The rise and rise of handmade
A couple of years ago, my best friend and I decided to start a craft night. Yes, exactly what it sounds like. One of those things where a bunch of people (in our case, exclusively girls) get together and learn to needle felt. Or draw. Or crochet. ‘Brownies for grown-ups’ was our favoured way of explaining it.
We ran a good few events. We’d take over the back room of a pub, fuelling ourselves with cocktails, and convincing nice people to come and teach us how to make awesome things out of some ends of yarn, or a block of lino. (A particular highlight was our life drawing session. It takes a brave man to de-robe in front of 20 slightly tipsy girls)
Although those craft nights have fallen by the wayside, we have been consistently overwhelmed by the continued appetite for what sometimes seemed such an archaic thing, and we are by no means the only ones. In London alone a whole community hosting similar events has emerged, catering for all budgets and ambitions.
Thinking about it now makes me wonder: What has fuelled this resurgence in crafting for the 20-somethings?
Maybe as recently as 5 years ago, many feared we were losing our traditional skills, those functional heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, yet we’re now facing a full-scale revival. Our homes are being filled with the unique and the handmade; craft markets are thriving.
I have my own theories. For a while, a feminist quest for equality meant we were adamant that embracing traditional pastimes may hold us back, there was a greater emphasis on erasing the differences between men and women, and often this meant losing the things that men didn’t take part in. But now, our feminism is more sophisticated, and there’s a pride in our shared traditions. We’re embracing the skills our grandparents left us, which perhaps our parents’ generation missed out on.
A sense of nostalgia
This is, in part, a reactionary movement too. A reaction that is echoed in the deluge of photos apps, and archiving software that attempts to bring a sense or veneer of nostalgia to the fast paced digital world we now live in: The increasing popularity of vinyl; a desire for limited edition books; weekends deliberately spent offline; retro caravanning holidays. They all point to a trend that’s still strengthening.
We are living in an ever more virtual world, where the things we buy are either mass-produced or amount to little more than data. Crafting and buying handmade is the antithesis of that. And it’s the process too: it’s a different challenge to that which most of us face in our day jobs.
Katie Marcus, web designer by day and crafter by night, confirms this, answering my question of what inspires her to craft, saying “having a job at a computer where nothing is actually tangible or physical. It’s probably more about the therapeutic process of making something with my hands for me, rather than the end result.”
And reflecting my notion of a continued tradition, my crafty partner-in-crime, Rebecca Hales, explains how her Nan taught her various crafts at a young age, that were later "pushed out of my head by other - seemingly more practical - things and now, with each craft project I start, I hope to regain a little bit of what was lost when she died."
Yet the same technologies we are reacting against have been central to fuelling the change. Etsy has a lot to answer for. We are now, no matter where we live, able to connect with and buy from the most incredible DIY artists selling their wares, and are able to fill our houses with treasures we are sure no one else owns. We also know we’re not alone, but part of a new wave of handmade creativity being expressed online and in bars, cafes and living rooms around the world.
Talking to Jonty Wareing, one of the founders of Hackspace, I am reminded that advances in technology have also given rise to a new accessibility of information and ease of group creation online. We agree that starting our respective groups was really, pretty easy, in a way which wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago. YouTube and blogs are full of tutorials, and community sites make it easy to connect, allowing people to progress and learn outside of traditional structures, supporting and sharing between themselves.
And then there’s the ‘green thing’. Craft is also a movement against the disposable consumerism we have all grown up with. Recycle, reuse, re-imagine. We’re putting our waste to use, and choosing to use our money to fuel grassroots creativity rather than transnational corporations - proof there is room for independent businesses to flourish, even if it’s not on the high street as might once have been the case.
Expression of individuality
More than anything else, craft allows us to express ourselves and escape the homogenisation of consumerist culture, as fellow crafter Melanie Jones explains: "I like having things that are unique, so I’d rather make my own if I can. I buy handmade for similar reasons, I like having things that are different. I don’t follow fashion much and usually have quite specific ideas of what I want, handmade caters better for this and the products feel more special."
And as Rebecca reminds me, crafting is actually sort of like magic: “It’s fun, disappointing, frustrating, challenging and satisfying to craft. There is a distinct feeling, when you’ve finished a project, that no-one else in the world has ever created that particular item (however lop-sided, misshapen or smudged) and no-one else ever will…”
So whilst craft is, as explained by Amy Carlton and Cinnamon Cooper in their 2003 Craftifesto, powerful, personal and political, it is perhaps their last point, that craft is possible, that is most significant now as communities emerge to teach, support and inspire everyone to have a go.
By Fiona McLaren
Many thanks to Rebecca Hales, Lyndsey Seaborn, Melanie Jones, Katie Marcus, Jonty Wareing and David Singleton for talking to me about craft and sharing their thoughts.