Tatting: Cross-Generational Talents

Conversing with a coworker recently, I found value in hobbies that I figured were a lone specialty. One of these hobbies is tatting. No, I do not know how to make skin pictures using needles, etc. I leave that to professionals and those inclined in that direction. Tatting is a very old needle or shuttle tradition and is becoming one of many “lost arts.” During the summer of 2010 I took a class on tatting as I knew that my great-grandmother could do it, and I figured that I should have capacity to do anything that my ancestors could do. Perhaps an arrogant assumption, but the MTV generation figures that it can do anything. Anything is possible with practice, determination, and the right thread.

My teacher was the “Mad Tatter,” one of the few certified tatting instructors in the US. His course cost enough for a pair of shoes in Chicago, and on the budget that I had, it was a tough but good course. He should teach this course at college level. I put as much effort into that as I do for graduate school classes, but there was enough material to justify it. What I learned, however, is that my ancestress was amazing. I have not seen any examples of her work. Since my experiences watching excellence in this art form noted needed determination and guts, that observance gave the objects value that I was not expecting.

Thinking about this experience also made me consider farming. I am not a farmer, and have minimal personal experience in that job. My grandfather was the end of the farming in the family as he drove delivery trucks when he was younger to farmers and later went into the military. His adopted father grew up farming. My father’s lineage were engineers, store keepers, weavers, tobacconists, and have been on the cutting edge of whatever technology was around for the few hundred plus years for my direct-surname lineage. Others of my father’s side were truck drivers and cops. My mother’s lineage had stone and plaster masons and farmers.

My experiences with people who grew up on farms are of some of the most hard-working people that I have ever met. They do more in a day, hardly complain, and have a work ethic that is otherwise lacking in my generation. A part of me loves to connect with the ground and I like to keep herbs and small container gardens in my city dwelling space. This is nothing compared to breaking up fields, and I have no idea about modern-day agriculture outside of documentaries, seeing farms near my Grandma’s house, and talking with friends who live in California’s strawberry and citrus belt.

Conclusions about what my ancestors could do versus what I do on a given day is that of a change of economy and a change of life style. I am not as rugged as those old farmers. That is not to say that my challenges are not equal to my given time. My determination and self-esteem come from meeting and conquering challenges that did not exist en masse even a decade ago. Understanding present-day social pressures and norms, the world is a different place than when I was a child. I am nostalgic for my grandparent’s young adulthood when the major world wars were over and the “American Dream” seemed possible. My generation gets to prove itself in a world where the global economy shifts and wobbles as if drunken, and where there is no promise of safety. Community barely exists and the situation appears up to us to make things work. Previous generations think that we feel “entitled.” That is not the case in 2011.

I value the past implicitly as I like to learn from other people’s experiences. My ancestors could do things that took serious skill and talent; some of which I find incredibly difficult. I now know what people did before television and movies. Tatting a small piece can take up two hours without thinking about it. I think that past generations were better socializers than mine, despite prevailing social media. In an era where everything is about immediate gratification, I am grateful for the examples of hard work, discipline, ingenuity, and creativity that came before me. World conditions negatively slide, but I want to focus on positive creative abilities. Recapturing good things and skills of the past make my life inherently better as I learn them.


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