Understanding the textiles world 4: diversity of craft based textiles

Why do craft based textiles maintain a place in our society?

What is craft? 

The word craft comes from the German Kraft, simply means power or ability.

Wikipedia states “Craft is a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work. In a historical sense, the term is usually applied to people occupied in small-scale production of goods.”

I believe the distinction between craft and art is now very blurred, however it can be argued that traditionally the craftman uses skills in a handmade process to produce a practical end result (like a chair) where as an artist adds their emotion into producing an aesthetical object (a painting).

Traditional textile crafts

In the traditional sense, craft based textiles were practical techniques (weaving, embroidery, printing, quilting) and were started off as skills that were passed on down from generation to generation.

For example, in most Mayan villages women weave cloth. Each having unique weaving styles and designs and symbolic stories, reflective of their region. What started out as weaving for their family's clothing, has increasingly been extended to weaving for commercial purposes, for the popular tourist trade.


Another example can be seen in American in the 1800s, where  women would sew quilts using recycled clothes in order to keep their families warm. This tradition and skill was passed down many generations and lead to deeper traditions, such as making the baker dozen quilts - where a young girl would be made a baker's dozen of quilt tops before she became engaged, in which she would take final steps to turn her tops into finished quilts after her engagement. Another custom was for mothers to make several quilts for each of her children to have when they left home to start life as adults, and a variation of this continues to this day in heirloom quilts.

Keeping the crafts alive 

These crafts become important in terms of social, economic and cultural life. They often told stories, were a part of cultural traditions, and kept families warm and put food on their tables. Because of this importance, many guilds (like the Crafts Council) and bodies are set up to preserve these traditions, so they are kept alive.

My earlier research point about Gozo lace highlights this well. Originally mainly worked only by a small fraction of Gozitan women, the steady demand for lace by tourists forced investment in local bodies to create programmes to teach others the skills. It was not only important to keep the knowledge of the craft alive, but also the national heritage and tourist income.

Consumer crafts

However, whilst it's important to see that crafts take place in our society from tradition and history, it's equally as important to see that they are in demand from the change in consumer lifestyles.

In the current society of intense pace, technology and mass production, there is increasing evidence that people are changing their attitudes towards what they buy. They are becoming more aware of manufacturing ethics, environmental factors and consumerism. They are turning from mass production, and want goods that show individuality (both in the sense that the items are not made in mass and the uniqueness of handmade products). The shift is towards high quality, ethically produce items, made with skill and love. The popularity of websites like www.notonthehighstreet.com, http://folksy.com and http://www.etsy.com/ reflect this need.

It is interesting to see one of these views on crafts shared in The British Museum Blog, who's answer to "what is the role and value of crafts today?" is "£1 billion a year in the UK"!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sarah, I just wanted to say I really love your blog and its probably one of the main reasons I signed up for Textiles 1. You write about so much and do so much research - I definately need to take a leaf from your book. And I love seeing all your course excercise work and sketchbooks.

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