Did you ever watch hilarious American sit com Home Improvement?
I really loved the show – in it Tim Taylor has a programme called Tool Time and he is really pretty useless as a DIYer. Lots of explosions, casual sexism; apart from his exasperated and disapproving wife I also loved his introverted assistant Al, and Wilson the neighbour. But the show’s huge success owes a lot to the notion of Man – interested in sport, fast cars, taking charge, fixing stuff and Power Tools. Women’s sewing equipment is a different matter. We don’t use words like Power Tools, even if we employ electricity.
I do think men and women have a different attitude to tools that may go back to the beginning of time. Women are generally only credited with invented weaving, maybe knitting, whereas men get to claim all the cool stuff – fire, speed, hard metals, killing equipment, etc.
Years ago, when the kids were little and iPhones hadn’t been invented, I had a real run-of-the-mill camera. I tried to take pictures of the usual things – landscapes, portraits, still life etc. And then I really tried hard to photograph insects and flowers, close up. And after a number of frustrating attempts my (then) husband John told me I needed a special lens – a macro lens – to get the type of close-ups I wanted to achieve. He found it rather sweet that I was struggling with a problem for a while without realising that all I needed was a different piece of equipment! He offered to buy me a new lens but I figured I wasn’t that keen on getting the shots. If it wasn’t technically feasible I would concentrate on all the other things I could do with a camera.
Stretch is a book by Scott Sonenshein (thanks for bringing it to my attention Steph!).
He writes: “The problem is: We routinely overestimate the importance of acquiring resources but even more significantly underestimate our ability to make more out of those we have.” I am not sure I need to read a whole book about this but I immediately recognised the two personality types – he calls us “stretchers” who make the most of the resources they have against “chasers” who acquire resources systematically. “Most of our time and energy get spent looking for tools and not actually putting nails into walls,” he argues. This can make us dissatisfied as we feel the need to keep up with the Jones who have more or better stuff. As we get more we lose track of it or it goes to waste. If we stretch instead we see our limitations as an opportunity – I don’t have any red buttons – can I make a feature of white ones? Or cover some in fabric? Or use nail varnish (no – that one doesn’t work!)
Maybe I am flattering myself with the idea that I am a stretcher.
I bought white silk for a time, painting designs on it rather than buying fresh cloth every time and creating waste. Sometimes making do helps you to think creatively about using one tool for several purposes rather than a specific tool (we have an avocado tool that scoops and slices – but a spoon and knife is just as good). At work I generally adopt the principle that we can do what we need without additional resources eg relying on consultants. We rarely put money aside for any project – our philosophy is just to stretch the resources we already have. In other arenas, without the special tools we can become more innovative and creative. Having less can encourage us to invent or solve problems. If we don’t have too much we find ways to reuse what we have – the slum dwellers of Rio became excellent recyclers of rubbish to make a living. All this is trite and rather obvious.
So I have been fascinated to consider what this has meant for me as I have been working with my husband to complete my new sewing room. My existing area had been a small corner in the kitchen of our London flat. As we collaborate to create the new area I have watched him in his very well-equipped work shop where he seems to have a tool for every task known to man. He bought a job lot of tools and didn’t even know what all of them were for. Our (builder) friend Symon said one of them is for “cutting letter boxes in any size or shape”. How we laughed. But I really don’t want to criticise at all – I am the beneficiary, and doing the job well gives him pleasure. But I was struck by the difference in attitude we have to equipping ourselves.
So I am interested to hear your views. Do you make do and mend, or are you a top-of-the-range purchaser who likes the very best equipment? Are your skills in advance of your tools, or vice versa? Do you think men behave fundamentally differently in this regard, and if so why? Are you prepared to learn with second hand shabby tools, and then splash out only when you are frustrated by the results. Or do you blame your tools? And those who make a living from sewing – what is your attitude to equipment?