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May 30, 2011 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Arts and Crafts

Crafts and DIY culture are enjoying a revival in New Zealand and around the world, proving that knitting is not just for nanas. Wellington is hosting the first Handmade convention, abounds with markets and supports people both young and old in small-scale creative industry.

“Crafts” might conjure up candy-coloured images of friendship bracelets, scrapbooking and macaroni picture frames, but essentially refers to some kind of skilled work, often in pursuit of the small-scale production of goods. Nice and broad, this definition encompasses DIY punk culture, knitting, journalling, sewing and jewelery making – hobbies enjoyed by your average student.

Historically, crafts were considered artisan work, rather than fine art. The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century formed as a reaction against industrialisation and sought to reinstate the value of decorative and folk art forms. William Morris, figurehead of the movement, advocated an emphasis on the qualities of the materials used by artists, and the importance of function beyond surface decoration. There was also concern for the loss of traditional skills and creativity as machine production replaced individual industry. The ideas of the Arts and Crafts Movement were influential on almost all areas of art and design by the beginning of the 20th century.

The 1970s saw craft again reclaimed as a fine art by feminist artists who were tired of certain artistic pursuits being relegated as “women’s work” and not worthy of gallery display. Canadian-born artist Miriam Schapiro integrated quilting, embroidery, cooking and other traditionally female techniques into her large-scale femmages, now held by numerous prestigious galleries and museums worldwide. The Dowse Art Gallery in Lower Hutt is currently holding a small exhibition called “High Tea”, featuring tea cups and ceramics in a high-art context.

The modern DIY movement is linked to punk ideologies of anti-consumerism and political activism. Bands and artists outside of the mainstream seek to avoid conventional corporate funding and hold events in residential homes rather than traditional venues. There are several central-city residences in Wellington well known for staging shows along these lines. They may also record and release their own music, avoiding the need for costly production. In a similar vein, handmade zines promote DIY values and creativity on a low budget.

DIY craftsters with political agendas fall under a movement known as “craftivism”. Crafters may choose organic or fair-trade materials, give handmade gifts or use their crafts and skills as currency. Activists have decorated cities worldwide with textile “guerrilla art”, often knitting or crocheting around power poles, fences and other corporate symbols. Danish artist Marianne Jorgensen creates knitted “tank blankets” in protest against the Iraq war, contrasting a comforting symbol of home with harsh weaponry.

Students and lower-income earners often apply the DIY punk ethic to their own lives, by avoiding corporate consumption and instead teaching themselves skills, scavenging, and using a barter-trade system. Growing a vegetable garden is a sustainable action that subverts the supermarket system and is more environmentally friendly.

Many people are also turning to crafts as a form of income. Websites like Etsy.com and New Zealand’s own Felt.co.nz provide a platform for crafters to sell their wares for a low cost. Online retailers such as Foxes.co.nz and Toggle.co.nz also support small-time crafters. Some sellers are able to survive solely on selling what they make, while others see it as an opportunity to share their own creativity and get involved in the community aspect. Facebook is increasingly used as a method for DIY crafters to gain followers without the need for expensive marketing.

New Zealand has a large crafting community, boasting large-scale markets up and down the country. In Wellington, Craft 2.0 is a cult craft fair running four times a year at the Dowse, with the next event in July. This market fills the gallery and provides stallholders with a retail opportunity as well as the average person an opportunity to browse a selection of the best quality handmade goods. The Frank Kitts Market runs every Saturday on the Waterfront, and a market is held at Mighty Mighty on the first Saturday of every month.

Happening for the first time at Te Papa this month is the Handmade 2011 convention. Over 4-5 June a number of workshops taught by experts will allow you to learn upcycling, cheese-making, knitting, weaving and heaps more handmade skills. Individual classes cost $45 each, however, which might put this convention out of reach of a student budget. A more resourceful approach might be to find a friend who knows one of these skills and trade a lesson for a box of beer.

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  1. Felix says:

    And why shouldn’t it be. Crafting is the best way to spending time, idle or not, doing something productive, will make you feel good about yourself and the community would benefit by not having a free-for-all soul roaming around the park!

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