Archive | History RSS feed for this section

Craft Politics

22 Aug

I didn’t start crafting in order to ask deep questions… I just wanted to make things. Or so I thought.

More and more, the big questions underlying domestic craft are taking me over. The history, the sociology, the politics of craft are drawing me in while my sewing machine gathers dust in the corner. Why? Well, I guess I’m a student at heart, and even sewing a seam comes with a fervent desire to weave a theoretical backdrop for what I’m doing.

And why am I doing it? What’s the real reason behind the crafting ‘renaissance’ of the last 5-10 years, and why have so many women (for it is mostly women) re-engaged with domestic life in this way? Is it a move away from feminism, or as I would hope, a move towards it? Is it a way of reclaiming ‘home life’ without becoming trapped in stereotypical expectations?  Is it less about gender, and more a comment on the state of capitalism? Is it a way of combining commerce and community?

Interest in these issues does seem to be growing. There was, for example, an exhibition at the Women’s Library last year (Handmade Tales) that focused on the role of crafting in definitions of womanhood, past and present.

But what about the crafters themselves? How do you see your wonderful projects of making and remaking clothes, interiors, gifts and more? Do you ever ask the big questions about what you’re doing, and if so, what conclusions have you come to?


inspired by Dora Damage

18 Aug

I have just finished reading one of my all-time favourite books: The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling.


A-mazing. I hated it for ending – I wanted to live with Dora Damage for the rest of my life!

Mrs Damage is the wife of a Victorian bookbinder who becomes too ill to work. When Dora takes over the business she enters a murky and seedy world, binding books that she’d rather not have to look at.

One of the novel’s most fascinating themes is the relationship between the world of commercial and public work, and the work of the home – the skills of a domestic life. When the Damages are too poor to afford leather to bind their books, they use the silks from Dora’s dresses instead, which are carefully embroidered by Dora. Domestic crafts, traditionally the domain of the woman, are used to save the family business.

The book has me thinking a lot more about the history of the crafts I engage in, and the potential they have carried, past and present, as much more than ways to pass the time. They might be a method of self-expression when writing is inaccessible… a way to store and encode the secrets of the heart when privacy is scarce… a way to make a living…  For every person that engages with these crafts or has engaged with them in the past, there is a different story.

I really would love to know more about the history of different crafts. If you have any books, websites, exhibitions in mind – please do let me know! I’m hoping to write quite a bit about this in the coming weeks. In fact, I may well turn September into my Craft History month.