Ever since the industrial revolution in particular the development of machinery such as the Jacquard loom, textiles have been increasingly manufactured using commercial production methods. Machines have been invented for practically every process: Dyeing, Spinning, weaving, even embroidery. Although still designer based, whether using new designs or referring back to traditional designs. The product itself is almost completely machine made. Partly due to this textiles as a whole have perhaps lost some of their appeal and significance. There is something almost magical about a hand dyed, hand spun yarn to work with or a hand woven, hand stitched cloth which can never really be replicated by machine.
Lately there has been a re-resurgence in appreciation of handmade items and products. Consumers are starting to want to reconnect with natural processes and materials, they are starting to worry that traditional crafts are going to be lost and that mass produced items are perhaps not very good for the environment and may even be damaging to their health. A Growth in the number of people suffering from allergies to chemicals used in manufacturing processes has caused people to wonder if perhaps natural fibers and dyes would be beneficial as opposed to the man made versions. This can also be seen in the growing popularity of Organic fabrics and fibers. However the trend for ‘eco textiles’ is not purely reliant on the fabrics used as Sandy Black says in her book Eco Chic The Fashion Paradox: ‘For eco to become chic, design must lead the way, and the clothes must deliver all the great qualities we are looking for, while almost incidentally being well thought out and meeting one or several criteria for ecologically sustainable and ethical fashion.’
So could we turn the clock back and return to a craft based economy? Probably not, craft produced items including textiles remain inherently expensive. Each item is made and sometimes designed, individually so economy of scale does not apply to craft produced items. Craftsmen, quite rightly, tend to choose the best available materials to work with. This again adds to the cost of the item or fabric. In the past when we had a craft based society material wealth was low. People invested in and owned a few items that they used every day; a wooden bowl, a pewter tankard, a set of working clothes. Now we demand such a huge array of items for our homes and ourselves that we could never afford to by exclusively hand made items. So they tend to be reserved for luxury, decorative or special items. As Justin McGuirk states in his article for theguardian.com: “There’s no real question of returning to a craft-based economy (or only in the darkest fantasies of a global economic meltdown). What we have here is a post-industrial nostalgia for the pre-industrial. In a culture with a surfeit of branding and cheap mass-produced goods, we romanticise the handmade because we yearn for quality, not quantity.” Craftsmen and their crafts survive partly due to this romanticism.
So how do craft-produced textiles maintain a place in our society? The buy handmade campaign points out that:”buying handmade has advantages and benefits that you won’t get buying from the larger stores on the high street. Many designer / makers will happily produce items that are made to order and bespoke so you can get something uniquely personal”. Certain websites like Etsy.com, Folksy.com, Misi.co.uk, and thecraftersbarn.co.uk offer an online presence to craftsmen which is easily searchable for customers. This modern approach to selling handmade goods and materials along with larger craft shows and exhibitions such as the Live Crafts shows held at stately homes around the country and even local farmer’s markets all help to keep crafts alive and the materials as well as finished items available to purchase. They also serve to educate and inspire people, hopefully helping to pass on skills as well.
Crafts people who work on a hobby basis are probably just as important as professional crafts people nowadays, especially when it comes to passing on skills. This is nothing new, on page 11 of ‘Complete Needlecraft’ (by Agnes M. Miall – Pearson Publishing) it says”There is a very special satisfaction in taking a plain piece of material and by deft stitchery and artistic choice of colour turning it into a really lovely item”. I think there is nothing nicer than to receive a gift that has been handmade specially for me. The personal choices of the maker make the item just that bit more precious. My mother is a knitwear designer / maker and tried to pass on her love of knitting to me. It was never my strong point although I did try. What she did manage to pass on to me was a love of textiles and creating them. She also instilled a respect for other crafts people and a general interest in art, design and crafts. The Crafts Council’s strategy statement on their website says is all for me, it states:
• We believe that craft plays a dynamic and vigorous role in the UK’s social, economic and cultural life.
• We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to make, see, collect and learn about craft.
• We believe that the strength of craft lies in its use of traditional and contemporary techniques, ideas and materials to make extraordinary new work.
• We believe that the future of craft lies in nurturing talent; children and young people must be able to learn about craft at school and have access to excellent teaching throughout their education.
Perhaps it is the passing on of skills to the next generation, the care taken by the maker and the almost spiritual nature of making something with ones own hands from scratch that maintains the place that craft produced textiles have in our society today.
Miall Agnes M. ‘Complete Needlecraft’ Pearson Publishing
Black S. (2008)Eco Chic The Fashion Paradox Black Dog Publishing