Friday, July 24, 2009


In school, we had a subject called SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work). It involved a lot of craft-related activities, and, later in senior school, some social project work. Being lazy and self-absorbed children, we dismissed the subject as Some Useful Periods Wasted.

I did not really mind wasting the period by making pencil-holders by wrapping colourful paper around old talcum powder tins, and other fanciful and useless things like making prints with cut slices of ladies’ fingers (the vegetable) and onion-halves.

What irked and bothered me was the compulsory sewing projects we girls had to undertake. I remember we had a lady teacher teaching us the subject for a few years, who would insist on all the girls sitting and learning various kinds of stitches. The boys, lucky idiots, were spirited away to some unspecified location, where they made unrecognizable clay models and wood-carvings.
We were stuck in the classroom with the needle often stuck in our fingers (especially in my hands, which seemed to be all thumbs). The simple run stitch seemed deceptively easy and my fingers would run away merrily with the needle, till the stern teacher would look over my shoulder and point out the unnecessary necessity of each stitch being of the same size and equidistant from one another.

The stem stitch and chain stitch were all right, I suppose, if you overlooked the variously sized links of the chain, or bits of the stem. The criss-cross herringbone always made me cross, although I enjoyed the neatly laid-out patterns of the cross stitch where I had only to follow the design laid out on the graph and where the stitches would automatically be of the same size, because the cloth itself was woven like a grid.

But I was completely flummoxed by the really intricate stuff like the neat hem stitches, buttonhole-stitches (my holes looked as if they had been forced by a particularly belligerent big button), French knots and the tiny satin stitches. I was really really bad at the fine art of needle craft, which was fairly surprising because both Maa (mother) and Didia (my cousin) spent long hours discussing patterns and colours and creating delicate gossamer embroidery on many of our dresses. Unfortunately, my admiration did not progress to emulation, and I remained handicapped at handicraft.

And so, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the stern sewing mistress left our school and was replaced by the affable Maity Sir, who taught both Bengali and SUPW. I put away the handkerchiefs with the uneven half-finished hems, and the round wooden embroidery frame and VIBGYOR silk threads. And happily spent the rest of my SUPW periods making unproductive and silly stuff like soap-gardens (where you had to stick paper flowers and leaves on wires into the soap and make a fancy fence-border with pins and garish plastic ribbons). Horribly tacky stuff, but easier to tackle than sewing.



ZiLliOnBiG said...

aaah, you freshened my nostalgia...SUPW and yea *Some Useful Periods Wasted* they were,

You too studied in Kendriya vidyalaya? Me too....... We were taught to make Objects out of wood, using Saws, chisels, and god-knows-what. And for me CCA periods on Saturday(last 2 periods) were the most excruciating ones.compulsory cultural programs they were, and my-not-so-creative-mind was stretched to the maximum, unwillingly. Nice post as always:))

Aleta said...

Lovely post. In high school years, the women are supposed to take "home ed" (home education) classes. It wasn't mandatory, but most of the girls did because it was an easy class to make a good grade in. I didn't opt for that class. (which might be the reason I don't cook much? Lol)

But for sewing, I can't. I can create jewelry using the herringbonne stitch and peyote stitch and... gosh, there are so many when it comes to jewelry. I can do cross stitch and French knots (this I learned in my college years - was a way that I learned to relax between studying)... but not sew for means of making cloths, etc.

My mother-in-law offered to teach me how to sew and I might still take her up on the offer!

Ugich Konitari said...

Sucharita, you took me back to the late 50'sand early sixties, when I too had CCA classes, and Stitching was compulsory for girls. I too had to do handkerchiefs with different types of stitches, and later even knitting. I used to hate it all, and was more interested in Netball.

Actually, you need suitable motivation. Years later in the early 80's i learnt and enjoyed knitting stuff for my young son, and several of his cousins.

But nothing will make me do the handkerchiefs with stitches again..:-)

The Scatterbrain said...

I used to hate those classes too!! I am by nature a creative person but I hated being forced to be creative. I never finished any of the projects be it basket weaving, sewing, knitting or whatever else!

Sakshi said...

OMG I had both hands full of thumbs too in sewing, clay modelling and all other stuff. Was good only at punching...

So do you stitch now?? and in case you want help go over to SJ's blog

She is a guru in knitting and knits even while blogging..:)

Nona said...

You always choose the right subjects. The subjects are such that we either have a deep connection or there is an instant flood nostalgia!

For your information, we(boys) also had to learn sewing in the these classes and I was pathetic!

Later, we were asked to make a radio. The radio never worked!

Kavi said...

SUPW ! What a name !! I dont remember such 'useful periods' ! We used to have 'co-curricular' ! And so i went learning 'Guitar' for a few days. And found that its easy only for Eric Clapton.

And then, went about trying to bunk the co-curriculars to play some basketball !

The closest that comes to my mind is 'moral science' class ! Yeah. Moral science ! Where they would teach us about the 'Truth' and such else.

And we would snigger. Those were the times.

Lazyani said...

Yeah, I do remember those special Some Useful Periods Wasted.
We had craft and clay modelling. I remember tahat one day the poor teacher held up the giraffe created by me and said 'Not even God could have created such a creature'.

Anonymous said...

LOL!! you know this transported me back to my schooldays in Mhow and a little room which was supposed to be used for SUPW purposes.. :D

the good thing was that even guys had to do the same work we did :D

we stitched they stitched..we made little dolls with dresses they did too :D

hilarious name now that one thinks about it :)))

But I was completely flummoxed by the really intricate stuff like the neat hem stitches, buttonhole-stitches (my holes looked as if they had been forced by a particularly belligerent big button), French knots and the tiny satin stitches.
you know what Sucharita?

you and I could have been best friends :D:D

this is me too :D

Pradip Biswas said...

There was something similar to this not stiching but to learn first aid and bandages and giving oxygen to patients like that.

niveditha said...

hey we too had that period and i must say the small small things learnt in those days are so handy now.thanx to my teacher

Anonymous said...

"Some useful period Wasted", we used to call it that. I used to love to stitch and knit. So no complains there. But I was never able to perfect these, since the teacher kept changing, and the new one would start from the beginning. We also did tile painting, greeting card from shells and cardboard,a hanging plant holder.My mom finally requested to shift me to music and dance, as she was tired of running around finding these materials from all corners of Dubai.

I was made to take few of these too, when I was a teacher.But thankfully I taught them computers. The kids(teenagers) used to split into groups and sent to different classes every two weeks. I hope they didn't think that those periods with me were wasted..Sobs!!!

Miss M said...

We had something similar too!

It was one of those subjects you could opt for. Ours was called 'Needle work'. The only reason I even chose that class was because there wasn't too much work involved and we could always just sit around and chit chat.

I did learn how to knit and a few basic methods of stitching, but other than that I realised I had absolutely no interest in it!

Priya said...

Yes yes in our school, also we had this period wasted..:-)...but our task was a bit more interesting as we were asked to teach the students at the orphanage..For needle work we had a different class altogether and that was not much of a favorite among all... :-)

Sharmila said...

We did not have SUPW ... but had 'interactive class' on Fridays .. which were a pain ... had to go stand in front of a huge bunch of rowdy and restless natives and speak. Speak what? Anything. Just speak ... we were supposed to interact... see? Ugh! The only flaw in my otherwise memorable school days. :-)

Tan said...

Nice post... feeling nostalgic about things that would never come back!!

Rajesh said...

We used to have once in a while crafts period. We used to do dome stuff using cardboard paper and color threads. But now a days these things start in LKG itself. I have seen in the book of the kids design with cut lady fingers vegetable.

lopamudra said...

I sucked big time in SUPW.I hated sewing,knitting and was all thumbs.I never got an A in that subject.I dreaded that class and our teacher specifically picked me up for demonstration.I was soooo humiliated all the time for my lack of sewing/knitting skills.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks again everybody, for sewing this patchwork quilt of reminiscences.

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

To borrow ZB's words, a nice post as always. Oh dear! What a torture you had to undergo! I felt sorry for the little girl that was you.

I don't remember where I read this: They keep children in school for twelve years because they need that much time to destroy childhood!

Sucharita Sarkar said...


what a perceptive comment!

radha said...

I know this is an old post. But I just got reading some of them today. And the needlework class brought back some dreaded memories too. Our teacher was a an ill tempered lady and it was a class on seams. And one particular sample, she kept making me rip it apart, and the fourth time I went back she took the sample in her hand and cut it up with a huge big pair of scissors. After that I sat at the last benches of the class and the embroidery was done at home by my mother.