Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Slow Cloth debate

There’s a discussion going on at Sharon B's In a Minute Ago that started when she read a post on Red Thread Studio about Slow Cloth.

The Red Thread post made Sharon think about how much time is spent on ‘traditional’ crafts and how many ‘quick and easy projects’ are being sold and advertised and our attitudes to both.

You’ll see, if follow the link to Sharon's post, that thinking about this lead her in several directions - and I followed! I’m not a quilter, crazy or otherwise, but even so, much of the comment that followed on from Sharon’s post is still relevant to me.

Machine versus hand. Just lately, I’ve got two kinds of project on the go. Creative, contemporary embroidery and cloth doll making.

I produce my arts and crafts by both hand and machine. I don’t see that using today’s exciting tools, methods and materials lessens the value of my efforts or my enjoyment of the process in any way, in fact I think it enhances it. I use the sewing machine to make the bodies of the dolls I make, because not only is it quicker, it also makes for stronger seams. I use pre-programmed machine stitches, a needle punching machine, a soldering iron and a heat gun in addition to hand embroidery to add texture to pieces of work. I look at the work produced by today’s ‘experimental machine embroiderers’ (the late and sorely missed Val Campbell-Harding, Maggie Grey, Margaret Beale, Gwen Hedley spring to mind straight away) and ‘modern’ doll makers like Patti Culea – they also spend many, many hours on a piece of work using a variety of ‘traditional’ hand work and ‘modern’ machines, tools and techniques. I do like to have a piece of hand embroidery on the go at all times though, ready to pick up at odd moments. I find it very relaxing just to sit hand stitching sometimes, and hand work is very portable, you can do it almost anywhere!

Art versus craft. That’s an old chestnut, very relevant to me right now. I’ve just joined the Creative Co-operative, a group formed to establish a supportive community and network for all creative people in the locality. Anyone can join. You don’t need any formal qualifications, just a love and enjoyment of your particular creative activity. The co-operative has been holding monthly artists and crafts markets for a while, and just before I joined voted to separate the art from the craft. Because I work in fabric, or textiles, what I produce is generally considered to be craft. But some of my contemporary embroidery pieces, 3d items and character or art dolls are much closer to art and really wouldn't fit comfortably into a designated craft market. Not everyone would agree with that, however, and some people may also think that my work should be cheaper because it is not done on paper, canvas or even hardboard. Bit of a dilemma. Thankfully, currently I’m being encouraged to have a ‘foot in both camps’.

Craftsman versus crafter. I think I’m a craftsman, or craftsperson if you prefer. I’ve worked and studied to perfect what I do, and I’m still learning. I take great care, put a lot of thought and a great deal of love and affection into the things that I make. Everything I make is unique and original to me. I take care in selecting the materials and techniques that I use; is it safe, fit for purpose and will it last? To be a craftsman used to mean studying, serving an apprenticeship, being accepted into a guild. (From my point of view, I needed to learn how to use a simple swing needle sewing machine properly before I could successfully tackle machine embroidery, for example.) It was something to aim at. But language changes and evolves. Now I see TV shows like ‘Create and Craft’ with card making, teabag folding and scrapbooking using ready made cut-outs and stick-ons. People come to a craft fair now and they expect to see the kinds of ‘craft’ goods and ‘gifts’ you can buy in High Street chains, like the ‘hand made cards’ from a well-known bookstore, sold much cheaper. A huge industry has sprung up catering for ‘crafters’. I don’t think that is the same thing as a ‘craftsman’, but now I’m thinking of calling myself an ‘artisan’ to highlight the difference.

The value of real craft work. Here’s an extract from the aims of the Creative Co-operative:

We aim to promote awareness of the value of art, crafts and creative pursuits, the time and care it takes, in addition to the cost of materials. Many people don’t know the difference in value between hand made and home made or individually created items and mass production.
Our arts and crafts are fighting against a rising tide of cheap imports and mass produced 'craft' items, which are 'hand made' but in a production line style by one person doing the same thing over and over. This has nothing to do with creativity.

(As the old saying goes) I wish I had a pound for each time someone has said to me “Oh, that’s nice. I’d like one of those but they cost a fortune in the shops. Would you make me one, I’ll pay for the material?"


Anonymous said...

Great post.Sharon certainly gets us thinking! I have just posted a rant on my blog
about art and craft which you may be interested in. I agree completely about mass produced 'craft'.

coral-seas said...

A very thoughtful and considered response.


Downunderdale said...

I couldn't agree more - i get people askign if I would make something or sell what I have made and my response these days is 'you couldn't afford me or my charges'. For too long we have undervalued ourselves and we don't have to justify anything. Did anyone ever ask if Mozart's music was worth it???

Gina E. said...

Excellent post, Kay susan - a lot of food for thought. Like everyone else here, I only make things for others as gifts - not as jobs for payment. I've done that once for the EGV, and even though the $100 was useful, I could never earn a living from stitching! Hope you have a great Christmas, and best wishes for 2008.