Rediscovering an old talent and passing it on

What's the use of knowledge if it's not used or passed along to someone else who can use it?

A hand holds a brown leather checkbook cover with a basketweave design and a blue letter "B" in the righthand corner.
Jenny Schlecht rediscovered her love of leather craft while preparing to teach her daughters and other 4-H members about the project area.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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A couple decades ago, I was nearing the end of my time in 4-H. I had spent 10 years learning and practicing a variety of skills. And then, I went off to college, started a career, started a family and lost track of some of those things I once had gotten kind of good at.

That's not, of course, to say I haven't been using things I learned in 4-H. Years of giving demonstrations and other talks, interviews at fair time and livestock judging reasons have made the interviews and various types of public speaking that come with being a journalist much easier. My time showing livestock made me more resilient against stress, and the livestock knowledge I gained have made me somewhat of an asset on the ranch. I know how to participate in a meeting and how to run one. I am adept at finishing projects and making sure they're ready to shine and at finishing record keeping (usually at the last minute, just like I did in 4-H).

Jenny Schlecht
Jenny Schlecht

But while the lessons of 4-H prepared me for adult life, I also certainly put some of the skills on the shelf.

For instance, I didn't touch a sewing machine or serger for years until I wanted to make some curtains during college. The old lessons came back to me quickly, and I've dabbled a little at making and mending since then. Of course, I still tend to sew a bit crooked, but I can take care of some basic needs. I even helped my daughter make her first sewing projects, with a number of false starts when I forgot how to read patterns.

But probably my favorite 4-H project was leather craft. I was lucky to grow up in a community with two different stores dedicated to the craft and a number of leaders to help me learn about it. I loved creating images on leather and projects that would stand the test of time. I learned to draw my own patterns and create things that were completely unique. I served as my club's junior leader and taught other kids, too, which was sometimes as much fun as doing my own work.


After high school, I didn't touch any leather tools until about a year ago, when my daughter expressed an interest in learning to create the kind of projects she's seen still in use at my parents' house.

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So, we got her some tools and I got my brother to return a few of my old ones. I taught her a little about carving and stamping, and she got a blue ribbon for her first project, a bookmark. Since then, we've picked up more tools, and both daughters and I have had some fun pounding out designs.

When the time came for one of our county 4-H committees to offer some workshops across various project areas, I said I would be willing to put on leather sessions. In preparation, I made my first projects in two decades, a checkbook cover for my husband and a little wallet for my younger daughter.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed creating. And I had forgotten how enjoyable it can be to just do something I enjoyed — not for money or awards but just to do it.

The workshops seemed well received. I think all of the kids liked the fun of pounding on something. And a few of them really seemed to enjoy the end results of their work.

The experience has been a good reminder to me that it's OK to spend some time doing something I enjoy and that even more so it's always fun to pass along the knowledge that someone else once gave to me.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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