A couple of weeks ago I forced myself to do some knitting for the revival of the world’s stupidest range of handcrafted goods. The needles slotted comfortably in my hands, the wool wrapped naturally around my fingers, and the rhythmic movements, stab, wrap, pull, came back thoughtlessly. I’ve missed doing things with my hands. They’ve been idle since I moved to Singapore, a land where everything is imported and very little is made.
I like to keep my hands busy, engaged in a repetitive activity like knitting, sewing, or embroidery. I like the mindlessness of it, how thoughts get sewn or woven into whatever is being made, and the gentle pleasure of seeing something become something else through tiny, simple moves. It has the same addictive quality as a game of Angry Birds. There’s always the next stitch, the next purl, the next pig to blow up.
I’ve often thought of animation (my day job) as lace making. It’s dull, laborious, detailed, endlessly repetitive work. But there’s a serenity to it, a sense of getting lost in something other than yourself, and the pleasure of watching your work grow with time and patience. Of course I haven’t animated anything in months, stuck as I am in the land of spreadsheets and lists, and my hands feel lifeless, heavy, useless, dead.
Last night I was reminded of the first craftsman I met. It was somewhere in a small room above the Hermès flagship store (or Herpès Mothership as we called it between much sniggering). Our small group of new recruits had been walked around the handsome Faubourg St Honoré store, going up the central staircase past the exhibition space and the small charming museum full of the random objects that have served as inspiration for the brand’s most iconic designs. I’m not a fan of brands usually, those glittering, brash shops lined along Orchard road, but there, under the eaves, as we crowded near the maroquinier’s table, I was taught an understanding of luxury. There, in the gentle winter sun, in the scraps and smell of buttery leather, he told us how each piece, each bag was made by scratch by one craftsman, from start to finish. The cutting, the stitching, the gluing and lining, all done over weeks by one man who had learned his trade over many years. As he spoke he handled the skins and tools with a sense of ownership that had a quiet pride and dignity.
So last night I made a special effort to check out the Hermès Festival des Métiers. A friend had asked me what métier meant, and I struggled. It’s a job of course, but also a trade, a skill, a corps, a tool. I walked between the workbenches that had been set up in the atrium of my local glittering, brash mall and listened to the gentle, heavily accented voices as they explained how they make silk ties, print silk scarves, mount tiny diamonds onto tiny cufflinks or make, still, saddles. All by hand, all quietly and slowly, gently, lovingly.
If you are in Hong Kong, Dubai, or Europe next year, go see it. It may make your hands itchy.