We live in a highly mechanized and technologically driven age where the degree of separation between us and those who make most of the things that we use on a daily basis seems as vast as the count of numbers to infinity. Distant industrialized manufacturing is a relatively new fangled thing: craft in contrast is almost as old as the oceans and is deeply embedded into the community where a craftsperson works.
I am passionate about craft and of the things that surround me the ones that I love the best are those made with care, creativity, and passion by craftspeople. I love having beautiful things fashioned from often unpromising raw materials, using skills that have tumbled down the generations, and inspired by wisps of ideas in the minds of their makers. So when I heard that a new book on the block, about craft in Ireland, was due for publication this week I was always going to be one of the first in the queue to buy a copy.
Journalist and author Sylvia Thompson wrote Hands On – The Art of Crafting in Ireland. The book, published by Liberties Press, has its roots in a series of articles Sylvia wrote for the Irish Times on traditional crafting skills in Ireland. Buying a book sight unseen without a cursory flick through its pages is always a risk. In this case it was a risk that paid dividends as I love everything about the book: the images, the writing, the design, the illustrations and even the quirky page-numbering.
Hands On has five chapters on crafts: Studio-Based Crafts; Stitching and Weaving Crafts; Home-Based Crafts; Outdoor Crafts; and Restoration and Conversation Crafts. Each chapter is further sub-divided into sections, for example the chapter on studio-based crafts looks at: pottery, working with leather, metalsmithing, working with glass and woodturning. The book is not just about the who, the how and the history of each particular craft it also details where you can sign up to learn that craft and where you can buy the materials you need for your class. The book has a further four chapters each filled with images of different themed exhibitions that were held in Ireland last year to celebrate the 2011 Year of Craft.
I found Hands On inspiring. There wasn’t a single craft in the book that I wouldn’t like to have a go at – yes even boatbuilding and dry-stonewalling! I have attended various craft classes in the past (pottery, jewellery-making, patchwork and embroidery) and I will definitely try my hand at another craft sometime soon. I loved what I read about lace making but I am not sure if I have the requisite patience for such intricate work. However, having looked at some of the images in the book I have put the Sheelin Irish Lace Museum on a mental list of places I must see.
Of all the crafts in the book the ones in the Home-Based Crafts chapter are the most accessible. In that chapter there is a section on making butter and cheese, according to the book ‘you can made a small quantity of butter by simply whipping sour cream with an egg whisk or even a fork’. Imen McDonnell a talented Irish food blogger took the beautifully styled images illustrating butter making. Here is a link to a post on Imen’s blog showing us how it’s done. I may just have a go at making some butter…