Sunday, 12 April 2009

Heritage craft skills

The Heritage Crafts Network

I have always been fascinated by rural skills and traditions. I can remember riding through woodland at Odstock in Wiltshire and seeing a man making hurdles from carefully-coppiced stools of hazel - I hope his son is carrying on this tradition. At agricultural shows I have always been interested in watching the chap with the pole lathe, turning chair legs, or the basket-maker (something I have had a one day course in and would love to pursue) or the potter or whoever has a demo. spot that day. I often think that I was born in the wrong time. On my mum's side I come from a long long line of Northamptonshire lace makers. I have always been drawn to needlecrafts, and love to embroider, and do x-stitch, spin, needle-felting, hand-made quilts, hand quilting, plus knitting, crochet and upholstery (hitting something with a hammer is SO satisfying!) Although my mum taught me to knit when I was little, and I was shown how to crochet last year (thank you Sarah), and I used to go to Upholstery evening classes, the other skills have been self-taught with the aid of books. My husband works with wood - and is a skilled turner, repairing chairs in particular and antiques in general and he has a real affinity for anything made from wood. He has also done dry stone walling course in the past. The satisfaction derived from making something from scratch - be it a meal, or a loaf, or a cushion-cover or a gate or basket, has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to find three wonderful books about rural crafts - Made in England by Dorothy Hartley; Household and Country Crafts by Allan Jobson, and The Complete Practical Book of country Crafts by Jack Hill. They catalogue wonderful skills and traditions but sadly many of these are dieing out for one reason or another - and not necessarily from lack of demand. So much knowledge and skill has already been lost and these traditional skills should be more than just a demonstration at an agricultural show.

I hope that you will visit the Heritage Crafts Association which is keeping these wonderful traditional crafts alive. If you have a blog, mention them on your blog, and put a link on facebook or twitter or whatever social network you enjoy. Then set yourself a task to learn one new thing to make in the coming year - one skill, one traditional craft perhaps.


Val said...

Your lovely and interesting post reminded me of watching long ago an Irish series called I think ? "Hands" which focused on skilled craftsmen. It was fascinating..did you ever see that ?

mountainear said...

Hurdles. You have reminded me that when I was a child in south Warwickshire - and it's not really that long ago - sheep hurdles were all made of hazel. And hedges were always laid (they call them 'pleached' in Shropshire). I could rattle on for hours about country crafts which are in danger of being lost. Is this to be regretted? Probably, although the lad on the big tractor would most likely disagree.

I've enjoyed reading your blog - thank you.

Morning's Minion said...

Perhaps because I work in a quilt shop I am encouraged to see that many of the needlearts are alive and thriving here. It would be nice to see younger women doing these things.
One of the crafts that may be somewhat unique to our area is that of creating rustic furniture from knobby lodgepole pine. It can be quite basic or quite an artful expression in the hands of a master crafter.
I beleive that those who can make things, create things, grow food and flowers, work with their hands have a higher degree of contenment and interest in their surroundings. As long as a few people are around who can practice and teach the older, more specialized crafts there is hope that they won't disappear.

Bovey Belle said...

I think that the biggest threat to anything hand-made is the fact that people have too much money these days. If you are poor, then you must make do and mend,or make something from scratch. You cannot just go out and buy it. We have many calls on our time too and relaxation is seen by most as a night in front of the telly when in the past it would have been sitting down making something to pass the long winter evenings.

I bought a box of china at auction last year and in the bottom was a hand-made pipe, crafted from hedgerow hazel and obviously treasured by the family as a memory of dad or grandad. I treasure it too as hand-made hedgerow pipes are truly a thing of the past and this one has the very essence of its user on the bowl, polished by years of holding.

Fanxstitch said...

I have been enjoying your blog for some time now as you are in an area of Wales (Blaenffos) that I got to visit and live in for 6 weeks in '07. I really wish I could live there as I loved it and didn't want to go back to the US. I came over to teach my friend there how to spin and felt plus do other traditional crafts as well as visit as many textile related crafters, museums, and sheep as I could in the time I was there. I learned a lot while I was there and really enjoyed visiting the Pembrookshire Weaving and Spinning Guild and Royal Welsh show. I spent a lot of my time washing up a wonderful variety of Welsh fleeces for my friend to use that her friends gave us. You are so lucky to live in a country that respects and encourages handcrafts of all kinds. There is very little support for crafts where I live in South Carolina in the US, and very few sheep here too. It is also very hard to connect with local crafters except on the internet.

I have made myself learn over the years a wide range of traditional crafts and when I can make my own equipment to use. I spin on hand made spindles and a wheel, dye, wet and needle felt, knit, crochet, rug hook, cross stitch, needlepoint, embroidery, sew, bead, weave, do some basketry and weaving. I also draw, paint, sculpt in wood, stone and clays. I am hoping to pass on my knowledge of crafts to my grandchildren as none of my children are interested in learning any of these skills or crafts, though I have managed to get one crocheting.

I did join the Heritage Crafts Association and have a button on my blog at My current learning skill is the rug hooking that I am teaching myself. I design my own mats and spinning my own yarns as well as recycling old clothing for doing it.