Lately I have thought a lot about crafting and what it does to people, and for people. A long time ago people crafted out of necessity, to clothe their families and keep them safe. I craft because I want to, but also because my hands and my brain need to. Crafting gives me happy hands, heart and brain. In that sense I craft out of necessity too, but perhaps for different reasons. What would happen if we didn’t craft or didn’t even learn how tho craft?
Last weekend I taught a class in floor supported Navajo style spinning. I am always very excited about teaching live. The anticipation is high – what will I learn from my students this time? My heart sings when I get to take part of a student’s learning process. It sings just as much when I learn about how my students learn, only in a different key.
A crafting classroom is a beautiful place to be in, both physically and mentally. It is filled with makers and creators. People who learn about a craft and who learn through the craft.
The crafting bubble
A few years ago I attended a crafting leadership course. We met once a month with a new theme and a new craft. Once the theme, the technique and the materials had been presented, total silence spread through the room. Every student was in their craft and in their crafting. I call it the crafting bubble. I am sure you all have been there. When time and space disappears and all focus is on the material in your hands and the process of making.
The course I taught this weekend was no exception. After every introduction to a new topic or technique all you could hear was the buzz of the spindle tips against the bowls on the floor. It is a comforting silence. The silence of creativity and peace.
A second bubble
While there is a crafting bubble around the person crafting I often experience a second crafting bubble when I teach or otherwise craft with other people. Sooner or later there will be a conversation in the room. I find these conversations gentle and loving. I believe crafting does that to people. Crafting to me is peaceful. It’s like there is a mutual understanding of the good of crafting. The air and the thoughts are safe to breathe. I usually hold the conversations of this second crafting bubble close to my heart. I get to take part in other people’s lives and loves. It is a beautiful place.
Empowerment through crafting
I feel rich when I spin. I can make something useful with my hands. There are so many things we take for granted. Things we can easily buy. But in making things I feel a sense of empowerment – I can make things that are useful. In case of disaster I can clothe my family and keep my loved ones warm. I believe this feeling of empowerment through crafting is a feeling everybody should be able to feel at least once in their life. The feeling of some sort of self sufficiency through their hands, some simple tools and natural materials.
Crafting in school
Crafting, or slöjd, (sloyd, one of the few Swedish loanwords in English) is a subject that was was established in the Swedish school system in 1878 and is still a mandatory subject. Until 1962 girls learned textile crafts and boys wooden crafts, but since then all children learn both soft and hard crafts. The word slöjd actually comes from the word slug, which means sly, skilled or handy. Sloyd is smart. Can someone please print a T-shirt with that sentence?
Every now and then debates about the existence of this school subject emerge. Why spend time sewing and carving when you can focus on more important subjects like history or maths? This iss a common argument. But what would happen if we didn’t learn how to make things, how to mend, create or see the potential in a piece of cloth or wood? How would our brains look if we didn’t nurture what I believe is an inherent need to create with our hands? In 2018 a doctor concluded that the medical students’ dexterity in stitching up patients had decreased significantly during the past few years. He believed the reason to be too much swiping and too little fine motor crafting skills. Again, sloyd is smart.
From fluff to stuff
There is something special about following the process from a natural material, through a transformation and all the way to a useful item. The craft in progress, from the roots in the ground underneath a spruce or birch to a finished basket, from the newly shorn wool to a knitted garment (perhaps to put in the basket). To see the change in shape and fashion through your own hands. Watch the pile of shavings below the carving knife grow and a loom bar take shape. To know that I can make that transformation happen right there, in and with my hands. This helps me understand and respect the material and the knowledge of the maker of a hand crafted item.
I find this process especially magical when I use the most simple tools. A spindle to create yarn, a backstrap loom made of hand carved sticks to weave. There is a special kind of closeness to the craft and the crafting when my body is part of the process. The way I control speed and tension of the spindle with my hands and how my body is part of the backstrap loom. It reminds me that the craft and the crafting is within me.
My hands are happy when they craft. My hands are in the craft just as much as the crafting is in my hands. I am in my happy hands. The making in my hands nurture my brain while the brain processes what is happening in the making. From hands to brain and back again. Crafting feels right. I can make things with my hands and I use the knowledge of making for good things.
I can see and feel the trace of the hand in the crafted material, the whisper of the natural material in my hand. A human touch of love in the item made. Crafting hands are happy hands.
[Course in Sweden]
Det finns fortfarande platser kvar på min femdagarskurs Spinn ullens bästa garn på Sätergläntan i midsommarveckan.
Kom och dyk ner i ullen med mig!
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- Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
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- I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.