The Ache to Make

My daughter needs a new pair of pants hemmed. I dig through a jumbled box of vintage thread for the right color. I find it, gray the color of a mourning dove, wrapped on a wooden spool. I cut a length, thread a needle, and stitch at a backslash angle. I hope I’m also sewing some love into the hem.

I eagerly take refuge in tasks like hemming pants or pulling weeds or chopping onions, probably because what I do to earn money requires no movement other than typing and no strain other than the effort to keep my wandering mind on the screen.

My life would be unimaginable to most of our planet’s previous generations. Our ancestors lived by the work of their hands. They hunted and hoed. They cut stone to line wells, make fences, and build cathedrals. They turned trees into wagon wheels, bridges, and ships. Nearly everything they wore and ate came from their hands and the hands of people known to them.

Our hands do much less than theirs. I’m typing this on a comfortable chair in a warm house in the middle of a life much easier than my forbears could have dreamed for themselves. Yet I know my worst insomnia happens on deadline nights after I’ve made myself stay at the screen hour after hour. And sitting too long at the computer doing nothing more strenuous than moving ideas to documents makes me feel like a suitcase crammed with stuff, straining at the hinges and ready to burst. I want to MAKE something.

So, even though I’ve got another deadline looming and a community action meeting tonight, I’m going to get up from this desk to go do something with my hands.

As fiber artist Renate Hiller says, “our destiny is written in the hand.” I like what she has to say about the ache to make.

What hands-on work are you drawn to do?

13 thoughts on “The Ache to Make

  1. I’m extremely fortunate in my life to have the opportunity and encouragement to make every day, and I find I can’t get happily through a day unless I’ve done some handwork. Whether it’s with a needle, brush or pen, my increasingly arthritic hands make while they still can…

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  2. I am with you — my grandmothers were both farmwives in Northern Maine. I am 50 now and they are gone, but I feel such a sense of them when I knit, crochet, cook, can, darn, or sew. I’m looking at my library/archives desk job in the rear view mirror, working much harder to live by hand. it’s terrifying and delightful! I love your blog, this post, and the video of Renate Hiller. Thank you. xx Angela

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  3. Not like Sweet Kate, but also grew up a sew-er (you’ll know why the hyphen was needed).
    I cannot say ‘seamstress’, that noble and mostly extinct profession, as these days I only do the repair work of which you spoke, but even that is a great pleasure, as you agree…so what replaces the benefits of those lovely muscle memory activities?

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  4. I love this! I consider myself a writer but I’m always wanting to use my hands. In fact, I’m a massage therapist, I knit/crochet, quilt, draw, cook…and always feel like I may look like a crazy person to many “all over the place”…but I can’t help it! I like to think of it as processing time. thanks for this posting.

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  5. I love this, too! All of my adult life has been creating intangible work product. After moving from the city and to the farm, I have declared this portion of my life to be The Phase of Tangible Work Products. Actually, I hope it’s not just a phase. In any case, I now garden, knit, sew, cook (which I’ve always done), watercolor, and draw. Thank you for articulating this essential need!


  6. Oh wow – I could have written this post! I’m a writer – in fact I found you doing research for an article. I spend hours at a keyboard each day. Actually, I enjoy typing and like the clicking sounds. But, I’m constantly in mid-project. My family thinks I’m a nut. I live in overalls because they make painting, soapmaking and just about anything easier and because they’re super comfortable. I am currently racing through my last article of the day so I can get some time in sanding an awesome set of adirondack chairs my neighbor was throwing out – she’ll be sorry when I’m done with them. 😉 Thanks for a great post. Nice to know there are more of “my kind” out there.


  7. Even though I left my desk job and now make my living farming, I struggle at tasks that require skillful use of the hands. I admire (envy) carpenters, mechanics, artists and musicians. The ability to make beautiful things with our hands is a great gift.

    This beautiful post reminds me of Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands.”

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    • I admire (envy) those who make, repair, and create with their hands too. Many people in my life are adept in things like art, music, carpentry, equipment repair, and fiber arts. To me it looks like a form of magic that’s well beyond my comprehension. Or maybe more like another language, as if some people can listen to and speak with objects in this world. I see only a broken tractor, an uncarded fleece, a lump of clay, a pile of lumber while they communicate with a thing’s possibilities.

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  8. I love this SO much, Laura. Thank you for giving such wise and beautiful voice to this human need we share. I did lots of embroidery as a youngster and after 25 hook-less years I just began a new crocheting project. I believe that feeling of “Ahhhhh” comes with making (a new something to behold) and also making beautiful / clean / repaired, etc. (an existing something or someplace). During the “horsey” season my daughter and I shared, how satisfying I found the humble, hands-on task of mucking the paddock!

    This need for hands-on relationship with our surroundings is even more pronounced in the young child, whose brain is wired to process the world through sensing and doing. I suspect that our culture’s determination to pry even the youngest child’s hands OFF the real world, and on to buttons / screens that manipulate surreal abstractions of it, contributes to myriad disorders of soul & psyche.


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