Sloe Crafts – A Quiet Rebellion
Handmade. Handcrafted. There is something inexpressibly satisfying about creating something with your own hands, whether you are sewing your own clothes, constructing a piece of furniture, embroidering a cross stitch sampler or even just making dinner from scratch.
Yet handcrafts and traditional skills have never seemed more devalued in the UK today. Where once heritage skills would have been the cornerstone of our creative industries, the pressure for greater and greater profits is making many of them redundant. If the production of something cannot be automated through technology, it is mass-produced as quickly, simply and cheaply as possible, and the valuable skills that would have once signified higher quality products have slowly disappeared.
Meanwhile, the focus of education in the UK on ‘employable’ skills for digital workplaces inevitably means that creative subjects such as art, music, design, wood- and metalwork, textiles and cookery are having to be deprioritised. When creativity is taught in schools, is is often as a means to an end: learning to cook becomes Product Marketing, studying art becomes Brand Design. Creative subjects apparently need to justify themselves in terms of return-on-investment.
As a result, we are losing many of our traditional skills in this country. This year, the charity Heritage Crafts has identified 62 traditional skills now critically endangered (at serious risk of no longer being practiced) in the UK, including the making of church bells, pianos, scissors and watches. Another 84 are endangered (with serious concerns about their ongoing viability), including block printing, glove making, illumination and shoe making.
As Heritage Crafts highlights, ‘whilst the UK has been a world-leader in the preservation of tangible heritage (museum collections, buildings and monuments), it has fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to the safeguarding of intangible heritage (knowledge, skills and practices). Of 193 UNESCO members, the UK is one of just 12 that have not yet ratified the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage.’ You can read the text of the UNESCO Convention here.
However, there is a revolution taking place.
The pandemic prompted a huge resurgence of interest in making things by hand, as many were activities suited to isolation: sales of sewing machines increased phenomenally, as did other fabric-related crafts. Television shows like The Great British Sewing Bee, The Repair Shop and The Great British Bake Off are highlighting the importance, heritage and beauty of traditional skills, while also responding to a younger audience interested in handcrafts. Environmental concerns about waste and our increasingly disposable culture are leading to an increased appreciation for repair and visible mending.
Craft is a quietly rebellious act, a conscious attempt to disengage oneself from the world of capitalism and the digital attention economy. It proposes an alternative to the instant gratification of ordering takeaway, streaming television and buying online. It prioritises persistence over impatience, appreciation over acquisition, community over egotism, giving over taking.
Slow handcrafts suit our lifestyle: we don’t watch television and – when we aren’t cooking something time-consuming – our evenings are usually spent listening to music in the living room. Hobbies like drawing, painting, embroidery, knitting and sewing have fitted easily into our normal routines. Traditional skills are something we have always been interested in and feel are vitally important: for our wellbeing and peace of mind, for the planet, for our community and wider society.
Over the next few months, we want to share some of the skills we have been exploring. If you aren’t already crafting, we hope some of these inspire you to give them a try; if you are already a keen crafter, we would love to hear about your own experiences, and welcome any craft recommendations!