June 16, 2013 by lucieromarin
I’ve just returned from a giant Craft and Quilt Fair, to which I took myself after being ordered by a legitimate superior to, I quote, ‘not stress.’
There are those who insist that because traditional handicrafts are traditionally the work of women, and because they are not business or politics, they must be immediately eschewed in favour of business or politics, in order that women might possess the dignity of men. Then there are are those who consider traditional handicrafts an exercise in feminism and/or activism, because they are traditional to women, and, therefore represent generations of female experience and a blow against sweat shop labour and the mass production of goods. In between these two groups is a much larger group of women (and men, too!) who simply enjoy making cool stuff, and who, therefore, get together in order to enjoy it even more.
It was the third group running today’s show, but the works on display and for sale represented the complete spectrum of artistic experience, and they were extraordinary. There were three exhibition halls (I have no sense of proportion and cannot think of a suitable comparison for size; think three Really Big Spaces) given over to the display of quilts, to guilds – whose members demonstrated their various crafts – to stalls, and to corners for small classes.
Disinhibited by coffee, I visited the lace-maker’s stand, and saw the great chagrin of a lace-maker who heard a passerby say to her daughter, “That’s tatting.” She turned to me. “Tatting is over there!” she pointed. “Anyway, our stand has this huge sign over our heads! How can they not read the sign?” I told her, “No one reads signs.” (It’s true. I’ve worked in customer service.) We talked about her craft, and she told me she finds the crossing and winding of bobbins a meditative work; I remembered the mother of St Therese, and how she, a professional lace-maker, prayed as she worked. I took a turn at a piece of lace, tangled it, tried again, felt the warm glow of incipient addiction rising within me, and ran away, telling myself that I cannot learn three languages, study, blog, write, crochet, sing, and keep body, soul and home in good order, all in my spare time…and also make lace!
I could not bring myself to visit the tatting guild, and will admit that, despite my faint affinity with the craft-as-activism crowd, I am unsure of the point of tatting, (that is, I don’t know what can be achieved with it that cannot be better achieved by crochet or lace-making) and I did not stop by the cake-decorating stand, either. But there was also calligraphy, tapestry (my inner Hungarian says, “Yay!”), spinning and weaving, painting and embroidery. I could not find a crocheters’ guild – either there isn’t one, or there is, but they didn’t make it to the Fair, or there is and they did, but it was lost amongst the whirring wheels and balls of yarn.
I wish I could do justice to the quilts. I have no idea how anyone has the patience (or the maths) required to make one. The mere thought of all that drafting, cutting, piecing, stitching, embroidering, batting and finishing makes me want to run screaming into the night; truly, handmade things are treasures. One quilt, in fact, (made in response to a challenge themed ‘Pearl’) was named something to the effect of ‘Giving quilts to unappreciative relatives,’ and depicted many tiny pearls sitting in the mud before some cute-but-unappreciative swine.
Some were clearly works of art; one quilt, made to the theme ‘Freedom’, depicted Nujood Ali, who obtained, at age 10, by her own strength, a divorce from her 35-year-old husband. Another quilter had used an image of her father-in-law as the inspiration for an Anzac-themed quilt; the result was so moving that I had turn to some fancy-but-less-emotional peacocks in order to be settled. Another quilter chose a spray of blossoms for her design; the quilt was huge, and, I’m not joking, the thing looked alive. I knew, as I looked at it, that those blossoms were ‘only’ made of thread, but I almost heard the movement of that branch. It was like a great painting, made by stitches, rather than dabs or strokes.
Finally, I went to that part of the Hall reserved for the sale of folk art. After a few moments there, I realised that everyone I’d ever met in my whole life needed to own a piece of folk art and I had to buy it for them right now. (One woman had chosen medieval themes for her painting; she’d actually made the thing look real; it was hard to believe it was only a year old). It’s easy to appreciate those crafts which satisfy an immediate need (i.e. which keep us warm) and it’s easy to think that decorative arts are an indulgence or a waste of time. But, looking at the beauty of the painted boxes, I couldn’t help thinking how much happier life is when I look at beautiful things rather than at ugly ones; when I think how much more time I spend at home, rather than in art galleries, suddenly, those works which help me to make home cheerful, beautiful, comfortable, or some combination of all three, take on a new value.
I stand by my conviction that the ordained men should wear very little lace. But, goodness me, I do wish I was able to make some of it!