hands in the wear of the item. Likewise, in the creations they made, we preserve a glimpse of their creativity, a parcel of their lifetime. In our own arts, we enjoy and undoubtedly share the same.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on the healthful benefits behind handicraft and traditional arts.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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124 thoughts on “Handicraft: The Ancient Tradition of Creating Things with Your Hands”

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  1. I was trained as an artist and have always made things – art or craft – since I was small. Now I am a nutritional therapist and cooking is such a big part of what I do, both professionally and personally. Often old friends will ask “Are you still doing your art?” They mean painting or quilting or sculpture, but I think of cooking as my art now. It’s equally as creative!

    1. I feel the same way. I never really considered myself to be creative or artistic, but that was before I taught myself to cook.

    2. Cooking is most definitely art. I’m glad you brought this up. I don’t draw, paint, sculpt or craft anything except for food. I love creating new smoothie recipes as well as cooking my own primal food without following a recipe.

      It’s all art and its all incredibly healthy to be engaging in some form of art. Music is art too. Looking at art, appreciating art is great but we should all be creating ourselves. Cooking counts!

    3. I totally agree about cooking being creative and artistic. I find it to also be spiritual and connective with the ancestors – mine and the “in-laws”. These later aspects do include inherited family recipes and cooking tools – but go beyond that.

      I am part Cherokee – Eastern Band. My lineage included medicine people. I am the “official” lineage bearer – but unfortunately that honor did not come with a full traditional training. The last fully practicing healer died when I was born.

      Still, its very much a thread woven throughout my life. And, on a side note has me lately wondering about the Native American genetic tendency to develop diabetes – although there are no cases of diabetes in that part of my family, as far as I know.

      Anyway, this morning as I was preparing saute baby portobello mushrooms I had a moving experience. The bellos look so perfect that I hated to slice and cook them. I considered eating them raw – but what I really wanted was warm mushrooms saute with butter and garlic. So, into the pan they went.

      They were carefully arranged in the pan – still looking so beautiful! Standing over the pan I had a spontaneous somatic sensation of gratitude and appreciation for the life of each mushroom. This sensation started in my solar plexus and then moved into my heart and then to the top of my head. Almost made me feel light headed.

      I thanked the beautiful bellos for giving their lives so that I might live.

      In my idea of a perfect world, there would be no suffering. Admittedly, I have been too sensitive for my own good at times. My time as a vegetarian ended when I had a similar experience in my garden, involving picking a head of lettuce.

      I was suddenly aware of the life in plants in a new way. That made me question the whole notion of sentience – wondering if once again humans were demonstrating their own biases as we do when defining intelligence in general.

      I don’t know about all Native American traditions. I do know that in my ancestral band that plants were honored in the same way as animals, where the taking of life was concerned. That was especially true for gathered medicinal plants. Well, and that’s also true for the spirits of stones, rocks, and minerals.

      Everything is connected.

      1. Very cool experience, Rarebird. I share similar seemingly-overly-emotional bouts of beauty-appreciation from time time time. At random, the same drive that I make twice a day sometimes engorges me in its beauty. The massive trees that stand taller and older than any of the concrete structures around it. The harmony of soil and air that blows in a calming scent through my slightly cracked window. It’s absolutely breathtaking sometimes – and I feel foolish, or guilty even – for not noticing the astonishing world in the same light every day.

        It’s all so amazing. Life is so amazing.

        Aww Jeez.. I love you guys!!!

        1. 🙂

          Awesome to be alive isn’t it?

          So grateful to all the lives that enhance and make my life even possible!

      2. Have you read The Power of Prayer on Plants? I read it eons ago, when pterodactyls still flew overhead, but it convinced me I owe as much gratitude to a plant as I do a chicken or cow or deer. All are great gifts.

        1. No, I haven’t – and that surprises me. Or, maybe I have just forgotten reading it if I did a long time ago. I’ve been interested in prayer research for some time. Amazon has it for sale and it looks interesting. Thanks :-).

      3. I know the saying goes, don’t shop when your hungry. However after reading rarebird’s post, I have to endorse reading mda while hungry. I was hit with inspiration in the kitchen! Honestly what I did to those mushrooms should be illegal in 12 states. Soo good.

      4. What a fantastic experience! Something similar occurred to me as I was hand mixing ground meats for sausage the other day. I love touching my food. Although my experience was no where as intense as your bella ‘bellos encounter… I think I finally get the idea of “grace” before a meal. I just say mine while I’m making the food. 🙂

        1. I wrote a post not too long ago wrestling with how to say grace for the food and the cooking without the need to include a god. If you’re in the same boat, I’d be interested in your (collective) reactions to some of what I came up with.

        2. Thanks. 🙂 I love touching food too. I mix a lot of food by hand. I totally agree with what you said about “grace”.

        3. Hi Lauren,

          I just read your blog post and made my remarks there.

  2. I’m a knitter and I spin my own yarn. I love this article! Knitting and spinning are truly my favorite things to do in my spare time. 🙂

  3. Hey Mark!

    I made a Grok doll! Except I call him “Throk.” I sewed him together with cloth, gave him a wild mane of black yarn hair, made an animal-skin pattern long shirt that hangs off one shoulder, and made a stuffed club out of brown felt which is sewed onto his right hand. The bearded/moustached serious face was drawn on with permanent fabric marker.

    Throk follows me on my international trips and ends up in various photos, like a traveling garden gnome. He reminds me to stay Primal while traveling. He especially poses next to plates of primal/paleo food, like when I was traveling business class on Singapore Airlines and they served an appetizer of asparagus with prawns. Throk looked like he was guarding the plate of food! Perhaps I should bring him with me to PrimalCon 2012.

    Interesting anthropological factoid: While the playing of musical instruments is done by both sexes, the making of musical instruments is almost done exclusively by males cross-culturally. That doesn’t mean women can’t make musical instruments (I know a few who do), but cross-culturally, it appears to be males who make them. I don’t know why. Go figure.

    1. Instruments being made mostly by males probably has to do with the women being busy making clothing, gathering & preparing food & raising children.

      1. Why would this apply to musical instruments but not other tools or crafts?

        1. As a mother who has had to put a number of my hobbies on a shelf, toddlers and sharp or hot tools don’t mix. When you don’t practice your craft you don’t have much chance to perfect it and making instruments is definitely a highly skilled craft.

    2. I just LOVE what you’ve done, making a personal totem! 🙂

      1. Thanks! Wow…I never really thought of that, but you’re right. This doll is a personal totem, or modified talisman.

  4. I love the feeling of accomplishing something for the first time. I ran my first 5k this month, made my first halloween costume last fall (it was a leather loin cloth, grok on!)And started repainting a wooden screen….haven’t finished that yet.. but I will.
    Also, trumpet improv or singing gives me the most feeling of flow than anything I do.
    Peace within music is golden

  5. There is something very intrinsically rewarding from building or creating something with your own hands. In an age of mass production, sometimes people need to step back and devote their time to just creatively expressing themselves by hand-making something.

  6. I have *just* gone back to crafting after years in the wilderness. Sewing is my thing and my fingers (and eyes) aren’t quite what they were twenty years ago but the satisfaction is the same.

    So many parts of the brain are stimulated when working with our hands, it is enormously rewarding.

    1. Exactly – that’s how I would generally classify handicrafts within the PB system. More to the point, that’s how it often feels. Joyful.

  7. It’s a form of meditation for me. Whether it’s sculpting the landscape of my garden or getting a piece of furniture to look “just right” it takes me somewhere beyond thought. Part skill, part intuition. Neighbors see me working in the garden, lugging rocks, shoveling, and they comment about what a lot of work it is, but what they miss is that it’s immensely enjoyable work. I need it for my mental health.

    1. It’s really amazing how you can get into the flow of very monotonous work if you just allow yourself to really be present right where you are and focus your whole attention on what you are doing. Yardwork and gardening are great for this. Just the other day I decided it was time to weed my front yard when I got home from work. I started in one corner and just worked methodically, not fast or slow, and just concentrating fully on pulling each weed carefully and completely out of the ground. An hour later I had a pile of weeds three feet high and four feet across, and my yard was clear. It was extremely satisfying despite being a task most people do NOT consider much fun at all. And I wasn’t bored while I was doing it because I was concentrating on doing it well and thoroughly.

      1. Isn’t it amazing how enjoyable life can be when you live in the moment? When you focus on the activity you are engaging in and nothing else?

        Pulling weeds may be something that most people don’t look forward to doing but it is in fact all in their heads. Sure, one may prefer to be hiking in Hawaii, playing a round of golf, or eating a delicious meal. But, all of these things are possible later.

        Why not enjoy the moment NOW no matter what the hell it is you are doing? Pulling weeds is something that has to be done just like washing dishes. So, enjoy it.

        If one does not enjoy a certain activity and that activity can be stopped then great.

        Thanks for the reminder to living in the moment!

      2. As the Buddhists say, “It does not matter what the task is. As long as I am focused, it is generally pleasant.”

        1. That’s why Zen Buddhists create meditation gardens – involving active meditation, raking the rocks, etc. I find that even the most mundane tasks – like washing dishes by hand – can confer the same benefits if done in the right spirit.

      3. Working in the earth – YES! It is a form of meditation for me, too, and it is more than that as I discovered one day when someone asked me what I was going to do over the weekend, and without hesitating or thinking, I answered, “I’m going to make love to my yard.”

    2. Yes, that’s what my neighbors have said, too. My most recent garden making project involved taking down a poorly made stone wall. Gorgeous flagstone – but used in stacked dry wall style – with a poured cement slurry all over it. UGH! The worst sort of “do-it-yourself”.

      These stones are now incorporated into the landscaped beds around the house and in the raised beds in the kitchen garden. All created intuitively.

      And, thank goodness I have found the PB or that project might have been my last one like it! I was really feeling my years. Now, I feel like I may yet have a few more projects left in me before relegating the heavy lifting aspects to the younger folks.

  8. I knit and my husband loves making ceramic sculptures. There’s something very calming to the mind, body, and soul when doing handiwork. Lately I have been trying to improve another skill that requires working with my hands – namely, handwriting. I love technology as much as the next person, but whenever I am stressed, I crave writing out my thoughts and feelings by hand now. It’s very therapeutic.

  9. I loved this blog post. My grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet, and that has given me so much joy over the years. I have some things she has made me, too, and I cherish those so much. As soon as my daughter gets old enough, I will pass on the knowledge for sure. 🙂

    1. Speaking as a grandmother, I am sure that teaching you and watching you grow with the crafts has given her much joy as well :-). And, good for you for passing them on! I hope that your daughter is receptive when you are ready.

      1. SO So true. I love watching my daughter (19) take to sewing, which I taught her, and get joy from her new art–glass blowing (which I have never tried–she’s taking a class at college.)It’s an unexpected joy of having an adult child and I often wonder why it makes me so happy to create and watch her be so happy creating. It cements our already tight connection for sure. For me it’s not so much about passing something along as it is just having that in common; that she “gets it.”

        1. Totally! That’s how it is with my adult daughter and me, too.

          Btw, if you are near a community college (or other colleges) they often offer reduced tuition for “non-traditonal adult students” or even free tuition for over 65 seniors. That’s especially true for art departments.

          My goal is to have my loose ends wrapped up enough, and my health good enough, to take advantage of these opportunities when I am 65. Glass blowing, jewelry making, art photography and so on.

          My mother – who was a professional artist her whole life – took several classes outside her usual media in her senior years. As it turned out, her 70’s were her most prolific, profitable, and happiest years as an artist.

      2. I fear taking up any new arts, Rarebird, cuz I’m spread too thin already; I do too many things half-baked as it is! My year-round sports (rock climbing, mountain biking, swimming laps, hiking, some running) and then the seasonal sports (lake swimming, cross countrying skiing, fishing and hunting) keep me pretty busy on top of a challenging full-time elementary teaching job (three grades at a two-room school house). I’ve a good stash of supplies for sewing, batik, knitting and tile mosaics. I cook and can a good deal. Harvest and dry wild mushrooms. Care for four tabby cats (one of whom is young and part Siamese and very demanding!). Some photography. Lots of writing and research projects. I read a fair amount. Camp and hang out with my climbing buddies and family.

        But when I retire… Mostly I want to have land again and raise chickens. I like landscaping and building patios and rock walls. I’d like to learn screen printing and do more with block printing. Relief and resist work. But other than fabric and tile, I’m not really that patient with fine work. And although I’m big into college and education (with a few degrees), I’m more into learning by researching and experimentation than taking classes. I don’t really like being guided in my learning. That’s bad, for a teacher I guess! It’s exciting to think that one’s 70s could be the best for artistic endeavors…or anything. I was thinking I’d be really into yoga then but maybe artistic pursuits will supplant the physical/athletic stuff at that point. I really like this cameraderie and hearing of the experiences of you and others. I appreciate the variety of views in this community; it’s the best of tech and the net. Your role in the tribe is fascinating, how that came about, and I wonder what the others expect of you in that role and how you balance it with other demands and roles that may conflict?

  10. I like to sew, hook rugs, cross-stitch as my handicraft. It is so relaxing! Also, it doesn’t allow me to snack, thus helping me get through tempting times. 🙂

  11. I left my “day job” about seven years ago to start a handcrafting business. I make mainly dog-, horse- and exotic-livestock related utility equipment using mostly 19th century leatherworking techniques. I was appalled at the time by the seeming total lack of Americans still making things with their hands–and the way we seem to feel that everything must come from a factory, somewhere.
    I don’t make a fortune, that’s for sure, but I’ve developed a world-wide reputation in a few dog communities and get to spend every day wrist-deep in leather and oil and every day I can look at the things I’ve made with my own hands and be proud of my work.

    I also have been a hobby sewer and quilter since my grandmother bought me my first sewing machine and taught me to sew at age seven or so. All our old clothes get turned into quilts and blankets and comforters. I can patch and repair our stuff and extend its useful life by years. Some folks prefer to use that time to work to make more money to buy more goods–I’d rather work to make the goods we have last that much longer.

    Also? THIS article is a prime example of why I’ve come to love the Primal way of life so deeply. It’s absolutely not just about food.

    “The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
    — Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, 2005

    1. Aw, man I love good leatherwork*, and the look of well-worn, well-used leatherwork that was made properly in the first place so its aged well and remained sturdy. I get really frustrated by the crappy mass-produced leather products I see in stores, and even more frustrated by the fact that real leather is harder and harder to find; its all plastic crap now.

      (*and may or may not hang around a community that appreciates it as well, ifyaknowhatimean >.>)

      1. YES–the vast majority of commercially made leather goods originate in China or Pakistan, and have a weird, hard, plasticky feel that never really accepts oil conditioning. Good leather gear should feel great in your hands and practically last a lifetime with proper care and attention–and that’s the guarantee I offer. I *want* folks to be able to say they’ve been using the same lead they bought from me for 30 years and three or four generations of working dogs. I may sell fewer leashes to any one customer, but I can be absolutely sure those folks are going to pass my name along.

        Plus, it’s just… interesting work. Most of what I do is custom gear, and though the majority of it is for one type of critter or another, I’ve had the opportunity to make an enormous variety of “people gear”, from kilts to pistol holsters and all kinds of “fun” accessories (ifyaknowhatimean ;0) ). I hope this doesn’t sound like an ad because it’s truly not meant to be–simply to say that the decision to make things with my hands full-time meant less flowing into the ol’ retirement fund but an infinite variety of experience and, more importantly, the confidence to know that I can build or make just about anything we truly need for survival if it comes to that. Handcrafting may be the ultimate human experience, in terms of our ability to control our environment and use natural resources for our benefit.

        1. Its not sounding like an ad to me. Personally, I enjoy the fact that the format here allows commenters to include a link to their website(s). I often visit these sites even if I don’t often say so.

          Besides, if we are really a community, then why wouldn’t we take an interest in what others here do to support their primal way of life? Why wouldn’t we prefer to patronize a fellow Primal for whatever our needs are? That’s part of what makes the Mormon community so strong – they patronize other Mormons – for example.

        2. Ugh, and the smell of the leather coming out of those countries (India too) is just WRONG! Is it officially called urine tanned leather? Or does it just get called that for the smell?

    2. Good for you! Glad that the decision is working out well for you.

      I agree with you about leatherwork. I’ve dappled a little with moccasin making so I can appreciate how rewarding real leatherwork could be. I loved what you had on your site. And, that handsome El Simon – I hope he is still alive and well?

      1. Thanks for the kind words–and three cheers for good mocs! I’m a full-time barefooter, but do occasionally have to resort to a pair of soft mocs when the ground is a little icier than I can comfortably stand ;0)
        El Simon is currently belly-up and snoring in his beat-up recliner. We were just saying this morning that we know he’s starting to get “old” because he didn’t immediately fling himself to the door, quivering with anticipation, for his normal ten mile run with my husband who bikes to work and back. He just turned eight and this is the first time we’ve noticed him slowing down at all–so I guess there’s that to be thankful for. He’s the best =)

        1. Welcome – and thanks for the El Simon update. Well, as Mark likes to emphasize, a rest break from exercise is important, too. Animals seem to intuitively know when they need a break – at least some of them do.

          But I know what you mean about how odd it seems when a dog like that behaves that way. We have had – and still have – high energy, large dogs. He’s lucky to have a healthy, energetic young family to keep him run out.

          Btw, do you know anything about bike dog joggers? My trainer recommends Springer and I am thinking about getting one next year for my 70 lb Boxer to be able to jog while I bike. Other people I know hate the idea as being unsafe for both people and dogs. What do you think?

  12. I LOVED this post! This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I create a number of things with my hands, and I also do a lot of electronic creation (photogrpahy and writing). I’ve noticed a huge difference between the two, in terms of the effect that the creative experience has on me.

    I imagine that anyone who has children, or who has spent time around children, would come to the same conclusion. Kids learn about the world by using their bodies, especially their hands.

    My favorite line was: “We live in a society enamored by passive entertainment…” This is so true! We’ve forgotten the sheer, indescribable joy of doing! We buy and listen to mp3s instead of making our own music. We watch television instead of telling each other stories around the campfire. We surf online for hours instead of making unique creations ourselves.

    Thank you so much…

  13. I started knitted because I was told it was a stress reliever. When I was first learning I found it to cause a great deal of stress (and swearing). However, I kept going and now wonder how I remained sane during the winters before I learned to knit.

  14. I make jewelry by weaving tiny seed beads into shapes, mostly flowers. Everyone who sees my art comments on how much work it must be or how they could never learn to do it. It’s hard to explain to them that when I start beading it doesn’t feel like work at all and that techniques that seem complicated are mostly intuitive. I could spend an hour or two daydreaming while making rings, then look down to find that my little pile of beads has transformed. It’s like magic. I also teach people who ask me to, and the looks on their faces when they finally finish “impossible” pieces of jewelry are fantastic. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

    Beading for a few hours whenever I can really does a lot for stress and it helps me focus. I just wish that I could do it more often because my art homework is taking up all my time! Oh well. Ceramics and painting for grades is fun too.

    1. Yeah, if there’s one thing more rewarding than doing handicrafts, its teaching them.

  15. Last year I started to teach myself crochetting specifically because I found myself anquishing over the fact that I dont MAKE anything in my life anymore. I mean I write and develop digital products for work, but I dont have, like, tangible THINGS I can hold in my hand to show for my work, and–more importantly–give to people. I havent had the time to really keep up with crochetting regularly, but I was supremely proud of the first scarf I made.

    I am also frustrated with the time it takes, but i am equally frustrated with our society for training me to want things quicker and faster and pay money for people to do them for me in that way.

  16. Great topic! I’ve always been “artistic” and tried many forms. I can carve leather reasonably well and found out I’m a photographer, but my nirvana is music. When I’m playing, I don’t even think to eat, and I can hardly walk when I finally get out of the chair. It soothes me when I’m alone and it energizes me when I have a gang around me. Singing makes it even better.

    I do some historical re-enacting and I’ve met many beautiful people, both native and others, who teach their craft with reverence and delight that someone wants to learn.

    Anecdote: Our twenty-something son, who toddled around with us until he became interested in engines, asked me just today if I knew anything about preserving food (for the apocalypse, I’m sure) and I said, “Oh, heck yes!” ;^)

    1. Have you ever read the literature on music therapy? Its amazing what music does for the brain!

      1. Absolutely! It even harmonizes with math skills. I play for our elders in nursing homes. I have friends who play lovely soothing harp or dulcimer music for terminally ill people. My guitar is my therapist.

  17. We have a blanket knitted by my grandmother that holds a special place in my heart. Moreso, though, are my grandfather’s tools, as well as my late father’s, that I still use. It’s interesting how these types of things don’t become disposable. For example, the handle on my father’s claw hammer broke. Normally, this would result in a new hammer, instead, I have a piece of hickory and I’m crafting a new one. I think you hit the nail right on the head with this article. Well done.

  18. A little over a year ago I became a glassblower, something I had wanted to do for a very long time.

    It’s still difficult to put exactly into words the pure joy I experience while working in the studio. I consider myself very much a beginner but I have been able to create some really cool pieces and I’m now a volunteer intern at the studio where I blow and becoming much more enthralled every day.

    Also, it’s fascinating to learn more about the history of glassblowing since it corresponds so much with recorded history.

    1. I’m (almost) envious :-). Good for you!

      Glassblowing may have to go on my “bucket list”. I love glass. I love hand blown glass. I hate throwing any glass away and recycle every bit possible. I love the history of glass – we take windows so for granted don’t we? I love to watch glass blowing. But, its one craft that I have never tried my hand at. I guess if 80 Somethings can take up skydiving, I can “risk” trying glass blowing sometime in my 60’s.

      1. You should absolutely try your hand at it! I know plenty of folks in their 50’s and 60’s who blow glass.

        I was explaining to someone just the other day that the earliest window panes were blown which meant you couldn’t really see out of them. They just let light in while keeping the weather out. They almost couldn’t believe it.

        1. Thanks for that encouragement :-). Consider it added to the bucket list.

          Yes, and before window panes, in Early American history, empty glass bottles were inserted in openings in walls to make windows. Glass was truly a premium.

          There’s a book series on Early American history, focused on hand tools and crafts like glass making. The author/illustrator is Eric Sloane (below). Amazon has a page for his books and a there is a website featuring his art – if you google his name.


          “Eric Sloane (born Everard Jean Hinrichs) (27 February 1905 – 5 March 1985) was an American landscape painter and author of illustrated works of cultural history and folklore. He is considered a member of the Hudson River School of painting.”

    2. I was wondering if there were any other glass blowers on here… I love blowing glass. 🙂 It’s social and artistic, almost like a sport.

  19. I still have memories of being trained in some traditional Maori arts (weaving kiti baskets, cloaks, skirts, poi etc) and of course, an awesome Maori style hangi. Oh man how i miss hangi.

    1. Could you maybe make an illustrated journal – a memory keeper – so that you don’t lose touch with these skills?

  20. It’s music for me. You really hit it on the head when you mentioned how the very weight of the tool brings comfort and confidence. Once I pick up my guitar, I have the world in my hands. Creation is inevitable and in the next few minutes the world will be exposed to something new and beautiful.

    Thanks for the post, Mark. I often wish I had a more creative and dextrous hand in the visual arts, but I’m young and (Primal) life is long, so I’m sure I’ve got time to learn.

  21. I have a 2 year old son and I took it upon myself to create his Halloween costume from scratch this year. I was a little nervous about it, I’m good at drawing but not used to making things with my hands. I ended up having a lot more fun then I’d thought I would, and the cardboard jeep costume I’d created was a big hit. I’m gonna make my kids Halloween costumes EVERY YEAR!!
    Definitely got my ‘flow’ on!

    1. Drawing is foundational to virtually all arts and crafts.

      While I am handy, I am not as good with drawing as I am with other things. I consider that to be a draw-back that has shaped the way that I craft. No complaints – its all good – but if given a choice I would prefer to be good at drawing and then learn how to make things.

    1. Word. My favorite local butcher teaches a meat-cutting class once in a while where they start with a whole lamb carcass and teach you how to break it down… then wraps up with a fabulous, largely Primal-style meal. It’s one of about a zillion reasons why I love them =)

      1. Oh, I AM envious!

        Btw, that’s how I learned the finer points of wool craft in my 20’s – from a farm family who raised sheep – and hosted weeks long summer seminars in sheep shearing, preparing the wool, gathering natural dye materials, dye techniques, and spinning the yarn using several techniques.

    2. I absolutely agree with butchering/meat cutting being a lost art. My dad grew up in a slaughter house, then cut meat in a grocery store before opening up his own poultry slaughter. The things he knows about beef–the best way to cut them, etc–it knowledge noone has. He’s in his mid-60s now, and has just recently ‘retired’ from butchering beef for us. I’m sure he’ll do a deer now and then if we ask nicely. It was always a source of pride for him that he was so good and quick at it, and of course that he didn’t have to rely on someone else to do it for him.

  22. Knitting, crocheting, spinning, jewelry and rosary making, and recently hair decorations. I also sew a little, paint a little, and play oboe, including making my own reeds. Very crafty.

    I find making something to be a guaranteed path to relaxation.

    It is also nice to have something in my life oriented toward instant gratification. My career certainly doesn’t provide that!

  23. I can recommend a wonderful book on the history of clothmaking “Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years; Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times” by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Very well written and a fascinating look at the development of fiber arts and women’s history. It just about made me want to learn how to weave cloth.

    It also helped me understand my deep sense of satisfaction when I have a linen closet full of clean sheets, towels, washcloths, etc – it’s genetic, I think. 🙂

    1. funny isn’t it that sewing class used to be called “home economics”–the emphasis was on saving money, as in “a good wife and mother can help her family by cooking and sewing efficiently.” and that colored my view of it for a while. i thought i shouldn’t bother since it’s cheaper to buy clothing now. then by the time my daughter and her friends were in high school, it was called fiber arts. i like that better. yes it is genetic and it’s about practicality and beauty and creativity. i want to read that book!

      1. All true.

        However, there was a study done a few years ago that looked at the economics of a wife/mother working outside the home. Analysis was done on the cost of maintaining a job – transportation, work wardrobe, child care, frequent use of take out food, and so on. The same sort of analysis was done on how much money could be saved by the wife/mother staying home, cooking from scratch, and so on.

        The bottom line was that the wife/mother needed to make mid 30 K a year just to ~break even~. And, that’s not even taking into consideration the quality of home cooked meals and so on.

        My generation of women were taught that we could – and should – “have it all”. Husband, home, children, career, and so on. I come from a long line of professional/career/women’s rights women on my mother’s side. I totally bought into this notion when I was young.

        My whole adult life I struggled to “do it all”. I had the Superwoman bug big time! You know what? That’s way too much stress! That stress factored into my decision to retire early and to just enjoy life in a more relaxed way.

        My matriarchal ancestors may roll over their symbolic graves when I say this – but I think that part of the reason that we have the health issues in society today is that women too often resort to fast food and convenience packaged foods due to time constraints.

        I don’t really blame them, I know all too well how hard it is to work all day and then prepare a made from scratch meal – one that everyone will like. It can be done but it takes creative planning, hard work, and dedication.

        Anyway, I’m gonna climb down off my soap box before I start getting too “political”.

        1. I am 37, and was definately groomed by my dad to go to college, get a good job and make lots of money. That was his dream for me. Well, I went to college, never used that degree, made decent money at a few jobs I hated, and then finally became a stay at home mom for the last 4 years. I’ve had people use the term, ‘She just a stay-at-home mom’ and I let them think what they will. But I know that my kids have security knowing they will always have a good homecooked meal for supper (together as a family), that I will always be there if they get sick, that my 4 year old has only ever been on antibiotics once because he’s been breastfed until he decided to stop and fed (mostly) top-quality food, that my husband has a hot meal waiting after he works a full day, that our clothes are clean and maintained, etc.
          I don’t feel like a failure for choosing to stay home. I LOVE being a now work-at-home mom. If anyone feels that my education was a waste, or that I ‘could do so much more’, that’s his problem. I’m comfortable, my children are well cared for, and we are a pretty happy family.

        2. Melissa,

          No such thing as a wasted education.

          1. The level of a mother’s intelligence and education plays a major role in their children’s intellectual (and other) development.

          2. In the US, a four year bachelor’s degree is roughly the equivalent of a high school education in some other counties.

          3. IMO, the US needs to either beef up the high school curriculum or make higher education up to 4 year undergraduate degree free public education.

          4. Higher education is correlated with better lifestyle choices: Breast feeding, healthy diet, longer life span, less dementia, and much more – leading to healthier families at each stage of life.

        3. naw it’s good. stay on that soap box. maybe i tried to do it all too much also but with an only child it worked and now that she’s off on her own i have enough time to do what I want. meals from scratch were always part of the equation–it helped that my husband and i took turns working outside the home, every family finds their own way.

        4. and yeah, Melisa, you are doing the most important and rewarding work around!

  24. I’m a kinesthetic (hands on) learner. Art, handicrafts, and music have had a place in my life and my family’s life, always. If there’s a hand-made (or hand built) version of anything, I have wanted to get my hands on it/into it at some point in my life.

    Basically, I’m a fiber artist who ventures into wearable art and soft sculpture. But not exclusively. I have made simple musical instruments (dulcimers and flutes), for example.

    LOVE decorative wood carving – but haven’t yet done much myself. One of the selling points of our retirement home was a hand carved front door done in traditional Ukrainian style. Have inherited my grandfather’s hand made carving set. He was a sculptor who also carved wood.

    So, my “bucket list” looks something like this:

    Learn how to use my grandfather’s tools for decorative wood carving.

    Take up water color painting – I inherited my mother’s water color supplies.

    Make quilted house art from the HUGE collection of denim from jeans that my children outgrew.

    Convert the stored bags of yarn remnants into felted baskets.

    So on like that. Mainly, focus on wrapping up loose ends and cleaning up the storage while redecorating/remodeling our retirement home. Over the years I have gifted much more than I have kept, so now I want to make a few things for our own home.

    Oh, and when I first decided to go primal I assumed that I was retiring my collection of hand made Rycraft ceramic cookie stamps. Then, I discovered that Rycraft stamps are also great for paper casting – so that’s on the bucket list now, too. I like to make hand crafted cards.

    Whew. I am reminded of that saying that quilters have about not being able to die just yet because they still have about 400 more quilts to make….

    1. I look at retirement as an opportunity to do everything I couldn’t get to earlier. ;^) You’re way ahead of me!

      1. Exactly how I see it! I really don’t get that whole bored in retirement thing.

  25. I never thought I’d see the day when Mark talked about creating with our hands. haha. Bacon & pullups keep me healthy, but crafting keeps me sane!

  26. A beautiful girl once told me she was learning lots of local minority crafts in west china, I told her she should do something ‘creative’ or ‘productive’ instead, like writing, music or learning a language.

    Reading this, I remember that moment, and suddenly realise I was so stupid and wish I had gone with her…

  27. This is a great post and some wonderful and encouraging comments, what a fabulous community you are! I have been a tutor of textile crafts for over 20 years, a hugely rewarding thing to do, and I learn so much. What I have found over the years is the stellar improvement in self esteem of my students when they are stepped through a process, which they can then expand on. It’s great to see that light bulb moment. Over the years, slot of my students have been women, roughly middle aged in the main, and their sense od self wormy has often been heartbreakingly low. Creativity is a gift we ALL have, I believe it is in our DNA, and given some compassionate encouragement and a lot of laughs, everyone can fill that gap. Our western society has devalued the arts so much, and here in Australia it has been virtually squeezed out of the curriculum for our kids. I really feel that part of our youth problems is the lack of connection with self, community and generations though producing things by hand.

    1. Ah!!
      My iPad is being creative all by itself. Self worth, not wormy! Lol

  28. I’m reading Lyall Watson’s The Nature of Things; The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects in which he talks about tools and artifacts of Stone Age peoples and what they tell us about our forebears’ lives. Appreciation for tools, art, personal decoration and even just interesting curiosities picked up while foraging…it’s fascinating! Reminds me of this post…

  29. My grandma taught me how to crochet when I was 9. I think I taught myself how to sew. My Dad was always making things with wood, and let me use tools, and even a blow torch, when I was pretty young. I tried to teach a group of high school girls to crochet once. They didn’t know how to tie a knot or make a hangman’s noose, and couldn’t really grasp using both their hands to make the chains. None of them had ever been taught to sew, even just to repair something. Very sad.

  30. A relevant article! In my house we spin wool, knit, blacksmith, carve, metalsmith, woodwork, leather craft, hide tan, boat build, lathe work, and more. I find that doing these things just feels good, along with the primal lifestyle. It all fits together.
    People really seem to be longing to learn these skills too. We attend and teach at a Traditional ways gathering on Lake Superior in August and it is amazing. Check it out at http://www.traditionalways.org. If you are in the upper midwest, come!! Even if you are not!

    1. Thanks! Look like a lot of fun. Seeing the kids with the bows and arrows reminds me of how much I used to love archery. My husband has a special piece of Osage Orange that he is saving for making a long bow. When he retires we will both be in MI for the summers. We would love coming to the gathering.

  31. I’m an artist/illustrator/graphic designer by trade, but I take the most joy from doing things by hand. I’m grateful to be busy enough with freelance and my day job to not have time for ‘art’…. but I wish I could do it full time. I enjoy painting tremendously.

    However I make a point of doing some kind of cool art project with my (already talented) 10 year old daughter every month. Painting, drawing, decoupage, etc.

    I’ve also discovered that working on my car is therapeutic, and I’m fighting the urge to get a project, something like a 55 Chevy truck would be rad… then I’d have to learn how to weld, oh darn…

  32. I think there is often a cultural bias towards ‘handicraft’ per se and against other, more ephemeral forms of creation. I think it can be just as rewarding and useful to enjoy performance art such as music, acting, dance, etc. And just as much a force against passive entertainment.

    I know I feel my best, most creative, and most primal with a pair of drumsticks in my hands. Others may feel the same with a bow, pick, voice, or in their fav dancing shoes. Just my two cents.

    1. Check out the link about “elders” in the article. Discusses performance art as well as handicrafts.

  33. I loved this post. I’m a “crafter” too. I read a book once that talked about “prayer shawls” that were knit or crocheted and each stitch was made with a prayer or wish for the recipient of the shawl. Maybe there’s something to be said about the benefit of the creating something in the aesthetic for those not only ourselves but for those in need?

    I also think a pen (or keyboard) could be included in the “brush, needles, chisel or knife.” I’ve been writing everyday this month and I’m definitely happier and healthier for it. I linked to this post when I wrote today!


  34. May not totally fit here but I build exercise prototypes in a minimalist shop in the basement using mostly hand tools. The process of cutting each piece of steel is an exercise in focus. Making the pieces fit just right and come together takes much more time than if I had a sophisticated machine shop but forces me to come up with a lot of creative solutions and efficiencies I wouldn’t have to bend to if I worked in a big shop. I have spent many years in the musical arts and also have composed much music as well as perform and teach but the sense of creativity I experience in the shop is what makes me most fulfilled. The side benefit is that I get to use the equipment when I am done. Most would see at as machinery but I see it as functional art. There is an aesthetic to the designs. It not only has to work but has to have a certain look to it as well. Nice article and I love all the other creativity comments as well.

  35. Seems to me there are parallels between bread and sugar and all of our digital technology.

    Both are incredibly addictive.

    Both are incredibly unsatisfying.

    Unlike handicraft.

  36. My husband and I by choice fix our own cars (we have 3 projects in the pipeline a mini, a charger and an rx7), we also renovated our own house (currently on to second house). I also make jewellery. All of these things are things that don’t feel like work, they give us joy, they make us proud. Everyone around us thinks we are loony for not paying someone else to do them. Whereas we love the fact that we do what we want in exactly the way we want it done, and later on get to enjoy the fruit of our labour. The glass blowing that was mentioned earlier sounds amazing, I will have to add that to the list of things to do!

  37. I recently wove a stone sling from a leather chord. it was a lot of fun making this very ancient hunting weapon. I may take up flint knapping this summer. It may be fun to learn the skills our ancestors used for daily survival.

  38. Herzog. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” Watch it.

    I’ve done a few drawing classes in times past, and I was absolutely mind blown by the dimensionality and the emotional dynamics of THIRTY THOUSAND year old drawings in Chauvet Cave.

  39. In the last few months I’ve enjoyed a return to dressmaking and knitting, simply for the pleasure of the ‘doing’ and the satisfaction of the ‘wearing’ something I’ve created. And there’s nothing like wearing bespoke one-off creations!

    It has brought my mother and I closer again after a period of familial discord triggered by my wayward daughter. My mum and I have found a neutral ‘zone’ in exchanging tips and talking about my creations and thereby an ability to communicate again.

    And to add to the intergenerational theme I’ve been using vintage 40s patterns which hooks me back into the era my mother’s mother was making clothes. It was she that taught me to knit, my mother I watched sewing through my childhood.

    What will today’s children learn from their parents I wonder …

  40. I love this post. It’s spot on what mark says.. for me when i create something, there’s nothing else like it. I draw and paint when i get a chance and my work is based on design and manufacture. All in all it’s pretty much what i do all of the time. Does it make me happy ? hell yeah :o)) I finished a canvas painting last week in fact, my three year old daughter asked me to do a picture for her, of a tree with some pink hearts on it. So i grabbed a canvas and some acrylic paints, swallowed my testosterone and painted away.. you can see it here if you’re interested :

  41. Learn it…Make it..Master It…beats the hell out of “go buy it” any day>>>
    Tap into the Instincts you have ….make something or do something without a machine>>>>
    GROK ON>>>BY HAND>>>

  42. I am a trained artist. I’ve learned fiber arts, jewelery making of a few sorts.As modern illnesses robbed me of energy and concentration (and added a perfectionistic streak), the striving for quality needed to create “good” or “better” items overcame the stress relief of the process. Spinning wheel, loom, knitting needles and jewelry making materials got stored away so that they didn’t cause more stress and illness.
    Now I am a mother of an active 4-year-old and the labor-intensive and thought-intensive craft work don’t mix well with supervising and teaching this growing mind adequately. All while maintaining a home and feeding the family.
    That said, I had a wonderful experience creating a homemade Valentine for my husband by carefully coloring a mandala. It slowed my mind, centered me and gave me creative outlet as I chose colors and carefully hand-wrote my message to my love. The mandala-coloring experience is a great stop-gap at this season of my life.

  43. I could not agree more! I have been thinking quite a lot lately about how most things in our society are mean to be thrown away. I like having things that last and that are well made or hand crafted. Things that I cherish. Things that my family has made or passed on to me. I truly believe that this creates a sense of connection, meaning and decreases stress.

  44. This is a beautiful post. I hope you start a category of posts like this. I think our modern life not only divorces us from healthful food but separates us from the things of our lives. I am no artist, but I have engaged in crafts like basketry and shoemaking. I play musical instruments in jam sessions with other people even though I’m not very good at it. I don’t have to be good and they welcome me. We play in the park and people stop to listen and dance and I can’t tell you how many people have never seen spontaneous accoustical music that is not a performance, that is just simply there for free and for fun.

  45. I would love to see some research on perhaps the Top 5 best ways to learn the basics and advanced skills of carpentry/woodworking. By this I dont mean, “Simple, go to engineering school” or “work under a carpenter for 10 years”

    Some simple Pareto’s principle stuff.

    Perhaps the top how to DIY book
    The best classes or certifications
    Top 10 tools to own

    Etc. This would be super helpful for those who didn’t grow up learning these very important skills.

  46. Very crafty here! Sew, knit, crochet, quilt, rug hooking (not latch hooking, though I did that back in high school), bobbin lace, inkle and card weaving, counted cross-stitch n embroidery, beading, cooking and baking, and doll making. Oh and cold process soap making. On my to learn list is nalbinding, which is Norse knitting and needle punch, which is ‘kinda’ like rug hooking.

    I started crafting at age 6 when one grandmother taught me needlepoint. Sewing came at 7, quilting and counted cross stitch came at 16, embroidery at around 11. 29 brought knitting, crocheting, inkle and card weaving, and so forth. I really enjoy working with my hands and having something to show for my time spent.

  47. Last Sunday I went to the hardware store, bought a length of rope, and leant how to splice a loop in order to make an extension for my dog leash. Felt good to be doing something like that with my hands, plus I saved about $20! Bonus.

  48. I enjoy sewing (making/designing clothes) so much that once I get started on a garment I don’t want to stop—had to spend most of my days off work the last few years with one eye on the clock at all times so couldn’t enjoy the flow experience of seeing all the parts of a garment come together. Now, my situation is totally different so I have an old joy back at last.
    I also sang for many, many years (trained opera singer) but now that voice is 90% gone am looking for other musical expressions, starting w/ the bodhran (traditional frame drum) I bought in Ireland. Something deeply satisfying about creating a rhythm for others to build upon w/ other instruments or just to get up and dance!!

  49. Handicraft
    Handicraft is a unique expressions of art which represents a culture, tradition & the heritage of a specific country. It beautifully keeps the age old culture alive & maintains the craft’s exotic legacy & tradition. Every country has its own unique handicraft style bringing forth the diverse historical aspects in beautiful forms of handicrafts. Highlighted with distinct designs & finishes, the handicraft items speak loud & clear about the excellent artistic skills of craftsmen which makes the pieces absolutely invaluable.
    Handicraft industry
    Handicraft is a part of almost every country where the artisans & craftsmen indulge in bringing forth the rich heritage of any country focusing on it’s history, culture & tradition. In this context, the rich cultural countries of Asia as Nepal, China are deeply immersed into the production of handicraft items which are in high demand in the global market.
    One of the best collection of Handmade handicrafts is placed in this site. The export business of handmade handicrafts of Nepal had flourished and it is still in demand from most in the european and american countries.

    When the market is demanding quality handmade handicrafts, it equally becomes important to manage the supply of these products. Vender Management is what we have implemented. Whether you are a Wholesaler, who needs a lot of handmade handicrafts of Nepal or a client, whose purchase requirement is few, the handmade handicrafts products displayed here are collected from many different vendors around the Nepal.

  50. Working in the earth – YES! It is a form of meditation for me, too. I’ll definitely try this. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  51. I LOVE BUILDING!!! My Mom taught me to cook and my Dad taught me craftsmanship since a very young child. Currently I am building many things one of which is strength training logs.

  52. hi i love cooking too because when i was of 15 i start cooking and make different foods for my family. and every time my family appreciate me . now i am run my own business that related with garments, socks and more others you find it on my website(www.rosegoldkw.com)

  53. You made a good point that art is quite only considered for their aesthetic appeal nowadays. When choosing furniture for my home, I always want to get something that has functionality on top of how pretty it looks. Perhaps getting a grandfather clock to replace my living room’s boring wall clock would be quite a great addition for my interior design.