This book is to crafts people what a dictionary is to a writer, a very useful tool, full of vital information. It reminds me of the 1970’s Whole earth catalogue and the 1980’s John Seymour National Trust book ‘Forgotten Household Crafts’. This is a book for the twenty first century. It is concise and engaging and not at all ‘worthy’.
People love to make things constantly and compulsively. It seems we just can’t help ourselves. As the author Sally says ‘Whether it’s early humans smashing cobbles into cutting tools or Napoleonic sailors carving miniature ships from scavenged bones, the drive to create is one of our most defining and cherished traits. But humans are also pragmatic. They like to create things with a purpose, a use.’ Throughout history, people have invented, perfected and shared these different techniques – from making paper to weaving baskets – so that today, we have a world culture that’s rich with craft in all its different forms.
This is a book that celebrates the history, breadth and skill of crafts and the people who practice them. One idea about craft is that the intention is different from, say, art. With art, the maker usually wants to say something abstract or meaningful with the object he or she is producing. The object’s use is secondary. With craft, it’s usually the other way round. The maker is setting out to craft something functional and useful, first and foremost, whether it’s a pot, a rug or a horseshoe.
Craft skills are also predominantly manual. Crafters make things by hand. This careful handcrafting gives objects their other essential quality – uniqueness. While crafters can produce objects that look very similar – a potter can produce thousands of a single plate design – each is subtly different.
DOES CRAFT MATTER?
As Sally says ‘On a personal level, the process of being creative and making something by hand involves using parts of my brain that other work can’t reach. When you craft something, there’s an intimate conversation that goes on between brain, eyes, body and hands, an exchange that’s often totally instinctive and unselfconscious. You can lose hours, without noticing it; it’s like meditating without trying. When you make things by hand, there’s also dialogue between you and the materials. All your senses are brought into play. The statistics are hugely encouraging. Not only is craft cool – crafters are younger than the average population – but when it comes to gender, craft is increasingly blind. Half of all painters, illustrators, wood-crafters are men. And they also make up a third of all knitters. In the same breath, women are increasingly taking up traditionally male craft occupations, becoming blacksmiths, wood workers, bookbinders and printers.’
According to a recent craft council report : Craft can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness and even dementia, according to research. Craft courses have been prescribed to patients since the dawn of occupational therapy in the late 19thcentury, with basketry used to relieve anxiety and physical ailments in soldiers during the first-world war.
Research published by University College London’s MARCH mental health network – formed in 2018, with members including the Crafts Council and the Museums Association shows that engaging with the visual arts can reduce reported anxiety, and that visiting museums can protect against dementia’s development. ‘Cultural activities encourage gentle movement, reduce social isolation, and lower inflammation and stress hormones such as cortisol,’ says the report’s author, Dr Daisy Fancourt. ‘The arts are linked with dopamine release, which encourages cognitive flexibility, and they reduce our risk of dementia.’ The book covers makers spaces, buying and displaying craft, and a chapter on endangered crafts. While lots of crafts are in rude health, there are a significant number of traditional skills that are in danger of disappearing altogether. Many of these crafts are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old, and make up the fabric of our material culture. From dry stone walls to clog making, basket weaving to coach building, lots of these time honoured crafts are at risk of dying out due to lack of apprentices coming into the trade or the effect of cheaper, mass-produced goods.’ Crafted is so on trend, and at last the government has decided to do something about the lack of apprenticeships.
The book covers the following disciplines and all the sub divisions within them. Paper, pen and print, textiles, cloth and leather, wood willow and nature, pottery glass and stone, metal. There is a very useful section on craft organisations and a section on poisons used in crafts.
Beautifully illustrated by Louise Lockhart, this is certainly a book that earns its position on my book shelf.
Crafted – A Compendium of Crafts, New, Old and Forgotten by Sally Coulthard. Published by Quadrille and imprint of Hardie Grant. Buy HERE.
Review: Juliet Bawden