Archive for August 20th, 2012

Research Point – Craft part 2

Having considered different uses of the term “craft” here (18-Aug-2012) I need to look at why craft-produced textiles maintain a place in our society. The particular focus is why people choose to purchase them, the obvious alternative being industrially mass-produced goods.

I’ve quoted Octavio Paz in the past (16-Sept-2011) including “… craftsmanship is the heartbeat of human time. A thing that is handmade is a useful object but also one that is beautiful; an object that lasts a long time but also one that slowly ages away and is resigned to so doing; an object that is not unique like the work of art and can be replaced by another object that is similar but not identical. The craftsman’s handiwork teaches us to die and hence teaches us to live.” Earlier in the essay Paz writes “the destiny of the industrial object is the trash barrel” and “it becomes mere refuse that is difficult to dispose of.” Written in 1973, these passages are still reflected in contemporary concerns.

Craft-produced objects may appear to meet desires for sustainability, more local, perhaps part of the slow movement. I suspect such assumptions are not universally correct.

At a craft market a purchaser may be partly buying into a lifestyle, at least by surrogate. The idea of a free and creative existence becomes part of the object taken home. “Selling the imaginative lifestyle translates to higher prices” (Lucy Gundry)

Superbly crafted goods promise quality, luxury, exclusivity, privilege – evident in Gucci’s Artisan Corner

Appreciation, and therefore purchase, of handcrafted textiles may result from an appreciation of beauty based in human psychology and survival instincts. Predictability can be associated with security, and found in the repeating patterns of many textiles. Within that predictability, we seek to identify variation in detail – again important for survival, and again found in handcrafted textiles. (Barry, 2012)

Craft objects are generally unique, at least in detail, or duplicated in very low volumes, making them attractive to consumers tired of mass-produced sameness and conformity.

Purchasers may admire the skill they know was involved in making the goods or be attracted by the story behind the object, what it represents. This and a whole lot more about consumers of craft, what they look for and value, is in the report of a survey done by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre for the Crafts Council, “Consuming Craft: the contemporary craft market in a changing economy” (pdf here).

While searching the web for this topic I came across the term “craft consumer” – described by Colin Campbell as a consumer who “typically brings skill, knowledge, judgement and passion while being motivated by a desire for self-expression” (Campbell, 2005). Initially I only had the Abstract and assumed “craft consumers” referred to consumers who are craft aficionados and collectors, following trends and the development of individual makers. I later found the full text of Campbell’s article and realised  I had completely misunderstood the term. Instead, “the craft consumer is a person who typically takes any number of mass-produced products and employs these as the ‘raw materials’ for the creation of a new ‘product’, one that is typically intended for self-consumption.” So this more properly fits into my previous post on the meaning(s) of “craft” (19-August-2012).

Liz’s silk scarves

The final part of this Research Point suggested visiting a local craftsperson and asking about their way of working and personal meaning of craft. I had always intended to ask my weaving teacher, Liz Calnan, who has made a successful and longterm career in weaving. Unfortunately I’ve mismanaged time, so won’t be able to see Liz before I send this Assignment off. I’ll try to add her views in a future post, but in the meantime have a few observations of my own. I’ve included a couple of my photos of Liz’s work, but there is much more to be enjoyed on her website

Liz’s mixed yarn shawl

Liz has a deep love and knowledge of all aspects of her chosen craft. She is endlessly interested in experimenting with new structures and materials.

Liz produces a wide variety of work. Scarves and shawls are the major part, but she also creates wall hangings, throws and rugs.
While she has a particular fascination with double weave, Liz uses a wide variety of structures and techniques. She also works in a wide range of colours, including colour schemes she dyes herself and many not necessarily to her personal taste. All of this provides the consumer with choice, able to find a unique textile that appeals to them.

Liz is very conscious of efficiency and productivity in her work, allowing her to provide good value to the consumer and a moderate return for her own investment of time and resources.  One example is the long silk warps she paints, cleverly designed to minimise waste and maximise variety. Such long warps mean loom setup time per item woven is kept to a minimum. Liz also has an extensive collection of looms, so is able to use the most appropriate tool for particular warps. She has multiple looms warped at once, each with a different structure, fibre, width… This helps with variety of product and also efficiency as she is able to tie on new warps quickly without needing additional time on rethreading etc.

An important concern for a production weaver is potential repetitive strain injury. Liz consciously cares for her body in the way she works – in her weaving technique, by moving from task to task, by maintaining general fitness.

Liz makes sales opportunities for herself. In the photo on the left are a bookmark and scarf by Liz, plus an enamel piece by her mother-in-law Heather Calnan, that I purchased at one of their roughly annual exhibitions in the Palm House in Sydney’s botanic gardens. Liz also exhibits  in galleries and craft shows with other crafts groups such as The Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW (

Obviously Liz also supplements her income by teaching weaving – although given the time and effort she puts into preparation and notes for her classes as well as the classes themselves, I suspect this is more for love of weaving and creating new weavers than the financial aspect.

Finally, to quote Liz on her website “I believe hand woven pieces should be functional but beautiful – a joy to use and behold.”


Barry, C. “Beauty theraphy: we analyse why the brain likes handmade textiles” in Selvedge Issue 46 May/June 2012

Campbell, C. “The Craft Consumer: Culture, craft and consumption in a postmodern society” in Journal of Consumer Culture March 2005 vol. 5 no. 1 23-42 (Abstract at accessed 20 August 2012; Full text at accessed 20 August 2012)

Gundry, L, “Exhibition Review: Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshop 1913-19″ in  Textile Journal Vol 9 issue 1

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre “Consuming Craft: the contemporary craft market in a changing economy”, Accessed 20 August 2012

Paz, O. “Use and Contemplation” in World Crafts Council (1974) In praise of hands: contemporary crafts of the world New York Graphic Society Ltd


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August 2012

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