Lockdown is an opportunity to dust down our creative talents
My DIY attempts come at a time when we are reclaiming our ability to mend, fix and create
Make and mend: during our lockdowns people have been redesigning their clothes and making brand new fashions. Photograph: iStock
Exercising the mind as well as my hands, back and dodgy knees, I took to the garden this week to clear the isolation cobwebs and switch off from the fast-paced newsfeed of politics and pandemics.
Unfortunately, in my delirious excitement of being free from the demands of the four walls and the two kids, I managed to slice through the wire that fed the pump to our pond as I cut through the brambles that had taken over. The babbling water slowed to a trickle and only when I lowered the hedge trimmer to investigate did I realise my mistake. And yes, I know I was lucky I didn’t electrocute myself. With closures afoot, and it hardly being an essential task to ask someone to break the essential measures put in place for our protection, the dodgy wire dangled amid the thorns.
It’s certainly a moment I have relived, cursing myself for being so careless at a time of great need.
Ordinarily, when something goes amiss in our house, I call a professional.
I lie, ordinarily, I call my dad first because he is a DIY guru and always seems to have an answer.
However, I now have a trusty DIY manual that my parents gifted me this year. When I was younger, I had a curious connection to my dad’s 1970s ring-bound DIY manual. From building a bookshelf, mixing cement, changing a plug and hanging a curtain rail, the guy with flared, corduroy trousers adorning the black and white step-by-step guides knew how to do it all. I, on the other hand, did not. But I want to learn.
Disconnecting the wire, bandaging the loose ends in electric tape until measures are lifted and a professional can rewire our pond filter, I was thankful of my new manual to get me through. Chances are Google would have seen me through too, but I would have called an electrician before attempting any remedy myself, remembering electrics and plumbing should certainly be left to the professionals.
It got me thinking whether we have lost our ability to mend or are we at a point where we can reclaim those talents left high on the shelf to gather dust. Picking up the phone is a lot easier than attempting to find a solution ourselves. Prior to some of the recent emergency measures, I also attempted to Google my way out of boiler issues. Yet another rookie mistake – I let the oil run dry in our tank and of course developed an air lock in the boiler. YouTube got me so far, and while I thought I was on the road to success, I still had to call someone out to lift the air lock. Social distancing meant I was unable to hover over his shoulder so I would know what to do next time. Not that there will be a next time, lesson learnt.
Even in much simpler examples, I tend to verge on the side of a wasteful generation considering if any of my clothes become damaged, I replace them with an alternative and potentially cheap version. I have still not learned how to replace a zip or darn a hole. While I own enough needles and threads to sew on a loose button or two, the likelihood of attempting any significant alterations or repairs is slim when the Zip Yard is so close.
Knitters and stitchers
There has been a wonderful rise in knitters and stitchers, weavers and creators in the last decade but, in 2020, our bizarre situation brought us back to basics. Many of us are baking again – or, at least, were during the first lockdown. Bread was rising in our ovens, and even in our slow cookers, as I found out from Sarah Anne Dunwood who told me this nifty kitchen cooker does all the proving for you.
Aoife O’Brien says her granny would be proud as she takes another batch of scones out of the oven. Cara Alexander has also gone back to baking and is adding a little bit of experimentation to her bow. “I haven’t done anything decorative in years because of depression and anxiety,” she says, “but this lockdown has been so good for my mental health. I’ve even been experimenting with gluten-free vegan cakes.”
There are those making their own beeswax candles, lavender soaps, redesigning their clothes and making brand new fashions. Months ago, Samantha Kelly found her way through making a quilt which will certainly become a family heirloom. Orlagh Murphy roped her seven-year-old into arts and crafts with decoupage.
There are also the DIY gurus who know the demands of both sides of the hammer. Those with sheds full of tools they will never allow to rust. I own three hammers. I’m unsure where two of them are. The third was used recently to tack some wire to a wall. Before then, it may have sat in the hardware store. But it’s back out again as I tackle some jobs left on the long finger. Eimear Kelly is upcycling and learning to recover diningroom chairs with old cushion covers. Angie Rodrique has built a vegetable planter from scratch.
Some of the early enthusiasm for trying new things didn’t survive the long months since last March, but, for others, the creative journey continues. Even in the final weeks of 2020.
My attempts at some DIY and my efforts to find solutions come at a time when we are reclaiming our ability to mend, fix and create. I recognise there is a more urgent need to spread our wings to repair, produce and innovate as we find our way through these longer days. There are so many who are shining in this area. It’s far from any lack of ability that ordinarily stopped us, but rather the simplicity that comes with buying new or finding someone else to do it. Fast fashion has made it easier to bin and replace when the opportunity to create is staring at us in the guise of torn jeans and ripped jumpers.
We’ve slumped past the make do and mend era but have found ourselves in a position to readjust as we stay home, reignite passions and relearn skills buried by the ease of reaching for our wallets.
We have been afforded time recently. The drawers and cupboards to DIY and homemade heaven have been opened and the excuses to fix, create and upcycle have all but disappeared.
Our ability to explore this opportunity is quite literally in our hands.