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A brief history of crafting

...Craft has three historical stages. First there is the time when everything is craft. All processes of making are hand processes, everything made, whether utilitarian, ritual or merely decorative (and often one cannot separate these functions), is essentially a craft object. Later, at least in Europe, from the Renaissance onwards, it is possible to distinguish two further stages of development. There was an intellectual separation between the idea of craft and that of fine art, which eventually came to be regarded as superior. This development is one of the distinguishing marks of the European Renaissance. Later still, with the Industrial Revolution, there arrived a separation between a craft object and the thing made by a machine---an industrial product.

Edward Lucie-Smith
The Story of Craft, Cornell University Press, 1981

The industrial revolution moves crafts from functional to decorative

People make things. Whether driven by need, challenge, or spiritual or artistic expression, creating personal and household articles from natural materials has always been a human activity.

Decorative home crafts, as we recognize them today, came into being as a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century. Many utilitarian household articles that were previously made by its members - clothing, utensils, furnishings - could now be mass-produced at low cost. In western culture, home crafting turned to the decorative and folk arts.

As before, home crafting was primarily the occupation of women. Fabric crafts and needlework were principal, but every available material was used. Thrifty and creative - with time on their hands - the Victorians recycled household materials into decorative or useful objects. Since elaborate ornamentation was the style of the day, crafts were often highly decorated and embellished.

Women's magazines offer the first craft instructions

Craft ideas and instructions appeared in women's magazines of the early 19th century. In 1830, American Louis A Godey published the first edition of his immensely popular magazine (which would last until 1898), Godey's Lady's Book, which offered Victorian women popular literature and poetry, lifestyle articles, domestic suggestions, garment patterns, recipes, and craft instructions. By the 1880's, several crafting how-to manuals had been published, including the Young Ladies Journal Complete Guide to the Work-Table. These guides offered illustrated instructions on needle crafts like quilting, Berlin work (needlepoint), crochet, knitting, knotting and macrame, lace making and netting, Poonah painting (color-by-number), and tatting. Also popular were familiar crafts like glass and porcelain painting, paper crafts, weaving, jewelry making, wood and metal engraving, dried flower and seed crafts, and beading, as well as some forgotten crafts like taxidermy and hair work. Hair work was very fashionable in the mid-19th century, and ladies would weave and braid the hair of their friends and relatives into items like bracelets, rings, chains, purses and even riding crops.  For a first-hand experience with some of these Victorian crafts, visit www.victorian-embroidery-and-crafts.com.

Scrapbooking was a growing family pastime in the late 18th century as a way of chronicling relationships, events and family histories through collected memorabilia and journaling. By 1830 it was a full-blown craze, only to reach new heights with the availability of photography in the latter half of the century.

Crafting and scrapbooking experience a 20th century revival

With the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement and functional art in the early 20th century, home crafting was again renewed by an increased interest in natural materials and handcrafted quality. The 1920s-50s saw the reestablishment of many craft guilds, the formation of crafter organizations, and the founding of craft industry associations. This interest continues today in a worldwide community of crafters and scrapbookers, aided in part by craft magazines and publications, instructional television programs and the Internet. According to the 1998 study by the Craft and Hobby Association:
  • More than 8 out of 10 American households have one family member engaged in crafting.
  • A staggering 97% of adult women (ages 55-64) surveyed had participated in a crafting activity in their lifetime.
  • The most popular crafts were cross-stitch/embroidery (45%), crocheting (29%), apparel/fashion sewing (26%), home decor painting/accessories (25%), craft sewing (24%), cake decorating/cake making (22%), needlepoint/plastic canvas (22%), art/drawing (21%), floral arranging (21%), home decor sewing (21%) and scrapbooking/memory crafts (20%).
  • The breakdown of how people used their craft projects was: gifts (71%), home decorating (69%), personal use (62%), holiday decorating (59%) and items to sell (16%).
  • The major sources from which craft/hobby participants get their ideas are magazines, books and catalogs. Family and friends are also an important source of ideas.
With the increasing availability of craft supplies and education, as well as digital vintage images and home computing, we are seeing a heightened interest in crafts with vintage images and themes.  As Martha would say, "This is a good thing."

...There is an inherent pleasure in making. We might call this joie de faire (like joie de vivre) to indicate that there is something important, even urgent, to be said about the sheer enjoyment of making something exist that didn't exist before, of using one's own agency, dexterity, feelings and judgment to mold, form, touch, hold and craft physical materials, apart from anticipating the fact of its eventual beauty, uniqueness or usefulness.

Ellen Dissanayake, "The Pleasure and Meaning of Making" AMERICAN CRAFT, April/May 1995

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