At the height of the feminist movement in 1975, journalist and author Shirley Conran wrote “life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” – a witty one liner summing up the attitude of the emerging feminist movement. Conran’s point being, why spend your life in the kitchen slaving over small things when there is a world out there to change, and careers to be built?
Funny how times have changed. Now, some of the highest rated television programmes show us exactly how to stuff a mushroom with perfect execution, or how to stuff a sofa before upholstering it for the DIY lounge-room makeover. Cooking and DIY has become a spectator sport that attracts millions of viewers, both men and women.
We’ve reversed our position. How did this happen? Why do we, particularly women, choose to spend our time making and baking when we’ve spent years trying to get out of the home and into the office?
Well, therein lies part of the answer, but there are a lot of other factors that seem to have converged to create a revival of the art, craft and DIY movement.
To understand why, we need to go back a bit.
Paraphrasing Susan Cummins’ talk at an American Craft Council forum…
There have been three great waves of arts and crafts in the 20th century:
- Early 20th century Arts and Crafts movement – think William Morris and the makers’ movement
- 1960s counter culture – think hippy hand-made, anti-industrialisation and mass production
- 21st century craft revival – the here and now (of HOW!)
She said that five years ago. But since then, the movement has exploded. Fuelled by technology that has allowed ideas to spread virally just as soon as a new app or website can be pushed live.
We see crafts ranging from the traditional (detailed quilting and knitting patterns), to simple hacks viewed on Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube and websites like Hands On Workshop.
The question is not why do we craft, because humans have always made things for need and for pleasure. We moved on from the cave by making and creating. It is the way we are built. And so, it’s more relevant to ask the question…
Here are some reasons I think will answer that question:
Craft is the symptom of an increasingly technology-driven existence.
Technology has helped grow the art and craft movement in two ways. It has both the means to source the ideas AND to spread them.
Our hands are tapping, typing and swiping their way through the day. Humans need and want to use our hands. We are wired to MAKE and our biology hasn’t changed as fast as the world we’ve built.
The more we use technical devices, the more we want to do something else with our hands. We want to make something real, in three dimensions we can touch, shape and feel. We can own it, control it, shape it and make it. You have control over those materials. It’s just you and that thing you’re making.
Richard Sennett wrote in his book The Craftsman that the repetition required by a craftsman to create an object, is an end in itself.
“We might think, as did Adam Smith describing industrial labor, of routine as mindless, that a person doing something over and over goes missing mentally; we might equate routine and boredom. For people who develop sophisticated hand skills, it’s nothing like this. Doing something over and over is stimulating when organized as looking ahead. The substance of the routine may change, metamorphose, improve but the emotional payoff is one’s experience of doing it again. There’s nothing strange about this experience. We all know it; it is rhythm.”
2. We don’t have to craft or DIY.
Anything you want can be bought. From your laptop you can find items from all over the globe – from a factory in China selling crochet needles in bulk, to a woman in Lithuania selling handmade wool felt slippers.
We have never had so much choice! And it’s overwhelming.
Craft and DIY has become a hobby because it’s not a need.
There was a time where you HAD to know how to sew, darn, crochet, knit, saw, hammer and build – for making clothes and furniture, repairing and re-using items. Governments and the school education system taught it.
But, work has changed and so have the economies of the world. China has transformed itself into the sewing room and storage shed of the world. Providing materials, supplies and finished items to everyone. At prices that seem impossible.
You used to buy furniture to last you a lifetime. I remember visiting friends in my childhood, who had left the plastic ON the loungeroom sofa, so the fabric didn’t get marked. It HAD to last a lifetime.
You used to sew because you had to. Clothes were expensive investments and the range was limited. You sewed to save money and to make the item you liked and wanted. (Interesting to note that when you find old or antique wardrobes as a DIY project, they get re-worked into children’s wardrobes. Because they are so small. How could you possibly fit all your clothes in there?!).
You used to repair the house, build a cabinet, or renovate a room because you had to. Tradesmen were expensive and hard to find. Materials were sourced from your one local hardware store. Unless you were a professional, and even then those skills were handed down from generation to generation. Spoken, shared and transferred through communities, families and friends.
When the need is taken away, it then becomes a hobby or entertainment. Something to do in your ‘me’ time. Creating and making things.
It moves further up the hierarchy (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, that is!).
Craft has gone the way of food and cooking. With food, nobody needs to know how to cook. You can buy food at any stage of the process – raw ingredients, semi-prepared, fully prepared, frozen, fresh, delivered, collected. Eat in, eat out, eat on the run.
You don’t have to spend your days sourcing and finding food. We choose to do it – hunt and gather from the supermarket and specialty stores in order to create a feast. So food and cooking (in first world economies) has become a hobby and an artform. People are quite happy to spend their day (voluntarily) sourcing a range of interesting ingredients and then spending hours preparing and serving it. For fun!
We’ve learned about the damage inflicted on finite resources, and we have learned that repairing, re-using and re-working materials can give something a second life. Craft lets you do that.
Contrasting that, sometimes our desire to make, doesn’t match with our need for more sustainability. We can go online and have disposable, non-recyclable materials shipped across the globe and delivered to our door. But, the more people that have to get involved in the decision about what to buy, how it’s made and how it’s put together, the more there is an appreciation and understanding of the value of an item and the materials that produced it.
4. The big wide world is really kinda scary.
Brutal regional wars, deliberate aeroplane crashes, random incidents of terror, global financial meltdowns, drug-fuelled excessive violence. The list goes on. Nothing feels very stable, safe or secure.
It breeds a desire to turn inward, to retreat. It makes us want to get away from all that negativity ‘out there’ and focus on something small and positive we can control and understand. Making and doing in our own small world is an antidote to all that scary stuff. It’s therapy.
5. It’s great for your brain
“Neuroplasticity” is a word we hadn’t heard of 10 years ago, but it’s changing the way we think. Literally. And it’s changing the way researchers are studying our brain activity in older age.
There is research to show that absorbing your brain in focused activities like knitting, crocheting and quilting can really help delay the brain atrophying and the effects of dementia. That’s why it’s good to test your brain as you get older by teaching it new skills – learn a language, ballroom dancing, reading books or following a crochet pattern. The patterns and mathematics involved in putting together a detailed patterned quilt, or knitting a detailed piece, are quite complicated and test different parts of your brain. Check out this really interesting article I found here that explores this idea with links to other research and studies.
What the studies have found is that crafting activities:
- Help combat depression and anxiety by stimulating the dopamine release in your brain (the feel good chemical).
- Mimic the beneficial effects of meditation.
- Provide prevention against the affects of aging on the brain by drawing on different areas of brain function – visual-spatial and problem solving.
In the article, clinical neuropsychologist, Catherine Carey Levisay (who happens to be the wife of the CEO of Crafsy.com, home of online craft tutorials.) says:
“There’s promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time, and that’s that creating — whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography (or) cake decorating — is beneficial to us in a number of important ways.”
Crafting is also unique, Levisay says, in its ability to involve many different areas of your brain. It can work your memory and attention span while involving your visuospatial processing, creative side and problem-solving abilities.
6. Social change
I was part of the generation who didn’t have Home Economics at school. Sewing stopped when we were in the younger grades of high school. We were encouraged to go on to tertiary education and have a career (I went to an all-girls high school in the1980s).
Shirley Conran wrote the phrase that said making and doing things at home were keeping women from doing other productive work. Outside the home.
But, we forget that women have been using craft as a social activity since rubbing wool in their hands to make a rough weaving yarn, or to embroider a piano seat cover while sitting around the fireplace and discussing the day’s news or town gossip (while the men of the household read the newspaper!).
We do it because it’s social. It’s an interest beyond the everyday. It’s not work. It’s pleasurable. It’s a creative outlet.
“Life’s too short to stuff a soft toy” is spin on Shirley Conran’s quote, but life IS too short not to at least try. It’s precisely WHY we need to stuff a soft toy – or quilt, or knit or crochet or just make something.
Or at least try.
by Nicole McCarthy
Make 2017 the year that you realise that budding creative in you. We’ll be adding new products in our shop regularly which are imported directly from Japan and (mostly) not available at other Australian retailers. If you’d like to be kept informed about Japanese crafts and artisans and hear about our new products or events we’re attending, add your name to our mailing list here.
- Susan Cummins, former American Craft Council trustee and founder, Art Jewellery Forum. See more at: http://craftcouncil.org/post/why-craft-now-heres-what-they-said#sthash.QlCze60B.dpuf http://craftcouncil.org/post/why-craft-now-heres-what-they-said
- The Craftsman by Richard Sennett . 2008 Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
- Article, CNN online. http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/25/health/brain-crafting-benefits/