On the surface, homesteading seems like it’s all about livestock and gardens, and many of us have an image in our heads of the idealized small farmer walking out in the early morning to feed the chickens. While that is part of homesteading, it’s not all there is. At its core, homesteading is about learning new skills to increase your self-sufficiency, and the more skills you can learn, the better.
If this becomes reciprocal, it’s called bartering, and that’s what we’ve been doing lately with some family friends. Their daughter will be staying with us soon to learn photography from my mom. In exchange, they taught me to use a sewing machine.
My first project with them was a tiny pillow with my name stitched onto it, but to my surprise, we weren’t done after that. I was going to make a cloth grocery bag.
We started by selecting the fabrics. For the outside of the bag, I chose a pink cloth embroidered with elephants; for the inside, a soft gray fabric touched with white, like faraway stars. I cut my fabrics to the same size and pinned them together inside-out, threaded the sewing machine’s needle, slipped my fabrics into the machine, chose my stitch, and started off.
Using a sewing machine is slow and repetitive—unless you’re as good at it as my friend’s mom is, in which case it’s fast and repetitive. Still, there’s something about knowing you’ve done a good job, or at least gotten better, that’s thrilling, though that’s true of any skill, sewing or ziplining or writing. When I finished sewing the fabrics together around three edges, I was proud of myself.
My friend’s mom showed me how to turn the bag right-side-out, and we sewed the edges together, leaving room for a handle. For the handle, I selected a strip of rough pink fabric, and she slipped the ends into the spaces we’d left for that purpose. Then I got to sew them in place.
The final step was ironing. Being clumsy, I put my thumb in the wrong place almost immediately and had to run cold water on it, but the actual ironing was easy, and in minutes the bag was complete. It was satisfying enough knowing that I had made the bag, and that it had been less painful than my knitted hat, but even more so that I had contributed to my community.
Walking out to help feed the chickens afterward, I felt content.
Top photo by Evie S.
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