This Manifesto is an exploration of why we make, why materials matter and why the process is the reward. It’s about crafts not hobbies – one indicates a life’s work and learning, the other is a passing fling with none of the charms of a quickly fading summer.
There is a void that makers are slowly filling, like grains of sand cascading through boulders. This void is found in the spaces between mass-produced goods, factory farms, abused workforces and homogenised, dictated style. This void is slowly being filled with each item crafted, needle threaded and new skill added to a growing arsenal of creativity. The sand eases into crevices like water rushing through the land. As water leaves attrition in its wake and rivers strike out on new paths, the sand of our efforts will one day displace the boulders of the current system, leaving a world of our own making.
Learning the basics of a craft has much in common with the oft-touted bicycle analogy – once you’ve mastered those preliminary skills, you won’t forget them. Luckily, for most crafts, the entry level skills are easy to get the hang of with a little practice – knit stitch, followed by purl and a world of knitting awaits; keeping your stitches straight on a sewing machine and hemming a dress contain the first steps of so much more. Do these things a few times and they become ingrained, you can’t unlearn these skills, but you can build on them.
Our army of makers reside on every continent, in every city and can be found in every corner of the internet. We are making, not buying. We are making to enhance our lives; to create the things we want; to create things that last and will age with us; to avoid being complicit, albeit indirectly, in the abuse of people and planet; to use fewer precious resources and to give better, more loving, gifts. In short we make in order that world might feel a little brighter, a little freer and a little more ours.
This is a revolution happening one mitten at a time.
We are makers and craftspeople
I want to change how crafts are viewed. It’s not cute, or quaint. We are not pursuing hobbies. We are doing something vital, absorbing and life-enhancing. We are creating for utility, function and necessity. We are creating in order to create. If you are making the clothes you wear day in and day out or the blankets and quilts you utilise for comfort and warmth, then you are doing something that is no less valuable than the traditional definition of ‘work’. What you do is valuable, whether or not our money-centred system recognises it as such. The foundations of our lives are built on unpaid work – child-rearing, care of loved ones, cooking and cleaning. It seems a logical extension of this definition to add making to the list. Our old system of value is one that has, for most of human history, marginalised the women who undertake the majority of this work and left them occupying space outside of the traditional economic sphere. I don’t wish to define makers by gender – plenty of men knit and plenty of women whittle wood – merely to express that until the definition of work shifts (as I hope it will), making is marginalised and unpaid. Even if you wear that jumper every week or your brother uses that mug you threw for him multiple times daily, your time spent creating it does not register anywhere.
I’m not suggesting that all makers are desperate to be paid for their work, we make for a million other reasons than financial gain, it is more an exploration of value in a world where this is only expressed in monetary terms. We are stitching and carving a new world, even if the current one needs a little time to catch up.
I would urge everyone to define themselves as a maker and craftsperson, not a hobbyist or occasional do-er. Makers and craftspeople were sought-after in society centuries ago. Crafts were passed down to eager apprentices and communities recognised the value of a tailor or spinner. A hobby isn’t vital; a craft is.
Very few makers, I imagine, undertake a project with a short-term view of the finished item. If you are going to the effort of making something, you will be learning fine skills that endow the objects you create with quality, utility and beauty. You want your work to last. At this point in history that seems almost counter-cultural. Built-in obsolescence abounds; fashions render clothing unwearable after a month or two; most high-street boots and shoes won’t survive one winter. We have been trained to want more, to equate purchasing and having more items in every conceivable category than we need or could ever use as a sign of wealth and status.
We don’t have to accept this. We can hone the crafts we love and make only the items we will need and use. Nothing extraneous, nothing excessive, you’re in control. Anything we need and can’t make presents us with an excellent opportunity to support another maker out there (hell, if you really want to jump in with both feet, leave money out of the equation and exchange goods or skills).
Most people would have grown up seeing repurposed pieces of family furniture or other heirloom items, maybe you’re having tea with a grandparent and you catch sight of the rug great-uncle Robert carted home from a stint at the Chinese embassy or the dining table made by a family friend that your grandmother remembers sitting at as a child and where your own mother or father sat for dinner in turn. Within these items we carry our collective memory – tears over birthday cake, being picked up and wrapped in a quilt following a grazed knee or the smell of Nana’s stew bubbling on the stove as a storm howls outside. It would be sad to think that we might be the last generation to receive know the history of such treasures. We cycle through items so quickly that history and meaning get lost in clearing it all out only to replace it at the sales. Parents might replace the dining furniture three or four times during their child’s younger years. Rather than smilingly revisiting the paint spatters of creative childhood afternoons, kids come home from university to see another new page from a catalog. History erased. Resources wasted.
Central to the pursuit of crafts is the gathering and perfecting of skills which will accompany you through life. It’s not a passing fad nor is it a sprint to the finish. The learning and practice of these skills will bring benefits far beyond the yarn and enrich your life with the wit and understanding of a consistent companion. Honing a craft is the work of a lifetime and each stitch is as individual as the person creating it.
This isn’t the stuff of megastores and online metropolises. It is forged in the relationships between those plying their crafts. Crofting and raising sheep is a craft. Spinning and dyeing a complementary craft. Knitting is the completion of a cycle of utility, livelihood, mindful production and creation. You are creating something that is more than the sum of its parts and all the while the wool that draws through your fingers bears connections that span crafts, geography and generations.
Knitting (my craft of choice, but any craft holds similar examples) with the right materials draws you into the wider world. The ability to smell the sheep, pull at a piece of straw wound into the fleece and sense the care of a farmer means so much more than purchasing a skein of…something. Something without history or provenance; without a connection to an animal or another person. Something hewn in factory not field. An apparition sat upon an over-lit store shelf. It couldn’t have been born there. It wasn’t made. It’s the making that’s crucial – the crafting of a material is no different to the making of a garment.
This movement is about creating the items that fill the void of necessity and mean something in our lives. We will create the objects that form memories for our children and grandchildren. Objects that tie without binding; sew the seeds of a different, better world; and imbue our lives and surroundings with meaning and connection.