In Praise of Hands

Luckily the tea was strong and helped keep me focused. I was at the table picking the raisins out from my scone not because I didn’t like raisins but simply to have an excuse to keep my head down so no one could see my facial expressions. I was visiting my friend Elizabeth Gaskell and she was telling me the most outrageous things about Charlotte Bronte. Elizabeth was working on Charlotte’s biography and described the difficulties of telling a true story without the truth.

Everyone knew that Elizabeth had a tendency towards hyperbolic storytelling (hadn’t Dickens even called her Scheherazade?) but she was either telling me the truth or someone had spiked her tea.

Most of us believed that Charlotte had been a drab and lonely woman who used writing to give her life some pAzAzZ. Elizabeth had described Charlotte as a short, red faced Plain Jane with a semi-toothless big mouth. But now Elizabeth was zapping me with another Charlotte, a school teacher who hated kids, a middle aged woman who craved a man, and a writer who didn’t hesitate to use her talents to write naughty letters. Simply put, Charlotte had had firecrackers inside of her just looking for a match.

Having picked all the raisins from my scone, I was forced to look up. My eyes fell on a spill vase sitting on the mantel. Anxious to change the subject, I asked Elizabeth if she, like her Miss Matty in Cranford, had made the spills herself. Spills are tightly rolled papers kept on the mantelpiece in tall vases. They’re used to transfer the fire from the fireplace to candles or cigars or lamps.  Making them was Miss Matty’s passion.

During Victorian times, domestic handicraft somehow reflected middle class female individuality. Especially popular were parlor crafts that permitted women to sit around together sipping tea while working on a craft project . Hair braiding, scrapbooking, paper cutting, collage, beading and bead making were just a few of the choices. Women’s craft no longer had to be just useful.  Now it could be decorative and fun to make as well. Recycled materials from old clothing to pieces of candles to old receipts were used. But hands were used not just for social activities. They were used for subversive activities, too.

She was born and raised a slave. And as a slave Harriet Powers learned to sew and made quilts for her owners with the light of the day and for her family with the light of a candle. Harriet used an appliqué style similar to that used by the African Fon people. And with this technique, Harriet told stories. Her most famous surviving quilt is “Bible Stories” depicting eleven stories from the Bible.

During the Civil War, many female slaves used their hands to sew subversively. They made quilts with coded patterns relevant to helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad. For example, the monkey wrench met that supplies were to be gathered whereas the star meant to head north. These quilts were then hung on lines or draped on fence in plain sight for escaping slaves to see.

But female arts have been used subversively in other ways as well. Penelope unraveled her weaving to keep her suitors at bay. In Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, Madame Defarge knits in code the names of the aristocrats she’d like to see dead. Even the Bayeux Tapestry is full of stitched secrets. And in modern times, there’s craftivism, the use of craft for social and political reasons. Hands are used to make everything from sweaters for penguins, victims of oil spills, dresses from pillow cases for young girls in Africa, and sleeping mats made from crocheted plastic bags for the homeless.

When humans began walking upright, everything changed. It freed the hand so humans could now reach out and grab something and hold it.  The capacity to pick something up increased our ability to closely observe the world around us. Hands helped the brain to evolve.

Hands permitted humans to touch one another and create intimacy. This helped emotions to evolve.

Hands help us accomplish things.  They can help create new mental pathways because making things requires sequential thought and logic. Thus hands help connect the mind with the body.

Making is a form of meditation.  Because focused attention and repeated motion sends our brainwave frequencies into theta, just like meditation.  So why not make something?

Handwriting traces the motion of your hand. It’s a ménage à trois relationship between hand, paper, and pen. Hand written words connect mind and body. Writing by hand is an intimate experience.

Handwriting also helps to develop manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and visual motor skills.

Here are some useful hand stretches useful if you spend a lot of time at the computer or are a passionate crafter.

Your hands can also be used to make mudras aka finger yoga. There are many nerve endings in our fingers then, when pressed in a certain way, can channelize the flow of energy. Here are a few:

SHUNI MUDRA: The mudra is made by touching the tip of the middle finger to the tip of the thumb. This mudra encourages patience and the obliteration of negative emotions. When I go to the dentist, I always make this mudra then rotate the thumb and finger tips in circular motion to help keep me calm.

Mudras have often been depicted in art.

Prithvi Mudra: the thumb holds the ring finger down.  It activates the root chakra thus promotes a feeling of stability. This mudra is most often represented in Byzantine icons.

Dhyana Mudra: facing upwards, the right palm rests on the left palm. Buddha is often portrayed with his hands in this position as it’s the mudra for concentration that leads to inner peace.

Anjali Mudra: the palms of both hands face one another and mate thus uniting the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When you are connected, you feel less stress and anxiety. Praying hands use this Namaste gesture. The Virgin of Guadalupe is represented making this gesture.

Ardharataka Mudra: the index and middle fingers are erect whereas the thumb, ring, and little finger are bent. This mudra helps free one of negative energy. Its most famous representation is that of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi.

You can also use your hands to collect your Qi, vital life force, by making a Power Ball. It’s somewhat like recharging a battery and helps to build healing energy.

It takes motion to activate motion. So get that stagnant energy flowing by swaying arms and shifting weight. Then rub palms together until you feel the heat.  Cup the hands and, with one hand facing the other, move them towards and away from one another. Slowly the qi begins to form a ball.

Now you have some balls to throw around!


(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)


Schaffer, Talia. “Craft, Authorial Anxiety, and ‘The Cranford Papers’”. Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol. 38, No. 2, Interdisciplinary Work and Periodical Connections: An Issue in Honor of Sally H. Mitchell (Summer, 2005), pp. 221-239. Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, Retrieved Sept 5, 2018 HERE

Schaffer, Talia. Novel Craft: Victorian Domestic Handicraft and Nineteenth-Century Fiction.

Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Everyman’s Library. London. 1997.

Dobard, Raymond jr and Tobin, Jacqueline. Hidden in Plain View. 1999

Fry, Gladys-Marie. Stitched from the Soul (1990) on HERE

Parker, Rozsika. The Subversive Stitch. On HERE

Korzekwa, Cynthia. Bebina Bunny’s Cabinet of Curiosities. On HERE

Paz, Octavio. In Praise of Hands. On HERE

Yoga Mudras in Orthodox Christian Art: Does it indicate a Hindu-Buddhist Influence? Retrieved October 28, 2018 HERE

The Underground Railroad: A Code of Secrecy, Part II by Fannette Davis. Retrieved October 28, 2018 HERE.

Related: Ancient Women Artists May Be Responsible for Most Cave Art + Spills: Let There Be Light + The Project Gutenberg eBook, Cranford, by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Illustrated by Hugh Thomson, read online + Parlor Crafts and the Age of Refinement By Erica Lome + The Curious Victorian Tradition of Making Art from Human Hair + Mary Georgina Filmer + Cassell’s Household Guide

About Art for Housewives

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This entry was posted in Age of Reconfiguration, Art Narratives, Crafts, Daily Aesthetics, Lifestyle, storytelling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to In Praise of Hands

  1. Pingback: A Powerful Purse | Art Narratives by Cynthia Korzekwa

  2. Pingback: Playground | The Narrative Within

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