This past weekend, I played with wood glue, learned where the shank of a lamb comes from, what to do with a cow’s cheek, how to refashion broken pieces of jewellery, and make envelopes out of old calendars. I made soap and learned how to make fabric baskets out of scraps.

No, it wasn’t summer camp. (No glittered macaroni was harmed in the process of this weekend.) I attended Handmade2011. It was an inaugural event in Wellington, two days of recycling, upcycling, freecycling and cycling out of wholecloth your own furniture, clothing, accessories, and food.

At the end of the event, and assuming you’d taken every class offered (impossible), you could:

Have a homegrown dinner party, which included your own beer and cheese, as well as a palatable cow’s cheek, served on your homegrown greens and legumes. Then, you could eat your truly-made-from-scratch meal on your new dining room table, made of salvaged wood and pressed tin tiles. While wearing your new dress stitched together from two others you no longer wear. And accessorised by your new necklace, earrings, and charm bracelet made from those broken bits at the bottom of your great-aunt’s old jewelry box.  On the table, you’d have hand-stitched and upcycled linens.

You could then clean everything up with your homemade liquid dishwashing soap, laundry soap powder, and cake soap.

Afterward, you could send yourself a thank you note for such a lovely meal on your woodblock printed cards in envelopes made from your 2009 French Impressionist calendar. Maybe even drop off a flower arrangement snipped from your urban garden and put into a vase, which you salvaged from Trash Palace (the dump’s ultra-cool salvage shop. Think Dumpster Diving for the chic.), and tarted up with tissue paper wound around the base in a Japanese origami style.

I know a lot of people who would find the above scenario quite … quaint. However, the cool factor of recycling is quite high in Wellington. Indeed, throughout New Zealand.

Buying things second-hand does not come naturally to me. Neither does growing my own food. I have, however, come to embrace both concepts. The reality is, we are a small, remote island. Resources are limited and things are expensive. You don’t encounter the same “disposable” culture we have at home, whether it’s applied to food, clothing, or home goods. You can’t. And so you learn. While it wouldn’t have occurred to me to go to Good Will at home for anything other than a costume, here, I find dresses, skirts, and tops for work. I darned a fitted sheet the other day, simply because I couldn’t stomach buying new sheets when just the bottom needed a few stitches to get us through the winter.

But the idea of handcraft has always come easily to me.  Ask any of my friends who have been subjected to my brief forays into beading, card making, and my misguided belief in the versatility of popsicle sticks.

Maybe it’s my intrinsic belief that things made of my own hand mean more.  Are worth more.   Maybe it was growing up in the South, where you made pies for your neighbors and pickled anything that moved.  It’s a bit nostalgic, really.  A throw-back to a time when life seemed less complicated.  Is it any wonder that we yearn for that now in the “modern world”?

But mostly, it was nice to find another point of shared bliss between “home” and home.  It was like the embroidery thread of shared beliefs darted from one end of the world to the other, binding  my two homes together more closely, one elegant (or not so) stitch at a time.