Friday, December 14, 2007

The Hand Crafted Object

Today's posting by Sharon B. on her blog In a Minute Ago, see sidebar link, talks about the possible need for a philosophy of celebrating the hand crafted object. This is very thought provoking. I had always thought that "hand crafted" had a place in the scheme of things. Painting, drawing, sculpture and handmade pottery and ceramics are looked upon as "art" whereas embroidery, lace making, knitting, beading and associated needle arts are always considered "craft". Where does paper tole, cardmaking, collage (ooh, that one can be either, can't it?) fit in? Then there is free machine embroidery, computer embroidery, quilting (hand and machine) and patchwork (again hand and machine)? What about costuming, my area of particular interest, it is art AND craft at the same time?

I think I should elaborate a little on my own celebration of "hand made". I started sewing in the 1960's at a time when the Australian primary school system still taught sewing and embroidery. In kindergarten I did a canvas embroidered teapot stand, which I still have. My first sewing project was a pair of handsewn baby doll pyjamas, I can still picture them. They were made from a white glazed cotton fabric with a small flower print, Mum must have had it in her stash because she was also a dressmaker, as were both my Grandmothers. I distinctly remember having to model the bloomer pants to the class, they were very stiff and stuck out like a pair of Tudor mens breeches, and I don't think I ever actually wore them. We also made a traycloth from head cloth, a bit like homespun but a lower thread count, and an apron.

Fast forward to year 10, or 4th form as it was known. I took Needlework as my elective and learnt patternmaking, embroidery and dressmaking. My major work was an Assissi embroidered mat, I still have it somewhere, and a needlework bag with butterflies embroidered in satin stitch. If I recall, I chose a mauve colour scheme even then, my taste hasn't changed one bit!!

When my children were growing up I continued to sew for them until "homemade" wasn't cool anymore. I continued to sew for clients to earn a little "pin money" and took TAFE courses to update my skills. I also learnt floral art which has come in very handy over the years, especially when I decided to specialise in wedding and formal wear for 15 years. I could provide a total wedding package except the cake and cars! Then I decided to concentrate on costuming and that is where my attention to detail and handwork skills really bore fruit. All the while I was handknitting, crocheting and dabbling in a little embroidery.

Then in 1998 I finally decided to join the Embroiderers' Guild of NSW and quickly signed up for Basic and then the Intermediate Embroidery Courses. I also took a Home Study course in Traditional Embroidery, and did lots of workshops. So I have always appreciated the "hand crafted" and since I joined the Lace Guild a while ago even more so. Lacemaking is a SLOW process, best not hurried as "reverse lace making" is not simple, but the finished article is worth the wait. I also have many WISP's ("work in slow progress")at home at present. One particular item is worth mentioning in detail.

The photo shows my hand pieced quilt top, at least it will be a quilt top when I make another 100 stars from little diamonds, and then the hexagons from plain fabrics which surround the stars. The stars are hand pieced over papers, well old greeting cards and pages from pattern catalogues, and there should be 200 different fabrics all told. The main problem now is that I've been making it since 2002 and I'm not sure I like it anymore. I think it's a bit "wishy washy", now that's a great technical term isn't it, it lacks pizzaz. I think I'll need to find a few stronger colours to scatter among the lighter florals. I've been collecting the fabrics at craft shows, shops and from friends for a very long time, trying to keep to the old fashioned florals, and avoiding stripes. Perhaps I need to rethink the colour scheme a bit, because the Pioneer Braid, see post below, I started from some of the leftover scraps has more life in it than this Starry Starry Night from APQ V. 9 no. 4

Since I joined Yahoo groups, I've become more aware of the worldwide community of needle workers and other hand crafters. I think there has always been a "hand made movement", remember Tonia Todman's segments on TV where she showed us how to make Chrismtas bon bon's from cardboard tubes and fancy paper? Well on TV this week there was another girl doing exactly that, so it seems "hand made" is trendy again. There are nearly 1000 members of the Australian Lace Guild and around 2000 in the NSW Embroiderers' Guild including around 230 children so the future of hand made lace and needle work is looking pretty bright. I think that some people have always celebrated the hand made, it's just that the pace of modern life sometimes obscures the fact.

I find it quite interesting in the fashion world that the "haute couture" garment, which is often handsewn and certainly hand finished and often features hand made trims, is so widely coveted and celebrated. In the film and theatre scene, hand made is also celebrated. You only have to look at the accolades and even Oscars given to Lord of the Rings, Priscilla and Strictly Ballroom to name a few. These films all featured unique costume creations, often hand assembled and finished and real works of art in their own right. Then there is the reproduction historical costume fraternity, both for re-enactment and historic house guides, as well as for personal adornment. There is also quite a large "fan" area, for want of a better word, where fans of a particular show or story make a costume and wear it. Whether it's a fur clad Wookie going to a Star Wars screening, a Gothic Lolita going to a picnic, or a Pirate Wench going to Pirates of the Caribbean screening by public transport (alright, confession time, I really did that!) it is yet more evidence of the creative mind at work. And look at the accolades that claymation movies get, remember Wallace and Grommit, and Chicken Run? These movies featured hand made clay figures which were filmed one step at a time over several years!!

Sharon's post certainly made my think today, as she does everyday, but this topic is especially relevant to me, so if you have read this far, well done, and I'd like to hear your thoughts too.


Margaret said...

Good morning (at least here in VA) Christine,
I found Sharon's posting interesting as well. Since my main focus is needlework, I've always been on the fence when it comes to needlework kits, but as time goes on, I'm starting to think that whatever we create has value as art. The definition of art should expand with craft just being a subset of art that covers the more practical output.
Of course, being in medcial librarianship, I can't help but bring up the fact that some universities and colleges used to have Medical Arts departments. Not so much now though.
Obviously the need to create is part of human nature and everyone should be encouraged.

Paula said...

Hi Christine I agree -Im going to write more in my blog - The beauty of Life. The art vs craft thing bugs me. Paula

Jane said...

Hm, yes, I too think it's interesting that 'craft' is often seen as less than 'art', not really sure why this should be. Often people who produce 'crafts' have studied hard and long to learn their skills. Interestingly from what I've learned from my Japanese embroidery studies this distinction doesn't exist in Japan, everthing is art regardless of it's format. This is obviously a cultural thing because also, as far as I know, Japan is the only country to have artists classed as 'Living National Treasures'. These artists can be male, female, sword makers, weavers, embroiderers, painters, etc.
Maybe we should start a movement to replace the word craft with art!!