Research point – craft-produced textiles in society

For this research exercise I am asked why craft-produced textiles maintain a place in our society and am asked to look to the internet or the reading list for my answer but this is one area of which I have reasonable knowledge.

About 20 years ago I was lucky enough to get Princes Trust funding for my own small craft based business and the only reason I sadly had to close it was due to my divorce – it never made much money but it was something I desperately enjoyed. This degree is resurrecting the business but in a new way – I never quite gave it up but it was more ‘shelved’ or put into hibernation until the time was right again.  As a consequence though I have been following the textile world or craft world for a long time and have many designers I really love to follow and watch how they work.

Without consulting any references I feel I can reasonably answer this – not laziness through not researching but rather answering through personal knowledge and research over the internet over those intervening years.

Part of my background is quilting and this has evolved dramatically over the years – once only hand quilters were considered the true quilters and gradually machine quilting became accepted and over the past few years long-arm quilting has gained its place too.  The long-arm quilting although done by many incredibly skilled small businesses in some cases has become a commercial enterprise too – the individuals who enter the shows though have rightfully earned their rosettes through their skills.  However there is still a definitive place for the hand quilters and their skills are highly valued – the Amish community in the USA are world famous for their hand pieced and hand quilted works of art (and I call their quilts that very deliberately and deservedly too).

The first person to come to mind who crosses the divide between crafts person and commercial business is Jinny Beyer and American quilter and designer whose quilts are not hand quilted but she prefers hand piecing each one and can do so at a pace where many quilters can only machine stitch!  I know of Jinny Beyer through having a signed copy of one her books – it was my last gift to my late Mum who was a huge admirer and Jinny had signed a bookplate especially for her at my request.  Jinny Beyer has created a successful business which is now fully commercial but she also retains her roots and beliefs in hand piecing and quilting – I am particularly entranced by her tessellation designs.  Jinny is also extensively traveled to places such as India where she acquires both fabrics and ideas for designs from the weavers and embroiders of those locations.

I have not had chance to visit but there are a couple of local blacksmiths who have become crafts people in their particularly field in order to maintain earning a living and their hand crafted wares are much valued and sort after – the hand made gates of such crafts people are valued by many and perhaps this is the whole crux of why craft-produced textiles still have their place i.e. they are hand-made by real people not machines.

In the textile world it is very easy to go into any store and pick up quilts or clothing or printed, dyed, or basketry that is commercially made but it is much more valued for someone to be able to find something in what is an ever-increasing world to buy direct from a crafts-person something that has taken time to make and you know is not machine done.  A piece of textile whether clothing or another item that comes from a crafts person has a uniqueness about it that commercial based items do not – you could buy 100 of the same item in any large department shop but you can be sure of an individual handmade item will not be identical to any other item even if 10 or 20 are made as each will have its own foibles or tiny changes whether intentional or not as if each piece has its own small personality which develops at the hand of the maker.

I am a fan of quilt-art and also silk painting – there is a wonderful silk painter callled Nela Horvat and her batik work can only be done by hand if it is to retain its unique qualities.  Yes there are commercial batik fabrics and there are workers in far flung countries in the East who do incredible batik designs but an individual batik painted picture has something special about it – Nela’s work when I first saw it I  presumed was gutta but then found out it was batik and it adds a quality you cannot get in commercial work.  Perhaps ‘quality’ is another factor – a crafts person has spent time learning his or her craft and developed it to a high standard with some being self taught and others going to classes or doing degrees and studying extensively.

IMG_5415My other module which I am doing simultaneously is art history and in that you learn that craftsman became separate to artists and artists felt superior to them.   As architects too developed their skills they also separated themselves and often a crafts person would be employed to carry out the designs – I have just witnessed precisely that yesterday at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire where the architect Robert Adam designed the interior as meticulously designed the house – in 1798 .  The silk-wool wall coverings in the State Rooms were commissioned especially in 2008 to replace the originals which I believe were also especially made for the room.  In another room, the library, the plans apparently show that the room was literally measured and designed to within an inch and bookcases made to exact specifications to go in exact specified locations and the workmanship on each book case is exquisite (sadly I did not take a photograph of them yesterday as the whole Hall is quite overwhelming in its design but I will do a separate blog post too on certain aspects).

Obviously 1798 is a very different era to 2016 though and yet crafts people do still exist and as the course material suggests we all approach our tasks in different ways and with different personal philosophies.  Many simply want to make a living doing something they are passionate about – the craft is more important than earning a high salary.  Some may have concerns about the environment too as being a crafts person is very much a lifestyle choice.  However crafts people do have the benefit of being able to access many more different techniques and dyes or fabrics or yarns and that is making a huge difference to the types of hand made crafts becoming available – I personally have a huge Japanese interest and also am interested in art history and without the internet would not be able to pursue both and try and combine them in my future textiles life.

Through social media I have become aware of many more different crafts and artisans in the crafts field and there are two things the whole question of why craft-produced textiles maintain a place in our society – it is down to that word ‘quality’ and also ‘passion’ as so many buyers would rather spend that extra amount on a quality item and know it is down with the passion of loving a craft rather than being made by machine commercial or even in a factory where the workers are paid poorly or treated abominably and that ethical concern may be a larger factor than many people will admit even to themselves.

The last aspect though is that if you buy something from a crafts person that you like and that item is of a good quality then you are more likely to go back and ask for a commissioned piece that is totally unique and to your own requirements and many crafts people thrive due to these commissions.  Sorry – one extra last aspect – many crafts people are also teachers as they want to pass on their crafts and knowledge and particularly to the next generation to stop our much loved crafts dying out and this has been done from generation to generation and this is something no machine can replace as a machine does not have a soul.



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