Tuesday, May 1, 2007


From Merriam Webster online:

Function: noun
Etymology: French, from Latin amator lover, from amare to love
Date: 1784
1 : devotee, admirer 2 : one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession 3 : one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science.

I would just like to take a moment to say that I am proud to be an amateur. I'm an amateur knitter, an amateur quilter, an amateur baker, I am an amateur at most of the activities I attempt. I pursue crafts out of a love for them, I do not pretend to be a master at any of them.

There was a time when young children would be taught a craft as soon as they were able to handle the tools. Eight year old girls would practice their needlework by creating samplers writing out the alphabet and favorite verses. Girls were expected to help with the weaving, sewing, and knitting of their family's clothing. It was a necessity. As these girls grew, their various skills would improve and as adults many of them became masters of their craft, artists even. We now consider their works antiques, collectibles, heirlooms.

Given the history of hand crafts, two things seem absurd to me. One is the notion that only old ladies knit/quilt/cross stitch. It's only been in the past generation or two, as more and more women entered the public workforce (obviously women have been working since the dawn of time) and people began purchasing the majority of their clothing & linens, that hand crafting became less prevalent, less necessary. The current so called Craft Revolution is, IMHO, less of a revolution, and more a kind of return to the way things had been for a very long time. Hmmm... I don't know exactly how to say what I'm trying to get at... but I think you get the idea. Obviously we are using new technologies, and applying modern sensibilities to our hobbies... but my main point is, it's really nothing new. I read on discussion boards about young women in their teens or twenties (oh lord I'm old!) getting teased about doing a 'grandma' craft and it's just absurd. Historically she would have started that 'grandma' craft at the age of 4!

The other thing I find absurd about the current state of crafts, is how quickly people attempt to be or claim to be experts. There are people who've barely learned to knit themselves who "design" patterns, or try to write books. As though they have grasped something new and unique about the craft that none before them have. More power to them if they want to design a pattern. But to me, it seems disrespectful of the craft, and all the designers and artists who came before us, to not at least study the subject for several years before attempting to add to the body of knowledge and literature out there. Last night I was looking through some knitting pattern books from the 80s and 90s. While some of the designs were hilarious in their unique reflection of the style of the time, many of the patterns looked quite familiar. There were two or three that I could identify as nearly identical to some very recent and popular designs. What's my point here? I guess that sometimes people are trying to create something new for the sake of saying they've created something 'new' when what they've created is either so faddish it will be laughably out of style in a year or two, or merely recycling an old pattern that people have been using for ages. Personally, if I'm going to make something by hand, I'd like to use a pattern that's stood the test of time. If it was good enough for our grandmothers, it's probably good enough for me!

I'm proud to call myself an amateur. I'm proud to use standard patterns that have survived the ebb and flow of fashion. Obviously, I want to include my own unique touches, and lacking the time I would like to have to devote to my projects, I'm going to use much of the technology available to me (yay- rotary cutters!!). But largely, I'm content to engage in my pursuits as a devotee of them, an admirer of them and not for profit or for popularity.


Magatha said...

Well, it's hard to make the big $$$ in crafting if you label yourself an amateur, so branding counts in the marketplace but not in true skills. (Sometimes they have both down so well as to be scary, like Debbie Stoller. She really hit the right buttons and I think her degree in female psychology is the real secret to her success. )
There is no apprenticeship anymore. People think they are ready to go with very little training in anything. Our fast paced 'take it now' world.

Here's to amateurs! I'm one too!

Melody said...

exactly why I rarely buy knitting pattern books.

jenn said...

You make a very interesting historical point, Rebel. I suppose that's why grandmas knit--not because it's old-lady-ish, but because back when they were kids, it was still taught to them as a useful and important skill.