Saturday, December 19, 2009

Crafting and thinking about art and craft

Today, well all week really I've been thinking about Art (capital A) and Craft (capital C), and that void that people put between the two practices - there is a more in-depth discussion at the end of the post. I've also been knitting, and have two (or is that four?) finished objects, all probably craft ... I'll explain why, and I'm finally Whispering.

First up finished objects, this post I have 2 pair, so four finished objects, Bears Socks, all done. Details, cast on 7th November 2009, finished 17th December 2009. Yarn is Vintage Purls Sock in Westerwald, pattern is a modified toe up version of my own devising of Nancy Bush's Gentlemans sock with Lozenge pattern. I did change the cuff to a 1x1 rib growing out of the lozenge pattern, stretchy bind of, last knit row was rib in pattern but m1 every 3rd stitch, cast off on next row. I also worked the heel flap in eye-of-partridge-stitch. What would I do different next time? Not much but I'd work the lozenge into the toe area earlier .. ..Its craft - I followed a pattern, inspired by something .... I'm not engaging anyone on an intellectual level in these at all.

Japanese Room Shoes, well the original looked a whole lot more stylish than my version. When working domino squares that build into a garment I found it hard to envisage how the shapes and colours would build into the finished item. Obviously the knitter in the book already learned that if all the tips of the domino squares finished in the same colour .. well ones Room shoes look more elfish than stylish. I now know that as well. Other than that I'm pleased, these fit, are soft and comfortable, are firm enough around the top to fit well, and light enough to wear when felted clogs seem to warm. details, pattern by Kotomi Hayashi, in Nordic Knitting Ten Fabulous Techniques. Yarn
New Lanark Donegal Silk Tweed Aran all but a few meters of the skein, and 8 ply Millspun merino angora Nylon I had dyed. Needles 5mm, construction details in last blog post - trips thru the washing machine two. These also are craft ... practical, applied, nothing intellectual going on here appart from my deepening understanding and respect for the arrangement of colours in domino knitting by master domino knitters.

With those two projects out of the way I felt ready to start Whisper cardigan. I've splurged and bought Malabrigo lace weight, a fine felted unbelievably soft as soft yarn, to knit this in. I made a start on the sleeve, and knit, first with one magic loop circ and then with dpns. I found the fine yarn, the guage and the magic loop to tangly to knit the first rounds with so switched to dpns. Now I looooove dpns, double pointed needles, but I got ladders where the needles joined. I never get ladders .. ever, and nothing I tried made them go away, so I switched to circulars and got ladders, two this time not the four as when I knit with dpns .. but ladders all the same. Again nothing I tried and I tried a lot, needle positioning, yarn pulling, stitch tightening to the point the yarn threatened to break as I shifted the stitches along the needle .. nothing worked. Ok .. Whisper has got to come under craft as well .. I'm using the specified yarn and a pattern, minor modifications won't make it art.

I also began to wonder if the curling edge would as the designer promised 'block flat' .. for its seemed like all stocking stitch edges to want to curl.

I hunted down Whispers on Ravelry - particularly ones knit in Malabrigo lace .. and found my problem was not unique .. and the solution seemed to be a 16" or 40 cm circular. My local Dealer came to the rescue and provided one, even though she had none listed on site. I also queried those knitters of Whisper in Malabrigo about the sleeve edge curling .. appears it will steam block flat for about 3 wears .. and then need blocking again, and many many many knitters have added a garter border to flatten the edge. So I frogged the 22 cm I had knit, not easy in a lace weight single, I cast on again, and this time worked the first four rounds as double knit ...

looks promising, no curl and no ladders. The double knit edge I had thought would be a less shear version of the knit fabric, but looks more like a flat rib .. I'm a little in denial about how to replicate this on the other sleeve as a cast off. Worst case scenario is that I try a sewn bind off (might not match exactly as this was a twisted long tail cast on) .... or I knit another hem and graft it to the sleeve to make them both the same. the wee brass tool is a knit counter, a gift from M, she had several. It works just like those whizzy new applications for ipods to track rows and decreases and stitch counts. You know .. old technology works just as well some times and never gets a flat battery.

Which leaves only the discussion about Art, and Craft, one of the Take-back-the-knit Thursday night crocheters, Elspeth has an installation at the Blue Oyster Gallery. As part of that there was a screening of Handmade Nation, which was excellent, and following that a discussion about Art and Craft. I was asked to help guide/chair the discussion .. along with Christine Keller current Head of Textiles at Otago Polytechnics Art School. Unfortunately the cubs had their end of school year prize-giving .. and I was only able to stay for 30 minutes of the discussion. I'm not sure we as a group were all on the same page, the movie is a documentary about indi-makers all with very different products and processes .. who sell their wares - I suspect with the exception of a one or possibly two .. most of those there were crafters of a non-commercial nature, personal not professional Craftsters( are there ever Artsers?). I can't claim to the definitive definition of Art vs Craft .. my understanding is fluid - anything you post as a comment is likely to modify my stance. At the black and white - no argument, no grey areas, global overview end of the spectrum of my understanding, Art engages at an intellectual level and Craft engages at a practical level. That said, nothing is black and white, even zebras are more of a dark brown grey and off-white .. and engagement both is by the viewer and the maker/artists/craftsperson so what engages me may not engage you. I was struck by a comment that K made, that for much of humans history there has been no distinction, people made things, useful and beautiful things and they were used, rugs kept the floor warm, coats kept the body warm and provided indications of rank or status, or wealth, tapestries and weaving blocked drafts and pleased the eye, paintings provided visual decoration and captured memories or stories .... and it was all good (or at times I suspect bad), neither art nor craft, but both. All engaged at a physical and intellectual level, there was no distinction, some people made stuff that was held up as cleverer, or more beautiful or more innovative .. just like now. I also had a memory of interviewing my maternal Grandmother, who said repeatedly, and in many many different ways 'Oh yes I made this, I learned how to make those, I would save up all of that and make ... and then we had enough money that I didn't have to do that any more.' For her crafting had a very different role than it does for me, she crafted so she could have, have things that she needed but could not afford, have things that she could craft for less than she could buy them for, craft better quality than could be bought .. all so the meager family funds would go further, last longer. And while she did keep knitting knee rugs and bed socks for 'old people' well into her 90's she continually expressed the pleasure that she no longer had to craft to make ends meet.

I am, I think, honestly aware that for me crafting provides several benefits, a creative outlet, a space outside work and family that is mine to play in, a social connection online and locally, a focus for new learning and developing, a way to have things that are unique, craft lets me 'give away my time and energy and love' in gifts, and to have at times better quality than I can afford, but above all it has more in common with comfortable womenfolk of old who filled their leisure time with needlepoint and lace and other activity that did not to earn money ... but to fill leisure time. There were a whole 'nother level of makers who made and sold wares because they had to to support the family budget and I'm not one of those - nor I suspect are most modern crafters. I doubt many today craft because they 'have to else they would starve'.

I was slightly disappointed at one thread that surfaced in the documentary and was echoed in the discussion before I left ... that tertiary education no longer teaches people the practical knowledge of old. There were cries of 'no one teaches tailoring (excuse me I do!), no one teaches a particular style of printmaking, no one teaches these nearly lost skills and because of that it will all soon be lost. Rubbish! Tertiary education can only ever provide the basics of intellectual and practical/applied knowledge in a discipline, and then give students the encouragement and space to further develop skills.

Sorry abut the rant .. and that leaves us where in the Art and Craft discussion? I am very happy that there are people starting to crave unique objects, that the movement that started way back before 1900 as the Arts and Crafts movement, exploring the role of the artisan maker, the educated craftsman, the rejection of a factory ethos, and mass production monstrosities, the preference for local materials, local inspiration, for education and for improvement (ok - they did fall short of several of their goals - show me a movement that achieved all their goals). I'm happy there is another groundswell of the ideas fostered as part of that Arts and Crafts movement .... and I'd love so see a bit more perspective of where Art-Craft sits in the social history of things.

Well to me ... its personal, I enjoy crafting, for me there is a practical and therapeutic and creative and luxury element to my crafting, and I am I think very honest in my acknowledgment of that. ... I come from a long line of practical people. My granddads loved to build, both did, boats one side of the family and furniture and wood turning the other. My parents both were applied practical people - Dad creatively solves mechanical problems, Mum made stuff. I recognized all people have creative tendencies, people crave novelty and tradition in different amounts, and that creativity can be via new fabric at big box suppliers like Spotlight, through making unique yarn with spinning, in making music, or writing novels, or dressing in the morning .. or through cooking or repairing engines, or finding new ways to teach or engage learners, or to explain the world of science, language, or peoples .. or making interesting items for domestic or gallery spaces .....

I understand that discussions around ideas are important .. to make us think about what we and others do .. but honestly at the end of the day Craft and Art .. unless we are subsistence farmers, art and or craft are wonderful luxuries that improve our lives .. and I'm happy to leave it there.

ok .. a little craft, some finished objects, a new project and my version of the whole art and craft debate in an nutshell ...
Edited 20th December 2009 to add ...and this completely sidesteps any mention of Design as a practice sitting alongside art and or craft practices ... or any positioning of creativity within art, design and or craft ....

na Stella


Abby said...

My two cents on art vs. craft: Art teaches us to see differently. I think this is where craft can cross over into art. For example, a handknit sweater can be beautiful to look at and warm to wear, but unless it shows us something we didn't see before, such as a unique construction method, it sits squarely in craft. Does this make any sense?

Stell said...

Art engaging at an intellectual level could mean that unique methodology is art ... but I'm not entirely sure that makes innovation art ... so a unique construction method to me is creative but not necessarily art. David Pye - and the workmanship of risk vs the workmanship of craft are nice ways to engage with the idea of innovation within the craft practices.

Knitting Linguist said...

This is really interesting, and I'm realizing, from reading your thoughts, and Abby's response to them, that I haven't really thought at all about the "art" part of the equation; my thinking on this has been hung up on the different meanings of "craft". K's comment that you talk about in your post seems to me to be right on. I have this gut feeling that there's a difference between basic production of an item purely for function, and production of that same kind of item (equally necessary for day-to-day living) done with care and with the desire to produce something not only utilitarian, but also and simultaneously beautiful. (William Morris springs to mind here.) My gut feeling, from the anthropological research I've done, is that in cultures around the world, day-to-day items that take time to make and that are therefore not mass-produced, are often (although not always) made to be beautiful, and to give pleasure to the user for their beauty as well as for their function.

I'm not sure I'm making sense here. This isn't my field, so I haven't thought about it nearly as deeply as you have, but I love the chance to stretch my brain a little bit! Thanks :)