Used to be that kids grew up learning how to create things with their hands.

Whether at the knees of their mothers and grandmothers or tagging along with dads and granddads, or through lessons in school like home ec and shop, kids had at least a smattering of hands-on experience in some “Handicraft: an art, craft, or trade in which the skilled use of one’s hands is required.”

I learned to knit and quilt, sitting on a low stool by my Grammie Mable, in the kerosene lamp-lit nights of Maine’s long winters. I was knitting my and my brothers wool mittens by the time I was eight. She taught me the different needle stitches used for quilting, hemming and patching. She taught me that if you were going to take time to do a thing, strive to do it the very best that you can. It makes it more fun and then could you take pride in what you created.

I started learning to quilt by sewing small triangles fitted into squares about 4 inches square. My mind would be totally concentrated on making each stitch exactly like the last one in neat rows until they looked almost machine stitched.

My brother learned woodworking beside Grampa Roy in his workshop. Grampa had a gas-powered lathe and made not only tools for use around the farm, like ax handles from hickory, but also cut his own cedar shingles for the roofs, and made tennis racket frames for a famous tennis racket outfit.

He was famous for his finely crafted crossbows. He once traded one to a client of his from New York City (Grampa was a Maine Guide) for a mighty fine bolt action Remington .22 long rifle. I learned to shoot with that sleek little rifle. A few years ago, when I got my concealed carry permit, I was the only woman in the class. The instructor’s gun that we all had to qualify with was a Sig Sauer 9mm. I was nervous about shooting in front of a group of men that included some “good ole boys” from up north, hunters all their lives. So I hung back and shot last. Turns out, I out-shot ’em all. The instructor, taking his gun back, smiled and, turning to the men, said: “Now that, fellas, is how it’s done.” (Grampa was a good teacher.)

Grampa also made snowshoes using the Canadian Ojibwa-style right down to the red and green tufts of yarn woven in with the rawhide on the edges. (When I was 7 or 8, he made me a scaled-down pair. The best time on those was when Grampa would take us out on a “stalking moon” winter’s night, lit up like day by the full moon. We’d hunt for deer, rabbit, moose tracks. (The Indians did tracking under the light of the full moon, thus the “stalking moon.”)

With winter now breathing down our backs, I’m pawing through my baskets of yarn and knitting needles for one of my favorite long dark night pastimes: knitting. I like the Scandinavian and Ole Maine patterns for hats, mittens, sweaters. They usually are made with three-four colors. This makes them much warmer than single color because, as you knit the pattern, the different colored strands are carried over behind the outside stitches. Grammie taught me the old Maine patterns and American knit stitches. When I was in my 20s living in the Berkshires, I had a best friend from Denmark who taught me the Scandinavian knitting stitches. It flows much easier and alleviates finger cramping. So I developed my own method of using two or three of the colors using one hand for the American way and the other for the Scandinavian way. That meant that some of the strands of yarn come from the left side and the other from the right, which makes tangling less likely.

Handcrafts require total attention on each stitch, each stroke, each cut of the saw. The concentration shuts out mind-chatter and time.

Handcrafting of any kind — quilting, cross-stitch, crewel, crocheting, knitting, painting, woodworking, etc. — is the best tranquilizer. Even the famous — and big — football player, Rosy Greer, did cross-stitch. He put out a book on it and taught it to CEOs of big companies as a stress reliever. No one argued with him about it.

But keeping the hands/mind busy for many of the long winter nights makes spring, which never comes too soon, come sooner. And this winter, maybe it’ll help get us through to the end of the insanity swirling around us.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a graduate of Belfast schools now living in Morrill.

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