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21st Century Renaissance

My dad once told me that when he was little, if he or one of his cousins fell ill, the person who would give the initial diagnosis was his grandmother. My dad was born 10 years after the creation of the NHS, and raised by a generation that still relied on the knowledge of family elders to diagnose flu from measles, and the best way to treat chickenpox. I sometimes think about that story when I consider the life knowledge and skills later generations have seem to have lost. My dad used to tell me stories about how embarrassing it was that my grandmother would make his clothes instead of buying them from a shop. When I was little she knit me beautiful jumpers and made me a duvet and pillow set (which I still hang onto). I remember always being in awe of those skills.

In the last 30-40 years we have entered the truly digital age, the age of convenience. You can order food to your front door at the click of a button, find someone to assemble your ikea furniture for you, find a well reviewed plumber or builder to take care of any household maintenance. When did these things become so intimidating to so many of us? Cooking, basic DIY, simple sewing tasks, gardening, growing food, pottery.... As much as we have all embraced the digital age with both hands, it seems its not enough to replace the skills that we lost in the process.

My journey to reclaim some of these skills began a few years ago with an evening class in upholstery. For 2.5 hours each week I could focus on a completely physical task, when I arrived things were in one state and when I left they were in another, I could see the impact of my work. There are few modern jobs that give such a clear sense of progression and impact that working on a physical craft does. Over the last few years I have noticed many examples of this modern renaissance - a reclaiming of skills common in previous generations. The Great British Bake Off (arguably one of the most popular shows of the decade) celebrates the passion and skill of amateur bakers, and spawned a number of craft spin offs - pottery, sewing, painting.... The busy upholstery, furniture restoration, pottery and quilting classes at my local college and the popularity of places like the Goodlife Centre, offering courses from plumbing to bookbinding, soap making to basic electrics.

The only irony is that when my dad was young, my grandmother's sewing skills were a sign of their lack of money, the price of rediscovering these skills is now pretty steep. Despite this, affordable classes run by local authorities (like mine), the amazing camaraderie of so many of these modern crafters and the accessibility of online videos/guides gives me hope that any one looking to discover these lost skills will be able to do so ..... Here's to the 21st century renaissance!


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