Image Credit: Gulf News/Seyyed de la Llata

Now that most people are working from home, the WhatsApp conversations are getting longer and more detailed. A friend in the UK who has ventured out to attend a three-month workshop on pottery making describes what she is learning although she has been into this creative art for some time now. All her friends have received gifts of some very nice pieces through the years.

Working away from home means that she has to wear a mask when interacting with others and she came home one weekend to replenish her stock of this face covering. She asked for ideas on what material to use and how to ensure that she could breathe easily while wearing a mask.

Friends from other parts of the world soon responded, suggesting the best fabric to use and how many layers were necessary. Next the question of inserts arose. One person sent pictures of her attempts at mask making and said she inserts a cut-out piece of tissue which makes breathing easier.

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As the pictures of the home-made masks began pouring in, memories were rekindled of the embroidery classes in school which were compulsory in many convents. A few admitted failing the class and how they surreptitiously took the help of classmates with more dexterous fingers, helping them in turn with a subject they had difficulty comprehending.

Jogging my memory

The reminiscing jogged my memory too. I remember a very strict and exacting teacher who went around the classroom inspecting every student’s work. I learnt the art of working as slowly as possible to prevent the overenthusiastic teacher from setting us more work. I took inspiration from Greek mythology and my role model was Penelope, the wife of Odysseus or Ulysses. I loved the story of how she put off suitors during the long absence of her husband by saying that she must first finish weaving a shroud. So, she wove by day and unravelled by night. This deception continued for three long years until a maid spilt the beans.

Luckily for us, these embroidery classes were only compulsory for a few years before the more serious subjects made their appearance. So I, too, would take the longest possible time to finish a decent amount of work, just enough to satisfy the teacher.

Then I would go home and unravel my work and, when the next class came up, I would, without batting an eyelid, tell the teacher that my mum made me rip out all my work as she said it was a disgrace! Pleased with my perseverance, she would allow me to continue at my dreary pace. As the deadline to submit our work drew near, I resorted to tears at home until my mother took pity on me and completed the tablecloth in record time. I was indeed lucky that she was an accomplished seamstress.

A mask out of an old sock

A sibling proudly tells me that he has made a mask out of an old sock. I, too, used the eye mask that you get on long flights but it was a shortlived experience. I found it easier to buy the masks as I wasn’t going out much apart from a quick trip to the supermarket downstairs.

I wonder if things would have been easier for me if we had had cooking classes at school instead of learning the intricacies of satin stitch and cross stitch. Maybe I would have learnt the basics as there was no way I could have asked my mum to finish my work at home. And neither could I have pulled off the Penelope procrastination trick here.

What the pandemic has taught many of us is that necessity is the mother of invention and that a lot of spare time helps us innovate.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India