Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where was I?

That's how I feel right now. Where was I? If today is Wednesday, it must be home. Right?

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Mostly very very good, don't get me wrong (with, of course, some true lows stuck in there for flavor), but still crazy busy. I've been meaning to post these last couple of days, but I came home Monday to hundreds of emails in my inbox, having to do with fuloughs and the latest insanity that our administration is attempting to heap upon our heads, like salt to our wounds, insanity which makes furloughs look tame. I'll write about that when I'm ready to haul out the soapbox, but not this minute. Rick has been working 16-hour days since I got home, and Older Daughter started school today. It's been crazy.

But Sock Summit! Sock Summit was amazing in its size and scope, but really, in the end, what was truly wonderful to me was the people. I think you all know that I was working at the Briar Rose booth whenever I wasn't in classes or lectures. What you may not know is that I'd never met Chris (the fabulous dyer who is behind all of the beauty over there at Briar Rose), or her daughter-in-law Christy before. Note, by the way, the total leap of faith that Chris was taking in allowing me to work in her booth. That's a huge trust, when you're talking about someone's business that they've built lovingly, that's based on hard work and incredible talent and skill. But they both welcomed me in, and let me join them the whole time. They're wonderful. Truly some of the best people I know. I just spent the better part of five days cheek-by-jowl with them (I'm the only one with jowls, I should hastily add), so I should know. There are few people in the world who can work from 8-6 and still be good company over beer afterwards, but those two women are among them. Guys, why do you live 2,000 miles away? It's just wrong.

Here's the part where I admit that I took absolutely no pictures the whole time I was there. (Oddly, I particularly regretted it when everyone else started taking pictures of the poor woman who impaled herself in the calf with her knitting needle in one of my classes -- Anna Zilboorg's, to be precise -- but in the end, you probably don't want to see that.) That means that I didn't get pictures of my happy meeting with Sallee, with whom I didn't get to spend nearly enough time. How is it that we talk more by email from thousands of miles away than we got to talk when we were in the same convention center? Life is weird.

She, however, brought her camera to one of the greatest events I attended: Barbara Walker's talk. And she kindly let me share her photographic spotlight, and then forwarded the picture to me.
Note the closed eyes. Do you think it was something we said?

I also got to meet up with Ellen, which was equally fabulous (in fact, she and Sallee and I sat together for BW's talk, and all got equally teary-eyed at the end; it was nice not to have to explain to them why I was crying because I knew they were crying for the same reasons). We ended up sharing a lovely time in line together, waiting to get our Barbara Walker books signed (do we note a theme here?), and Ellen was, again, wise enough to bring her camera. She's posted the picture, so check it out. (They both also have done much better jobs of talking about the summit itself than I am going to, so head on over to their blogs and read all about it.)

There was more, much more. I so appreciate those of you who came and found me at the booth and stopped to say hi and introduce yourselves. You know who you are, and how much I enjoyed getting to meet you. Thank you. I loved my classes (Anna Zilboorg and Tina Newton on color, and Sivia Harding on beads -- I even beaded the edge of a scarf that I will post pictures of another time). I loved the lectures I attended (Barbara Walker's -- and man, is that lady bold -- and the luminary panel -- lots of data for the ethnography there, I tell you). I loved meeting interesting people like Meg Swansen. I loved my brief chats with Anne, who was run off her feet teaching (they had those teachers on a tight schedule!). I loved those beers at night with Chris and Christy and our many talks.

One thing that both Sock Summit and the retreat really made me think about a lot was a single word and its many meanings. That word is "craft". I think that for many people, that word carries connotations associated with summer camp crafts. With the easy making of little useless things for the amusement of children. When used in that sense and applied to the beautiful work of hands that I saw at both of these events, it's an insult, and one that many people rightly refuse to have applied to their art.

When I first heard people stating their strong preference that people not refer to their work as "craft", I was surprised, though, because my own associations are so entirely different. To me, craft is what is required to move a vision of beauty to a state of reality. It requires skill, and wisdom. Craftiness, thus, is not only the knowlege and vision needed to bring art into being, but the ability to craft the time and space in our busy lives to do so. Craft to me is the craft not in the phrase arts and crafts, but in Arts and Crafts; the acknowledgement that those things which are useful need not be utilitarian. That there is something vital and joyous and whole in creating things of beauty which are to be used. To me, the fiber arts are prime examples of such craft, color and life and sensuality and texture and beauty and function all in one object, one expression of the maker's art.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun "craft" as (slightly edited for brevity): 1. Strength, power, might, art; 2. Intellectual power; skill; art; 3. Skill, skillfulness, art; ability in planning or performing, ingenuity in constructing, dexterity; 4. Human skill, art as opposed to nature. And it defines the verb "craft" as: 1. To make or construct skillfully; 2. To use crafty devices; 3. To exercise one's craft.

I certainly see within our community the exercise of strength, power, might, and art. The results of manipulating fiber strike me as definitional of art as opposed to nature. And if a spindle isn't a crafty device, heck, I don't know what is.

I understand and support the reasons why it is important to insist that the public acknowledge the art in the work of our hands. I admit, though, that the part of me that loves the underdog, that is a sucker for lost causes, wants to reclaim the word "craft" in all of its deep acknowledgement of the humanness of its exercise. I want them both back, and I want them with capitals and fireworks.

Look at what you're making right now and see in it both the art and the craft, and be proud.


twinsetellen said...

What a great post to go to bed on. I couldn't agree with you more about the word "craft" and choose to use it with full intention of conveying "strength, power, might, art". Binding a few threads together into a strong yarn, knitting that yarn into a garment to warm loved ones - what a powerful craft we embrace.

Rachel said...

Lovely! Thank you for the brilliant discussion of craft, I completely agree with you. let us take it back and restore its glory.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! So glad we finally got to meet. It was hard to come home and have no time to decompress.

Yes, it's time to reclaim Craft. It is a powerful word which has sadly been dumbed down.

EGunn said...

Oh, Barbara Walker. How could that woman be anything but bold? Of all the things at Sock Summit, it's her talk that I regret missing the most.

Your discussion of "craft" made me think of the general use of the word "geek." A few years ago it was an insult, and now it's worn as a badge of honor (and is even appropriated by people that are really only marginally geeky). It's become cool to say things like "Oh, I'm such a geek."

What made the difference? I think that it was all the geeks standing up and taking ownership of the word. And really, they have us all in their can't go far without a computer these days, and behind every computer is a geek.

Perhaps what we really need are knitters that are proud of their Craft. When we give it the respect it deserves, others will follow. What makes an Artist better than a Crafter...the work, or the attitude?

Nana Sadie said...

You know? I so totally agree with you on the proper use of the word "craft!" Add in that which is of the "Craft," that is womanly magic/healing arts? Hmm...a BW moment, sorry.
Meeting you "in the flesh" and then through you, meeting Ellen, were two big highlights of the long weekend for me.

Kassia said...

Lovely post! It has been such fun reading through everyone's blog posts about SS09. I was so happy to finally meet you, after reading your blog for over a year!

I was at the Barbara Walker lecture too, it was a wonderful talk. She is such a neat lady. :)

I'm so excited to start knitting with my Briar Rose purchases! Incidentally, I found buttons for my Ondule sweater at the Jennie the Potter booth so it will truly be a Sock Summit Sweater! I'm still debating on what to make with the 600 yd skein of Grandma's Blessing; I'm thinking either Gale, Twinings, or Artichaut. Any thoughts?

Willow said...

Having lived through the years of "Oh, you knit. How quaint.", I am thrilled to see that 'craft' and 'knit' are reclaiming their true meanings in our language and culture. I recall reading that Tasha Tudor bristled at the word craft being used to refer to any of her work.

I just can't imagine the energy and creativity of the weekend. I love working a booth at events like this.

So! Show us your purchases!

Alwen said...

The Briar Rose guys have to live 2000 miles away so they can live near me! Michigan has to have some pluses. If it had nothing but what you see in the news, it would be a wasteland of empty factories.

I have kind of a unique background when it comes to that phrase "arts and crafts": I grew up in a Boy Scout camp, living in the ranger's residence. So many summer daycamps with arts and crafts . . . glue and synthetic craft felt and buttons and milk cartons . . . I'm afraid the phrase got sunk forever in my memory of those days.

Wanderingcatstudio said...

Sounds like a great time!

Carrie K said...

So you restrained from throwing tantrums in the Briar Rose booth? lol.

It all sounds so fabulous! And ITA with your definition and reclaiming the word "craft".

Gwen said...

Well, those summer camp arts and crafts are a nice interlude and a little introduction to making something with your hands. (I admit, they're not usually particularly useful somethings... And they take up a lot of space until they fall apart, because they're usually 3-D.) A very early step on the Craft road?

Helen said...

I tend to associate 'crafts' with craftsmen and -women and it makes me think of people who do wonderful patient woodwork and contentedly devote hours to doing something the right way in order to produce something that lasts. And, as you say, Arts and Crafts and everything associated with the movement, the right materials and the right tools and the necessary skills. It's a great pity if people associate it with cotton wool stuck on bits of coloured card, sigh.

I can't believe you stood in the same room as Barbara Walker. And heard her speak. Colour me green.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the word "craft." I suppose I don't usually associate any negative connotations with it, because I'm most often thinking of "craft" in terms of "craftsmanship." I work in the architectural field, which I suppose exposes me more to this side of the word - even in the stripped down buildings of today, it still takes fine craftsmanship on the part of contractors to create the architect's and/or owner's vision (not to mention the excellent detail work of past eras). I suppose there's some element of gender bias present in people's understanding/use of the word, too though - the generally publicly accepted "craftsmanship" of the male builder vs. the less glorified "craft" of the female artisan. However, when it comes right down to it, to me, "craft" refers to something that is done well - a well crafted product. Even in architectural school, the professors might refer to a finished model as being "well crafted." We just need to reclaim the word for what it should be, not how it is perceived! (Oh, and when I hear "arts and crafts" I totally think of the movement & Craftsman style architecture!)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the sock summit was as amazing as you hoped. I really wish I could have come and seen Barbara Walker and met you and everything.

I also totally agree that Craft should be respected. It takes a lot of skill to knit well, and that is not building stuff with spaghetti and popsicle sticks.

As for the administration, I hope the insanity is held to a minimum. I am somewhat hopeful about the coming school year. Of course, that has taken a dent when I found out that we may have an incompetent dean instead of the good one we had last year . . . I'm still hoping.

Anyway, I went camping last week, which was a different kind of fun. I may actually post about it at some point.

Take care.

M-H said...

I think the problem with 'craft' is that those of us who have been knitting for a long time resent when it is used for rubber stamping and ugly paper toile etc. When I see a 'craft' sign outside a shop in a strange town I never have any hope there will be lovely yarn or even skilled knitting, crochet or weaving there - and I've yet to be proved wrong. It's become a grab-bag word for bulky knitting or crochet, multi-coloured things done with popsicle sticks and acrylic yarn, and kitschy little bits of ugly pottery.

We may wish to reclaim it, but I fear it will be a hard fight.

Bea said...

Sock summit sounds like it was awesome. I'm sure despite the insanity that your glad to be home after all that traveling.