Craftivism

Published on May 11th, 2009 | by Kelly Rand

9

Crafting Knowledge, An Endangered Species?

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There’s been some interesting thoughts floating around the internet about rural, tacit and generational knowledge that we as a species are losing.

It seems strange to think that we could lose knowledge, especially in today’s world of information on demand, but if you think about it, certain skills and know how are hard to come by.

At the end of 2008, over one half of the world’s population lived in urban areas. Urban lifestyles come with their own characteristics and culture and so do rural lifestyles. Urban populations don’t have ready access to many of the experiences as rural populations do. General knowledge of where our food comes from for example, the simple act of gardening, knowing the planting seasons, identifying plants and knowing when to harvest; having the understanding of why bees are important, is not something that city dwellers grow up experiencing and knowing.

Based on this, I consider myself very luck to have grown up in a semi-rural area. I was close enough to a city but within easy distance to farms, lakes and rural towns. I learned many things because of this, both craft related and non-craft related and continue to acquire various tactile knowledge (err tacit, but I like tactile better) and I hope to never stop.

There was always a sewing machine in my house growing up. I learned basic sewing skills in middle and high school in my industrial arts classes. I was so proud of the stuffed animal pig that I made. I still haven’t progressed much beyond basic sewing but I’ve owned my own sewing machine since college.

I learned basic crochet when I was very young, lost the technique, then recently picked it back up. I learned basic knitting from my mother in my early twenties. I then advanced my knowledge through the vast amount of knitting information found online.

I recently learned how to make butter. Not by endlessly churning it by hand, but with my stand mixer.

I love to bake and my grandmother makes the best fudge and the best chocolate chip cookies. I do not know how to make fudge, nor do I know the secret to her cookies. I do know how to make a pretty mean pie crust. This I attribute to my mother.

I think the point to all of this is that, yes some tacit knowledge is difficult to obtain. But with the advent of the internet is isn’t impossible. As long as we are sharing our knowledge and teaching each other, than these experiences won’t be lost. Industrial arts classes should be reinstated into school curricula. Stitch and bitch groups should be expanded. Quilting bees should flourish.

So ask your mom or grandma how to do that double cross stitch trick. Take some urban kids to the country and explore a farm. I know I’m going to ask my grandma about her cookies and thank my parents for teaching me how to fish.

[Photo by Julie K in Taiwan, under creative commons lisence.]

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About the Author

Kelly covers visual arts in and around Washington, DC for DCist and is editor of Crafting a Green World. Kelly has also been published by Bust Magazine and you can find her byline at Indie Fixx and Etsy’s Storque and has taught in Etsy’s virtual lab on the topic of green crafting. Kelly helps organize Crafty Bastards: Arts and Crafts Fair, one of the largest indie craft fairs on the east coast and has served on the Craft Bastard’s jury since 2007. Kelly is also co-founder of Hello Craft a nonprofit trade association dedicated to the advancement of independent crafters and the handmade movement. Kelly resides in Washington, D.C. and believes that handmade will save the world.



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  • http://sewinstitches.blogspot.com Becky

    I know exactly what you speak of here! Many is the time I wish I could ask my [Grand]Mama how to do something in the kitchen. She taught me so very much but I wish I could have learned more. And from my other GrandMa I wish I had learned how to can veggies!

    But I have taught my Son & Daughter and many of their friends how to knit (yes, even my Son) and how to sew. I’m proud to say that one of the friends has taken her love and talent for sewing to New York and is a costumer’s assistant for theatre!

    There is nothing like the face of someone who tackles a new craft and is successful!

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  • http://kraftykatina.blogspot.com/ Cerise

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I agree that there are many things we are loosing. I started growing up in large cities but moved to a small slightly-rural town in seventh grade. I never took home economics (I’m kicking myself for this now) but was fortunate to have a mother who taught me how to sew when I was pretty little. I grew up with my grandmother’s 1955 Singer Featherweight and when I moved out of my mom’s house I got my own Featherweight. I moved to San Diego a year and a half ago and am amazed at how different the average city dweller is. I also teach and am sad to see that kids and people have lost a lot of knowledge about the important things like growing food, being able to use textiles, that are more essential to life. I am happy to be moving to Oregon in a month and get back to a slower pace of life and start a garden. I will be closer to my family and am definitely going to have them teach me how to get such a fabulous garden as theirs and how to can my food, make jam, and more. I also hope that more and more people learn basic crafts and gardening so that we can pass these skills on to future generations.

  • http://www.fraservalleyfun.blogspot.com lisa

    I so strongly identify with what you are saying! When I was a child my parents did most of their cooking “out of boxes” and abandoned the homecraft of their parents. In my own young adulthood I didn’t know how to bake, cook, sew, or pretty much anything else.

    It wasn’t until I visted an elderly relative that I really came to appreciate the skills of you foremothers. Looking around her handmade home where every single thing was unique and practical made me suddenly realize how much respect these skills should command as part of our culture. For the past 15 years I’ve worked to learn all these skills and now am passing them on to my children.

    There is no better time spent with your child, than the time spent teaching him or her a skill.

  • http://CindyDavisArt.com Cindy Davis

    This is such a beautiful pic of a sewing machine. You are inspiring me to start a new series of paintings capturing these character of these old beauties. Just imagery of this old machine gives me a connection to my grandma.

    I grew up in the suburbs, but I realize now that I was always making stuff. I learned to sew, made skirts & clothes, my grandmother taught me to crochet, I made other things as well.

    Now as an adult, I have come to realize that need to “make stuff” had more to do with my creative side than it did with necessity. It is FUN to make things, functional things or things just to “look at” (ART).

    Thanks for a great post, and THANKS for a little inspiration for me today. Now I am off to research old sewing machines!

  • http://stitchbitch.blogspot.com Anna

    Apparently spelling is also a disappearing art. Lose is spelled L-O-S-E and that makes it l-o-s-i-n-g.

  • Jonee

    I have sadly handled 10 cent doilies crocheted (or tatted!)at estate sales thinking about the time and love someone had put into each stitch in order to bring beauty into a home and impulsively bought the entire collection for $1 in order to save them from a dumpster.

    I began collecting older black and white knitting and crocheting books from rummage sales knowing that I would never be knitting argyle socks with impossibly fine wool (or…maybe…they’re cute…) but realizing that these are the history of the art of crafting.

    I laugh at modern magazines with recipes for mashed potatoes…”Peel 6 potatoes. Cut into 1/4s. Cover with water. Boil until a fork will pierce them. Mash with 2 tbs butter and 1/4 cup milk.” Egads!!! Mashed potato recipes!!!!! Then, I worked with some yung’uns who needed the recipe…couldn’t make oatmeal without one…couldn’t make a grilled cheese sandwich…

    I still embroider without a machine that I “program and walk away while it does the work”, hand applique without cutout and paste by number patterns, and (double egads!!) will sew up a ripped seam without throwing away an otherwise new pair of pants!

    And guess what…I’m not even a grandma yet!

    Jonee

  • http://south-city-musings.blogspot.com Bridgett

    A few years back I taught the gals on the block (other moms, about 8 of them) how to sew, enough to make a straight seam quilt block. We made a baby quilt. And then another. And a third. This past January, they got together and made one for me on their own. One mom has made one for her older daughter since then. So many things are not hard. But they’re scary if you have nobody to teach you…

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