Cræft in the US

Craeft US

I’ve been hugely inspired by the work of American authors on craft – Richard Sennett, Peter Korn, Matthew Crawford, Howard Risatti, to name but a few. I am therefore thrilled to be entering into the debate in the US about the importance and value of craft in everyday life.

Mine is an exploration into the rich time-depth of many of our crafts, charting their origins back through the medieval and ancient past. Woven into these narratives are the stories of my own experiences, those working as an archaeologist, as a small-holder as well as those cherished memories I have of working on a range of BBC history programmes – Victorian FarmEdwardian Farm and Wartime Farm.

But I like to think that I arrive at some of the same conclusions as the great craft-theorists: Crafting defines us. We are makers. It’s healthy. We are at our best when we are making, from natural materials, to a standard, for use, and with care and compassion.

4 thoughts on “Cræft in the US

  1. I write to tell you how much I enjoyed your book Craeft. Your ideas are much in line with my own observations on makers and making over the years.

    Also, I was pleased to see you mention George Sturt’s book The Wheelwright’s Shop. This is a book my father and I stumbled across many years ago and enjoyed enormously.

    I see several aspects to craeft-sense. First, there is an almost visceral sense of raw materials. The ash trees in this part of forest will produce better splints than the ash trees in that part of the forest; flax will do better in this field than in that field; this valley just smells right for clay or ore or sheep. This questing for raw materials is almost subliminal and almost continuous. Indeed, where making stands between eating and starving, this questing for raw materials is a survival skill.

    The second aspect of craeft-sense is a profound familiarity with the dimensions, heft, balance, and (where called for) edge of one’s tools.

    The sense of raw materials and the knowledge of tools are then brought together in the process of making. The conversation between the raw materials and the tools which results in the made object is mediated or orchestrated by the maker and continuously adapts to the conditions of the place and time.

    I’m a handweaver working with a two hundred year old loom that was built in New England for home-based production. (In the grand scheme of the industrial revolution in textiles, this loom was a throwback when it was built because it was never made to accommodate a fly shuttle.) Right now I’m mediating a conversation between the loom and over 18,000 yards* of linen warp that will eventually become linen sheeting.

    When all is well, the tread and the beat have a particular sound and sensation. I refer to this as a state of being in tune. I can see, hear, and feel a loss of tuning, which is typically a result of changes to temperature and humidity. The earlier I can sense and react to this loss of tuning, the better my craeft-sense. The making becomes more efficient and the end product is of better quality.

    I believe, as you do, I think, that more people should learn to make things, but I’m puzzled how as to how to convey craeft-sense. Acquiring craeft-sense requires a lot of doing over a lot of time – a sense of time that may seem glacial in the digital age.

    *36 ends per inch times a width of 37 inches times a length of 14 yards. It adds up rather alarmingly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If crafting defines us, then what does it say about our government devaluing and removing funding from Arts. Or the fight to have people call the acronym STEAM instead of STEM (Do y’all use the same acronym for sciences, tech, engineering and maths)?

    Actually not a rhetorical question, though on it’s face seems as one. What can we expect for our own future? What exists out there to warn of where we’re headed?


  3. I happened to stumble onto Alex’s website while watching “Tales from the Green Valley” to see what other TV shows Alex, Ruth, and Peter have done. I actually bought the “Craeft” book this year but didn’t realize this was the same Alex. Really enjoyed the book and hope you will write others. As I’ve started to read more about permaculture and experiment with different gardening/permaculture ideas in my backyard, I’m realizing that there is a lot to be learned from some of the things our ancestors did in the past.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s