Sunday, 10 March 2013

the c word...

No, not THAT c word, and not 'cancer', and not even 'community' (my personal hated c word when used to describe an almost entirely disparate group of people): I'm on about a c word that should be positive, but increasingly isn't – craft.

Time for a brief, but hearfelt, rant – a rantette possibly.

I work as a freelance project manager and editor specialising in illustrated craft books, and I consider myself lucky in that I love my job and am always busy. More often than not I admire the skills of the authors I work with, and am inspired by their creativity and their enthusiasm for what they do. For many of them it's a struggle to balance working as they want to with the need to eat and put a roof over their heads, and I'm often impressed and moved by the extent of their commitment to their art and craft. And the publishers I work for battle onward in the face of free products on the Web (not that there is anything wrong with many of those) and the global recession (which has hit craft books at every level, from volatile currency markets making sales into foreign countries ever more difficult, to the crafter who's stopped buying books in order to keep feeding their family), to produce gorgeous and informative books. A good-looking, well-written book takes a team of variously skilled people and thousands and thousands of pounds to produce, something that people who decide to self-publish usually start to realise quite early on in the process of making their book. But I'm getting distracted here; the nature of publishing isn't the point of this rantette (we can come back to it another day; along with written English...).

This rant is supposed to be about the nature of craft; and why it's become a bit of a dodgy word. Can I direct you to Cassandra Ellis who has summed up this issue very neatly for me: 'I worry that craft and craftmanship are sliding further and further apart...' (do read her post in full, it's thought-provoking; and her book is lovely). I work in crafts, and I worry about this slide, too. Now, I'm not saying that the only good aesthetic is one that involves perfection, or that anyone should be embarrassed by early attempts at making anything: seriously, we all start somewhere and having a go at something is worthwhile in itself. But can't we do the best we can with the skills, time and materials we have? Can't we strive for excellence? What's wrong with trying hard? (Okay, the last question isn't simple if you apply it to life as a whole – though still a good question, I think – but let's not get distracted in that direction...).

Do you think we can reclaim the c word? I'm not always a fan of reclaiming words (really don't understand the desire/possibility of 'reclaiming' the word 'slut' – as in slut walk – as it IS pejorative, though the principles of the walks are certainly positive; but that's another distraction from the rant in hand...), but for centuries craftswomen and craftsmen were respected for their skills as well as their creativity; can't we make the effort to keep that true today? Whether you are spinning and dying your own yarns to create a unique Fair Isle jumper, or putting together a last-minute birthday card from ready-made bits and bobs, can we steer away from 'that'll do', and aim for 'that's the best I can do'?

What do you think?


  1. It's a very interesting debate. As craft becomes trendy we are seeing it becoming mass marketed, there are huge out of town stores (brand to remain nameless) selling mass produced, ready to make crafts. It feels like the creativity in craft is disappearing.

    Alongside the mass crafting market we are also seeing a need to consume more at a low price which I think is causing the demise of our crafters, people simply are not prepared to pay the price associated in making a one off piece when you can purchase a mass produced item for a fraction of the price.

    Interesting blog - looking forward to reading more (I was in your patchwork class on Thursday!)

    1. I do find it odd when people really don't see a difference between a beautifully hand-made item in luxurious fibres and a shoddily finished acrylic piece: they quite honestly seem to see no difference other than the price tag. Sigh... Onwards. I'm glad you had a good day at the show; what sewing machine did you buy?

  2. Agreed, but I also think the publishing industry is partly responsible. Obviously they need to make books that sell, but all too often books appeal to the lowest common denominator and readers who just want to knock out a quick gift by slavishly following a project. If the bar was set higher, I think the reader would aim higher. I guess what I'm saying is that it would be great to see more complex project books that really challenge and improve the reader's skill set as well as emphasising the importance of doing things well.


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