The Importance of Craft and Being a Craftsperson Series - Part 1
'Technically the word 'textiles' which comes to us from the Latin 'texere', 'to weave', refers exclusively to woven cloth.' (Barber, 1991) However now it is used as a more general term referring to anything fiber and cloth related. This series will cover the craft perspective of, Textiles specifically, but also general production throughout the craft world. The ideas of skill and craftsmenship and how the hierarchy of the artisan has changed as the world has become so reliant on technology, mass production and consumption.
As a craftsperson myself, theses are subjects that are close to my heart, and the attitude the general public have towards hand crafted items and the skilled people who create them is obviously relevent and important to me and the future of my business.
The first few parts of this series will show how important crafts are to us as a culture, how much of a srength it is in the UK and give a brief overview of textiles and craft in the UK and the changes to the life of a craftsmen and the machines which replaced their jobs during the industrial revolution. I will talk about how the industrial revolution not only effected the craftsman's job roles and living conditions, but the whole country, in the way we live our everyday lives, and how that has changed the quality of the consumable products we surround ourselves with. I will explore the idea of production becoming impersonal alongside mechanization of the process, what it means to be an artisan and whether the machine can become a part of the craft scene. Ill also be getting the views from fellow craftspeople in a variety of disciplines, as well as craft enthusiasts.
This series is largely inspired by my dissertation from University. It's something I'm still very passionate about, is at the heart of my own busness, and I would like to explore it further. So i thought I'd share that process with you lovely people and we will see where it leads.
The Rise and Fall of Craft and Textiles
'Crafts have always been a strength of this country.' (Suri, 2011:8)
As a whole, Britain has been, and still is an important and influential country within the world of art, craft and design. Many have said that no other country does the education side of the creative world like we do. You only have to look at the amount of international students we get in our creative universities to see how important the UK is to this particular industry.
Unlike other countries we have specific universities and colleges to teach, and nurture the young creative wanting to refine their abilities and learn a professional approach to their creative outlet, making it into a career prospect rather than just a hobby to pass the time. We boast gallery upon gallery, and even museums showing our countries creative history, as well as its present and future, with ever changing exhibitions that are almost impossible to keep on top of, places like the Victoria and Albert Museum, the various Tate galleries accros the country and The Design Museum to name just a few.
One of the oldest, and biggest crafts in the country is Textiles.
'The textiles industry, in fact, is older than pottery and perhaps even agriculture and stock-breeding and it pobably consumed far more hours of labor per year.' (Barber, 1991:4)
Textiles was being produced in Britian as early as pre-historic times, though there isn't much, if anything to show for it due to the unfortunate fact of its quick decay unless it was lucky enough to end up in anaerobic conditions. The earliest evidence of woven cloth is from the neolithic period. This shows that by this point man had not only learnt how to produce a piece of fabric, but they had also worked out the procedures it would take to get to tht point, i.e. how to combine fibres to produce yarn. To me, this makes it seem like the creation of cloth is something so instinctive to us as humans, and something that has become a vital part of our everyday lives.
'Craft is intrinsic to what it is to be human.' (Adamson, 2013:13) For the basic human needs of warmth, shelter and clothing, the creation of textiles is elemental, as much as hunting and preparing food is.
The status England has for Textiles is not just a recent thing, 'England early had a reputation for embroidery and the production of woven fabrics in which linen and wool were the cheif materials used.' (Glazier, 1923:91) With evidence of cloth found so early on in human history, we gained a positive reputation early on. The basic need progressed and grew into an industry. 'In 14th Century mention is made of the fine woolen cloths of Bath, Worcester, and Norwich; at that period these towns had reached a considerable degree of importance in the production of textiles fabric.' (Glazier, 1923:91)
Before the 19th Century, during what has been called 'the golden age' of weaving, the story
seemed very pleasant. Memories of weaver's cottages filled with happiness and contentment with the weavers themselves living peacefully and rarely being the members of public asking the parish for relief. (Thompson, 1960:269) Once the first Industrial Revolution reached its peak in the late 18th, early 19th century the story being told was very different, the changes within this country were almost unthinkable, in both good and bad ways. As a positive, the appearance of factories and the railways created a huge influx in the amount of jobs available to the general public. Consumable items that once took a lot longer to produce, find access to, or afford would be on everyone's doorsteps, in next to no time and much cheaper than before. The changes in technology came in thick and fast, revolutionizing the way items were made.
This is were the skilled craftsman suffered; 'What had been an undifferentiated world of making, in which artistisans enjoyed relatively high status within a broader continuum of professional trades, was carved into two, with craftspeople usually relegated to a positon of inferiority.' (Adamson, 2013:13) Forced either to continue their self employed status in a village or small town of houses once thought of as beautiful, tidy happy places that 'were now a mass of filth and misery' (Thompson, 1960: 269) enduring the lack of work coming in as everyone began to buy the mass produced products as apposed to the hand crafted items. 'Artisans were drummed out of work by machines, with tragic consequences both for the experience of the makers themselves and the quality of the things they produced.' (Adamson, 2013:15) They could also become outworkers; maintainting a poor artisan status (Thompson, 1980:260), having ' Previously worked for himself in his own house with his own tools had become nothing more than a tenant, paying rent for the use of tools which no longer belonged to him.' (Mantoux, 1961:36) Or they would have to go and work in the factories, or mills for textile specific craftsmen, where their specialist knowledge and talent was wasted, overseeing a machine that attempts to create what they do in a fraction of the time.
There wasn't even any need to have the specialized knowledge in a factory. To control the
production system they deskilled workers, often filling the lesser job positions with unskilled, uneducated children. 'From the early twentieth century craft was assumed to be dependent on tradition' (Rowly, 1999:1) Guilds regulated and protected the production. It was not a capitalist economy. For many, at that time, the machine was a sign of positivity, of growth, the future; and that is what the general public were convinced to believe. Craft, being so reliant on tradition and old-fashioned 'rules' was a sign of the past. Looking to the past, means a restriction on new ideas and potentially, progression.
By the 20th Century, the constant easy access to consumable goods had become quite ordinary, and a part of everyday life more and more, the craftsmen fell into the peripheries along with it. The constant mass production and consumption is what, over time, created the throw away culture we have become part of without even realizing. 'Artisan traditions and hand technologies remain peripheral to the focal concerns'. (Rowly. 1999:4) Mass media, mass production and mass consumption are absolute commonplace in today's world.
However in the last five to ten years there seems to have been a gradual resurgence in the craft world, 'Industrialization did not cause the disappearance of crafts nor did scientific thinking substitute for myth; they kept on functioning side by side.' (Rowly, 1999:102) Crafts continued to be kept alive in special places of education or practice so maybe craft didnt disappear, but over all, it certainly became less visable in consumer culture. I have noticed recent changes to craft coming back to the forefront more. More and more magazines, books and TV programs such as 'The Victorian Hose of Arts and Crafts' are brought out and advertised in more popular spaces. Also people show more of an interst in what I do, personally and how I came about the craft. 'As a culture, we no longer know about textiles in detail.' (Barber. 1991:5) More craft based selling websites are becoming available, it's as if people are looking for a sanctuary from the world of mass production. Searching for that quality, for a product that is going to last them forever instead of them replacing it a few months down the line.
I'm going to leave it there for now.
Next time im going to talk about depersonalization and what it means to be an Artisan.
I hope youve enjyed reading the first of my series of craft blogs, please feel free to comment with your thoughts - maybe ill add it in to a later post.
Bye for now, Charlotte x