Wednesday, April 22, 2009

craft = power

Yesterday, Jacob and I were eating lunch and listening to one of my favorite newer NPR shows, which featured an Earth Week segment on greener parties and celebrations for kids. You can listen to the segment and read the comment thread that inspired this post here.

Just a note on the idea of being "crafty": I have never really thought of myself as crafty in the hipster sense, or even the Girl Scout arts-and-crafts sense. Maybe it's because I've never been much of a visual artist. I don't do any knitting to speak of (yet) and I don't own a hot glue gun (yet). I do have a haphazardly-thrown-together craft box, containing seemingly useless bits of metal and plastic and fabric and cardboard. For the most part, I'm interested in crafts, as long as either a) I can make something useful instead of buying it or b) I can make something out of material that otherwise would have been thrown away, or both.

During the past year or so, I've tried to embrace crafting from this perspective; I wanted to give Khymi a bathrobe for Chanukah, but I was sorely disappointed by the fact that cotton terry seems available only for babies and hotel guests. So I used a newly-acquired sewing machine to make her one out of old towels.

Or there was the maddening situation with the cats. They happily scratch the couch or the rug, but not the carpeted scratching post, which I bought at PetSmart a couple years ago and which remains largely untouched. One evening, after another discouraging walk through the cat aisle looking at overpriced cardboard scratchers, I took a utility knife to a few of the cardboard boxes that cover our basement floor, and inspired by this post over at The Good Human, Jacob and I made a small scratching pad in a couple of hours. Lila took to it instantly (an unprecedented behavior). Free!

So I suppose I've been driven to craftiness out of necessity. But I don't think crafting should be overlooked as a frivolous or decorative pasttime. Check out the etymology of the word:

Old English cræft "power, strength, might," from Proto-Germanic *krab-/*kraf-. Sense shifted to "skill, art" (via a notion of "mental power"), which led to the n. meaning of "trade."
Indeed, in modern German, Kraft still means "power". Many crafts--woodworking, ceramics, sewing, fiber arts, cooking, gardening--have become nothing but quaint upper-middle-class hobbies during this time when goods are cheaply and easily made and shipped far and wide.

But on this Earth Day, I ask you to hold on to your crafts, my friends. Cultivate and maintain them as well as you can. Learn to create and repair objects of lasting function; with your head and hands, give them real use, and with your heart, give them beauty. Don't just think of craft as a way to pass the time or a neat thing to do, although it may well be; don't even just think of it as a way to save money, although it may well have to be; think of it as power. The power to produce rather than consume, to process rather than discard, to sustain rather than deplete. The power to put as much art into your craft as you desire--to make a four-tone Fair Isle sweater, or simply to darn a pair of black socks to save them from the rag pile.

The Western world is beginning to take an interest (see my mom's course offerings for next year if you want proof)--let's hope it lasts. On Earth Day, we hear a lot about saving the Earth. Let's make one thing very clear: no matter what happens, the Earth will be fine. What we're really worried about is saving ourselves, our world as we know it. Which aspects of humanity should we be saving? Which ones are worth letting go?


Allie said...

Wow! I love the towel robe! That is such a great idea! And I love the little accents you added.

Anonymous said...

Khymi now has a one-off designer bathrobe! One way to make sure she doesn't end up with an all-pink-and-lavendar wardrobe is to make some of it for her, and the brown bathrobe is just incredibly cool.