What does the word ‘craft’ make you think of?
Those pasta necklaces you make for your mum at primary school? Church hall fairs and macrame plant pots? The smell of PVA glue? Retro ‘Make do and mend’ posters?
Art and Design have it much easier – who wouldn’t want to be described as an ‘artist’ or a ‘designer’? But ‘crafter’ and ‘crafty’ sound so homespun and lumpy. Why does craft have an image problem? Is it something to do with gender?
What got me thinking about this was the Kirstie Allsopp programme, Handmade Britain. Something about the way ‘craft’ is presented makes me uneasy.
There’s only one aesthetic being pushed: the flowery, vintage-y, home-baking, village fair type. Even a book like ‘Queen of Crafts’ by Jazz Domino Holly (which promises to put the ‘rock and roll’ back into craft) is stuffed with the kind of cute, easy things you used to get in 1950s activity books for children: making your own lipbalm, growing plants, doing a bit of knitting. Try a bit of everything, it’s just a laugh.
At the other end of the scale there’s the ‘Craftsman’. Doesn’t that word have a lovely reassuring ring to it? Makes you think of tiny Parisian workshops, decades-old tradition, hand-worked leather luggage, etc etc. The kind of ‘craft’ championed by Wallpaper magazine – limited edition, exquisitely made, and very, very expensive. Oh, and usually heavily branded.
Although the big companies making these ‘craft’ objects might have the majority of their products made by underpaid workers in China, sending out some press releases on their traditional craftmanship gives their brand a lovely, old-fashioned, top-quality glow.
There has to be a middle path between the idea of craft as a fun, non-threatening pastime you can pick up and do on the weekends, and the professional, old-school, highly priced craftsman.
I think you can find it on the internet, on blogs and forums and groups. The old-fashioned (and non-derogatory) use of the word ‘amateur’ springs to mind. Amateur comes from the words ‘to love’, did you know that? You probably did if you paid more attention in GCSE French than me. People doing something just for the love of it. Trying their best and learning all the time.
I don’t really think of myself as ‘crafty’, in the sense that I could turn my hand to anything and make a good job of it. There are a few things that I’ve tried that really capture my interest and have kept me hooked, and sewing is one of them.
Interestingly, for the tutorial segments of the Kirstie Allsopp show, the experts she brings in to do demonstrations (90% women – no craftsmen here) all specialise in one particular area, whether it’s floristry, machine embroidery, applique, screen-printing – whatever. It’s a worn-out axiom that practice makes perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Making is one of the most satisfying things you can do on this earth. Can you remember the first time you knitted a tiny garter stitch square, or sewed a wonky pair of pyjama bottoms, or drew a just-about-recognisable vase of flowers? It’s an insane rush! But if you leave it there you’re missing the best bit, which is learning. Dipping your toe in the water isn’t as good.
That’s what sometimes makes me leery of the idea of ‘Craftivism‘. I don’t like the idea of ‘craft’ as a magical sprinkle dust which you can use to add trendiness, or authenticity, or old-fashioned values to your particular project. Nobody’s set up ‘Designism’ because design is just too broad a concept that encompasses so many things. To my mind craft – making things, to put it simply – is also too broad to be narrowed down like that.
What do you think?