On the value of craft

If you frequent various social media outlets on a regular basis you probably will have seen this article from The Observer causing a bit of a stir amongst the online knitting community.

If you can’t be bothered to read the whole article (and I don’t blame you – it’s almost guaranteed to raise your hackles) here’s a quick summary of the main points:

  • Knitting used to be a necessity.  Now it isn’t.

Fair enough, knitting used to be cheaper than buying ready made clothes, so being able to knit and sew was an important skill.  Now high street bought clothes are cheaper to buy than knitting or sewing your own, so you don’t have to.

  • Once knitting wasn’t a necessity it was an activity only practised by grannies.  To quote the article, knitting is:

old-fashioned and something you did if you were a little frail and didn’t get out much

Oh good, a well worn stereotype.  Knitting is just for grannies!  Are you feeling cross yet?  Well brace yourself, we’re not finished!

  • Knitting has been revived thanks in part to celebrities who knit, such as Kate Moss and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Of course, we’re all shallow little girls who want to do whatever Princesses and models do!  I started knitting nearly eight years ago, not because of celebrities or anything like that, but because when I was a child I’d had a knitting kit with appalling instructions and it had always beaten me.  I was quite poorly at the time (and no longer a child) and in some ways life had beaten me, through no fault of my own.  So I thought maybe I can conquer this!  Then I will have done something worthwhile!  With the help of books (not the internet) I taught myself.  At the time I had no idea that knitting would help me rebuild my life like it has done, but I got addicted and it just went from there.  (The rest is another story for another time.)

I’d also like to point out that knitting has been in a revival for the past decade, not just the past week, and perhaps this is more likely to be down to the internet and social media (Ravelry and it’s 4 million members anyone?) which has improved access to patterns, yarns and information and made solving your knitting problems easier than ever before (YouTube is a godsend if you’re stuck with a technique).

Perhaps handknits coming back into fashion also plays a role.  Knitting patterns are so much more fashion led now than ever before and all yarn companies and magazines study fashion trends in both garment styles and yarn colours and textures when launching their new ranges.

But of course knitting is basically a waste of time because to quote the article again:

Needlecraft, it seems, is just not relevant to the reality of modern women’s lives.

If that wasn’t enough, the article goes on to even more bizarre territory:

  •  Needlecraft is mentioned in Greek mythology, but according to myths, legends and fairytales, spinners are power crazed and evil.

What?  How is this relevant?

  • Knitting is empowering and Ghandi knitted, spun and wove.

Is this included for balance after the evil fairytale spinners?

  • Knitting is subversive

This statement is not qualified.

So to sum up, according to this article, knitting isn’t something anyone needs to do, it’s old fashioned and mainly practised by grannies, if you’re not a granny, you must be knitting because celebrities knit, because knitting is irrelevant, the stuff of myth, legend and fairy stories but subversive all at the same time.  You know the worst thing?  This article was supposedly written by a knitter.

Personally I think these attitudes and poorly written articles are all part of wider perception that crafts in general are unimportant, outdated, a waste of time, or produce silly and badly made things that nobody wants.

But why are crafts not valued?  I don’t think I have a definitive answer to that.

But I do have a few thoughts on what might contribute to this view.

Maybe we have to look to the experience of crafts that non-crafters have.  When do all of us make things?  At school, I suppose, and being inexperienced in making, often the products of school crafting are not as well executed as they might be.  But you’re just learning so that’s fine and only to be expected.

We all have to start somewhere and which of us can honestly say that our first attempts at knitting were perfect?  Certainly not me!  My first piece of knitting had very loose stitches at the start and very tight stitches at the end and all the stitches were knitted through the back of the loop!

I present exhibit A, my first ever piece of knitting:

20140416-205825.jpg

The only way to become proficient at something is practice.  There is no shortcut to skill and if you only try a particular craft once you never have the opportunity to improve and improving your skills is very rewarding.

Now for exhibit B: Look what I can design and make now!

Avocetta Capelet

Avocetta (Photograph Copyright Dam Walmsley for Practical Publishing 2013)

 

The other common experience of knitting in particular is the unwanted Christmas jumper, knitted by the well meaning elderly relative who didn’t realise that you wouldn’t like it.  I can’t say that this was something I experienced myself, but lazy journalism does tend to refer to this quite often when mentioning knitting so I suppose we have to assume that it is one of the things that springs to mind when knitting is mentioned (think Bridget Jones’ Diary).  See my guide to gift knitting to avoid disappointment and the unwanted Christmas knit!

If these are the only things someone associates with craft, is it any wonder that it is undervalued?  If you’ve never spent the hours, days, weeks or even sometimes months it takes to make a sweater (hideously Christmassy or otherwise), or spent even longer getting good enough to attempt that sweater in the first place, you won’t be able to see why paying £20 at a craft fair for an adult sweater is pitifully inadequate.  (Of course this leads into the free pattern debate, but I don’t want to open that particular can of worms right now.)

But is the attitude to crafts improving?  Certainly in some areas of the media I think.  The Great British Sewing Bee, for example presents sewing as a worthwhile activity that takes time, patience and skill, but rather than present the competition in an X-Factor style, the BBC has chosen to focus on the enjoyment and camaraderie of the craft, the joy of learning new skills and improving.  All the sewers gain from the experience, which is wonderful.  I’d love the media to view more crafts in this way.

Phew!  What a long post!  I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’re a crafter or not.  I’m sure there’s more I could say on the subject and I certainly can’t claim to have covered everything, but I hope I’ve been able to set the record straight a little.

For more insight and opinions on the Observer article, check out the hashtag #ANDknitting on twitter set up in response to the article and the assertion that knitters have too much time on their hands.  There are some really well thought out blog posts to be found and much better written than the original piece, especially this and this.

Next time I’ll have a new design to show you 🙂 along with the story behind it!

Lottie x