A frivolous pastime?

Today, for one reason and another (I’ll spare you the details), I have been wondering whether all the time and energy that so many of us put into the creative crafts is well spent. In particular, I have been thinking about the place of countryside crafts in environmental education.

I do understand that, by many, crafts are considered the preserve of ladies of a certain age with plenty of money and time on their hands. To a certain extent this is true… just as everyone who goes fishing is a working class man and all football fans are young blokes who drink lager. Perhaps I am just being defensive about an activity that I love, but I genuinely do see craft (countryside or otherwise) as a valuable way to spend my time.

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

At Denmark Farm we run a whole range of courses at a whole range of levels: from felting for beginners to Phase 1 Survey for professional ecologists; from basketry to bat identification; from food growing to field survey techniques. We train all sorts of people to do all sorts of things, but I would be hard pressed to rank our educational activities in order of importance. A stool-making course does not train someone in woodland management, but by having consumers who demand locally produced wood for furniture-making, we are developing a ‘market’ that might lead to the preservation, or indeed planting, of more woods. Our felting courses emphasise the value of using British wools and understanding the qualities of the wool of different breeds of sheep. Since different species and breeds of livestock deliver different conservation outcomes because of, for example, grazing preference, bite site and hoofprint size, the availability of a variety of animals is key in delivering a range of biodiversity objectives.

In addition, simply engaging individuals with activities that link them to the value of the countryside and associated natural resources is important. Sadly, many of us are distanced from the natural world and never realise the connections between it and, for example, our food production. Recently, the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees has been in the news. Such insecticides, their manufacturers claim, are good for agricultural production. However, we now know of their devastating impact on pollinating insects and the knock-on effect of this on crops has severe implications for the production of food plants that rely on insect pollinators. By drawing people into the countryside in which all these interactions take place, we can introduce them to the issues and engender an interest and understanding. It is hard to feel invested in a system if you are completely disconnected from it.

Creating something useful

Creating something useful

Furthermore, by offering training in crafts, we build resilient communities in which individuals have the ability to deliver some of their own needs – whether that is producing charcoal, making clothes, encouraging pollinators by building a bee house or, even, earning a living. Encouraging creativity is valuable in itself. Once you know you can make a basket, what else might you be encouraged to try? Creating is a powerful activity and one thing can certainly lead to another. If we are always spoon-fed – with our food coming in a plastic package and our clothes on a hanger – we may never explore our potential to take control of the goods and products we rely on.

My experience of craft classes is that they are remarkably co-operative. Participants help each other, find shared experiences, make friendships and take new ideas forward. Sometimes the outcome is as simple as increased confidence and support, sometimes it’s the formation of a new community or a group project. It may even be something more dynamic – the phenomenon of craftivism is growing and can make powerful political statements as well delivering all sorts of practical benefits.

And finally, I cannot help but feel that the world is a better place with beautifully made things in it: items made with care and love, to be treasured and not simply discarded on a whim.

Sedate or seditious?

What does this say about me?

What does this say about me?

I’ve just come across a recent story from The Guardian with a very promising headline:

Knitting and needlework: relaxing hobbies or seditious activities?

But, on reading the article, you find quotes such as:

Wool shops now are places of luxury offering cappuccino while you browse designer, hand-dyed yarns. Knitting not as necessity, but art – for women who have just too much time on their hands.

and

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in crafts, partly fuelled by celebrity knitters such as the Duchess of Cambridge and Kate Moss

Ah, so much complete nonsense in one place! Although I have to say that the article is worth looking at for the comments at the end… us knitters are certainly capable of ‘prodding buttock’ with our pointy sticks! I was not aware particularly of ‘celebrity knitters’, unless you count people like Kaffe Fassett or Debbie Bliss, and our local knitting yarn shops would throw you out if you arrived with a coffee and they certainly wouldn’t offer you so much as a mug of instant!

I’m disappointed that our media continue to stereotype in the sort of way this article does – apparently in the past all knitters were grannies and now we are all idle middle-class women, probably knitting whilst reading Hello magazine. The only “seditious” knitters that the author could summon up were Mahatma Gandhi (who described himself as a weaver) and a few goddesses. No mention of Knit the City… or any of the other yarnstorming groups. No mention of Betsy Greer and the craftivism movement. Not even any reference to knitting for charity… not exactly seditious, but certainly generous. Nor was there a hint that many people earn a living from this ‘relaxing hobby’.

Ah well, that’s me getting wound up about the media again. I really should stop reading it… I know I’ll just toddle off and drive my Chelsea tractor to the local yarn shop, to sip designer coffee and fondle all the hand-dyed yarn…

… actually, no, I think I’ll write a blog post about yarn crafts and sedition… watch this space!

 

Calling time… and starter’s orders

Circle of friends on the left and the beginning of a shell stitch square on the right... both with yarn from Katy the Night Owl

Circle of friends on the left and the beginning of a shell stitch square on the right… both with yarn from Katy the Night Owl

It will soon be time to collect in the last of the masterpiece squares… a few more weeks and that will have to be the end. I’m expecting quite a few more to arrive before then, though. Yesterday I finished adding Flo’s squares, and I have a small collection of others that are edged but not yet stitched in. Plus, I keep getting inspired to make another square or two myself – currently a ‘circle of friends‘ square and a shell pattern square using yarn that Katy the Night Owl gave me on Wednesday (I wanted to mark our meeting within the masterpiece). Once all of the contributions and additions are stitched together I’ll be crocheting a border around the whole blanket to finish it off prettily… any suggestions for stitches to use gratefully received (I’ve made sure I have lots of yarn) as it’s not something that I have done before and I am dithering somewhat. If any squares do arrive after the blanket is completed, I’ll make a cushion to add to the set for extra comfort when I’m snuggled up thinking about my lovely friends who contributed.

The whole experience of creating a community work of art has been so inspiring to me, though, that I don’t want it to end. I will miss all the support and messages, not to mention the packages arriving through the mail. And so, as one lovely project ends, I have decided to embark on a new one… and you, dear readers, are amongst the first to know.

The current state of the masterpiece

The current state of the masterpiece

In order to raise some money for the wonderful Denmark Farm, I am going to encourage our local community, and those further afield who want to support us, to create some blankets to raffle off. We are going to have a series of ‘Cake and Craft’ afternoons (the first being on 23 April) where people can come along and make squares or embellishments. We’ll be skill-sharing, making friends and raising money all at the same time, as well as drinking tea and eating cake. For those who can’t actually come along, we’ll be accepting donations of yarn or additions to the blankets. I’m hoping that some of our local groups and organisations, like the WI, may want to contribute too. To make it all as inclusive as possible, rather than just asking for knitted and crochet squares (although these will be welcome), I’m planning an applique tree of life blanket too. This is inspired by Kate Chiconi’s quilt, but will be stitched onto a woolly blanket and will include felt, embroidery, knitting, crochet… anything the makers feel like. I’m still firming up details, but hopefully this new challenge will be another fun way to use crafts to draw together a community and have a positive impact on the world… ah, yes, craftivism again.

Circle of friends

Received this morning!

Received this morning!

My masterpiece is reminding me of the variety of good friends I have. Two squares arrived today – one from Mrs Robinson, who has been my friend since 1985 and one from Snuffkin, who I first met face-to-face less than a year ago. Both squares had lovely pieces of writing to go with them too. So far, all the squares are from the UK, but I’m very excited that some will be coming from overseas… it just goes to show how the internet really does turn us into one big community.

My most recent creations... and one WIP

My most recent creations… and one WIP

One of the nicest things about this project  is that, unlike interaction via the internet, I have something tangible. I am able to touch something that my friend touched – that they worked to create. When I hold one of the squares in my hand, I feel a physical connection to the person who made it. I particularly like the fact that, the yarn is linked to the maker too – left over form another project or, like Snuffkin’s cream-coloured square, created from the wool of sheep nurtured by the person who sent it… that’s just magic! I also like the personal touches – a little patch of darning, or the use of my favourite colour (purple).

So, a big thank-you to all of you who have decided to contribute… no rush, I’m planning to construct the blanket in April. And if you want to make your own blogging blanket, I’d be happy to reciprocate. This is craftivism in action – bringing us together as a community through creativity. And if you don’t knit or crochet, what about sharing seeds, or fabric, or books as well as words?

Oh my!

Just a short post today so say thank you for all the offers of squares (here, on Facebook and in person)… I’m going to have a fantastic blanket. I had a message from one friend this morning to tell me that she had already made her square, but I know other people are thinking hard about the yarn and design.

I had to make at least one that's snail-themed!

I had to make at least one that’s snail-themed!

It looks like the final masterpiece will include squares from people who have taught me and whom I have taught, fellow diploma apprentices, friends who live close by, friends who live far away, friends old and new and (I’m hoping) some of my family. I have been asked about yarns and the answer is, I don’t mind (so far I have used a whole variety) but if you use something special or for a particular reason, do explain it in your note. As far as designs go, I don’t mind either as long as it’s 15cm square, and it doesn’t matter if different people’s squares are similar because each one will be special. As for timing – any time in the next few months will be great (apparently lots of people are busy round about now… I can’t imagine why!)

I am conscious, however, that not all of my friends can knit or crochet, so if that’s you, but you would like to contribute something to the project, I would love something in writing to put in my scrapbook… ideally something handwritten so it’s personal.

So, thank you again for all the offers… when you are done, send me an e-mail and I’ll let you have my address.

Making the world a better place

I have recently added a new word to my lexicon: CRAFTIVISM. It’s quite nice, isn’t it? A combination of craft and activism, meaning:

a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite (Betsy Greer)

It’s not just about beautifying your surroundings, like yarnstorming (yarn bombing), nor is it simply about using your craft skills to create an object that delivers a direct political statement, such as a strand of bunting with words on it; it’s about any craft activity that makes the world a better place.

A charitable donation: coats I knitted to support a dog rescue centre

A charitable donation: dog coats I knitted to support an animal rescue centre

Through activities such as teaching knitting lessons, crocheting hats for the less fortunate, and sewing blankets for abandoned animals, craftivism allows for creativity to expand previous boundaries and enter the arena of activism… instead of using solely one’s voice to advocate political viewpoints, one could use their creativity.

How fantastic is that? The craftivism.com web site goes on to say:

In a world that was growing increasingly large and unfamiliar, craftivism fought to bring back the personal into our daily lives to replace some of the mass produced. In promoting the idea that people can use their own creativity to improve the world, craftivism allows those who wish to voice their opinions and support their causes the chance to do just that…but without chanting or banner waving and at their own pace.

Building community by crafting together

Building community by crafting together

I’m smitten by the fact that what I do (what lots of us do) has a name. I don’t think that this makes it any more valid, but it does feel like an acknowledgement and delivers a sense of community. I’ve written before about civil disobedience through creativity and the small actions we can take to make a big difference, and now I discover it has a name. I’m delighted that some many things, from my green bath puffs to writing about the ethics of knitting yarns are part of this bigger movement and that others too think we are making a difference.

So, what are you going to do this week that could be considered ‘craftivism’?

%d bloggers like this: