Craft, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is the making of decorative or practical objects by hand as a profession or leisure activity. But it has to mean much more than that, surely craft is a learned skill passed down from generations or gained through a course of study whether as an apprentice or at college. Crafting came out of the need to make utilitarian things for man to use where every thing was made by hand and even the hammer marks, weave patterns or ceramic design all told a story and could place the article at a certain area of the world. Then people worked together to survive, their craft was embedded in their lifestyle and even now in some of the poorest areas of the world, trade is through exchange and for them an extremely important economic and social system. Hearing about Papua New Guineas’ Trobriand Islands off the north coast of Queensland Australia makes me wish for simpler times. The Trobrianders are known to be the most happy and friendly people of the world and despite missionaries, visitors and tourists the islands have remained strong in their beliefs and cultures. They still create and craft beautiful objects and in special canoes they travel carrying symbolic objects, necklaces and arm bands, for exchange around the island communities known as a Kula ring. All the items are exchanged to increase social status and this is their way of socially interacting with the other islands, they meet face to face. Malinowski a Polish anthropologist carried out an in-depth observation of them during the first world war.
In the western world craft became more of a decorative art when the industrial revolution started to divide labour, designers were told what to design, crafters told what to create, the artists patterns were already created for them and the machine culture changed the life of western man. Now factories were producing on a large scale and the weaver, potter and carpenter who once worked from home or small workshop were leaving their traditional skills behind and being taught how to use the machines which produced goods for home and export and Britian became a huge manufacturing nation. With these changes traditions were lost and social interaction changed. In some cases the factory owners built homes for the workers and people were forced to move from the area they were born to areas of work.
From the 1950’s the service industries have over taken manufacturing and now in the 21st century it is also knowledge that’s being traded. The face to face social interaction and networks have disappeared and are now almost replaced by online social networking. The small independent shops and tradesmen who you could chat with, who would know your needs, requirements and give advice have almost disappeared, replaced by isle upon isle of boxes, tins and bottles and self operated check outs or online shopping where the only person you talk to is the delivery driver – if you’re home.
But Crafters are fighting back and crafts recent popularity is being helped along by associations, magazine trends and television programmes showing how to make things and telling the consumer that it is all right to buy one offs to mix with mass produced, I look around my own home which has everything from Ikea to hand crafted but its the hand crafted that makes my home unique to me. Craftscotland an organisation helping to promote Scottish Craft is also a new force to be reckoned with, its CEO Emma Walker travels around the world promoting Scottish Craft. Craft groups are increasing and its now ok to take your knitting to the pub but in the end when the glossy home magazines have changed tact and are telling us mass produced is the new way, it will be down to the consumer to be unique, not follow the pack and to keep craft alive by choosing Hand Crafted.