So, I am mildly obsessed with the show “Repair Shop” that can be found on Netflix. It’s a wonderful show about skilled craftsmen in a variety of industries taking on projects that involve breathing new life into old things.
The stories behind these objects can be quite historic — such as a family watch that was carried around by the grandmother in WW2 during her captivity — or they can simply be sentimental — such as a childhood teddy bear.
However, no matter what the item, the craftsmen brought the same level of skill and attention to detail to every item that came across their table. Also, their knowledge of their craft is quite fascinating and impressive, because it shows a love for that particular skill set that goes beyond just making a living for themselves.
It also it the type of skill and attention to detail that I strive for, especially when making things for other people. I personally consider it a great honor when people appreciate my work so much that they would commission me to sew something for them or to breathe new life into a family heirloom.
And I truly believe that the history of a craft is just as important to the craft, as the craft itself.
And some of the skills showcased on the show are not really understood or known about anymore, let alone practiced (like the metal worker). So, that got me to wondering about that phrase
“They just don’t make ’em like they used to.”
The phrase is often said with a negative connotation, implying that products of the past were and are much more durable and sturdy than products of today. I have mixed thoughts on this, and don’t think it’s a straight-forward as the phrase would lead us to believe.
Well, yes – we don’t make them like they used to be made. With the invention of new technologies, there are often new techniques that come along with them, both good and bad. For example, in the sewing industry, some techniques of the past that create a really strong a durable stitch that have given way to the speed of the sewing machine. Machine stitches are strong too, when done correctly, but perhaps not quite as strong as they could be.
However, just because the techniques and the tools have changed, does it necessarily follow that the workmanship and the attention to detail must also suffer? And I think that is the key question. How do we keep the best from the past to influence our future? Isn’t that what we’re trying to do in all areas of life?
Specifically in the areas of craftsmanship and sewing, I think there are still plenty of places today where you find high-quality, well made items that will last because they were made by skilled hands and an understanding of the trade.
I don’t think it will be found at your local big-box stores, because I do think the larger scale things become the less craftsmanship and care can be put into an item. However, it can be found in the individual craftsman and the smaller shops that make the study of the craft their life’s work.
Additionally, I think it’s a rather unfair statement to say that “They don’t make ’em like they used to,” because only the well-loved or the well-taken-care-of items are still around for us to enjoy. All of the poor-quality and poorly-made items have long since been repurposed or put in the junk pile.
I also think that the rise of mass-manufacturing and how fast large factories can turn out products has lead to a disconnect between the consumer the product. Where there once was a general understanding of how things are created and what materials it takes to make them, there is now only the finished product. How exactly is butter made? What is involved in making and harvesting produce? Is it really that difficult to craft that beautiful, all-wood, inlaid table with turned legs? How can a single dress cost ‘that’ much?
Even for the factory worker, they only need to be concerned about one minor aspect of the production process versus understanding the whole. Some do understand the whole process, but the point is that it is not necessary for them to do so to do their job.
So, maybe in general things are not made like they used to be, if you just walk into the average shop to try and buy something; the ready availability of quality craftsmanship is not as easy to find.
However, skilled craftsman are still out there, people who care about their technique and the quality of their products, and they are still creating today. Some with old techniques; some with new; some with a blend; but all with the same dedication to make a beautiful finished product. Perhaps, we just have to look a little harder, and I think it’s definitely worthwhile preserving.