Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The magic of the ordinary

I've been mulling over the value of handwork.

I know there's a lot of talk in blogland about the special qualities that handwork bestows. I know I personally get a lot of joy out both the process and the product (usually). But does, say, a handpieced quilt have any more intrinsic value than a store-bought one? What about if it's handpieced, but you bought it? Why is the relationship between crafting and thrifting so strong?

Is there magic in it?

My conclusion is that I think there is. But it's subjective. And it's not a given.

One hand worker can see the magic in another's hand work. It's harder to see and feel the magic if it's a craft that you don't share - I personally find scrapbooking not very thrilling, although I have seen some extremely beautiful and creative examples - I happen to think that that's the nature of the craft, that it's too commercial and often discourages rather then encourages creativity. Not always, but often.

But where does the magic come from? What's its source? Process or product? I know many people talk of the knitting the time into their stitches - of each stitch somehow capturing the spirit and meaning of what's happening at the time. And it is true that some of the things I've made will strongly bring back glimpses of the weather, or what I was listening to or thinking about. But that is in my own head, not in the stitches.

What about the love poured into each carefully crafted stitch? Does that mean that, if a lovingly pieced quilt will keep you warm better, that a persnickity project will leave you shivering? That a thrice-frogged yarn will hold onto its curse and make you miserable? I just don't buy it.

No, I don't think it's the process. Although that carries its own magic, it's a magic that's firmly rooted in the present moment, that has its strength in the now, and so, by definition, can't affect the future.

So, the product. Oftentimes a handstitched item will be 'better' quality to a store bought one. Oftentimes not. The materials used or the skills and care involved vary for both types of items. Nothing much to be gained there for my argument.

It must, then, be some value that we place on the work that went into making the item. Obviously, today, handwork is something of a luxury. You only have to go into any quilt store, and take a look at their prices and, sometimes, their clientele, to realise that. But most of the people who do really truly creative work aren't people who have a lot of extra money or free time. They craft because it's what they do. It's an important part of who they are. It's art.

I can't remember who it is, maybe Amy Carol, but one of the contributors to a Crafter Companion wrote that she realised at some stage that she felt exactly the same doing art as doing 'craft'. I know some people have a problem with the word craft, but I don't really. It's all part of the same process - all art is based on craft, all craft can transcend and become art. It's a fuzzy and complicated process.

After thinking it over, I have come to the conclusion that there is magic in handcrafts. In the end product. But it doesn't shine its strongest in the product itself. It shines most is us. In it's creators and users. Its magic is in how it changes us and the way we see it and other things.

Being a handworker makes you more aware. It makes you think about process and product. It makes you consider source, utility, worth. It gives you a new eye to look at these things with. Whereas before, a blanket is a blanket, a top is a top, those things now become the end of a long line of things.

This top was fabric.

Before that it was thread.

Before that it was cotton.

Before that it was earth and sun and seeds and labour.

And if you have sewn it yourself, you are not just the recipient of all this work. You are a part of it. Even if it is a shirt you bought, you understand a little more.

It was reading this post that helped me think about the way it shapes us. About how understanding your world makes you gentler and a little softer. About how working in a garden or with your hands brings you to an understanding with your world, a world that is made up of ordinary things, of bits and pieces, and helps you to find a place for all of them.

And once you see the magic in ordinary things, you understand the importance of 'small pleasantnesses'. I've long thought that, since I am easily irritated by trivialities, it behoves me to look for the joy that small, everyday things bring. That joy that comes so naturally to children, the wonder that we loose. In rain, in sun, in the way leaves move. In good food and company. In words.

Crafting alone will not bring this for you. Thinking alone won't, either. But when one has the luxury, the leisure, for both... A thinking crafter is a powerful thing.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

I'm definitely a believer in the importance of small pleasantnesses. I wonder if it is even possible to be a crafter without that belief. Otherwise why would it be worth time and money to make something beautiful when you could buy something cheaply that does the job.