GENERAL INTRODUCTION – THE CONTRIBUTION OF CRAFTS IN OUR MODERN SOCIETY
The therapeutic benefits of learning a craft are slowly becoming more evident as we move into an age of technology where our children are growing up with the constant and diverse distraction of social media and computer technology and they experience less and less concentrated, in depth and experience-based opportunities for learning. Everything has to be entertaining, instant and the appeal of an instant response is so great that to counteract that is not an easy task.
Why would one want to counteract this modern tendency?
Perhaps we have to observe our children and youth, perhaps even ourselves to find a response to this question. In the week long craft based event of Winter Craft School, I have had the privilege of watching and observing the process of the child that enters the craft school on Monday and completes their journey by Friday the same week. The sense of deep contentment, fulfillment and pride of each child is one of the overriding outcomes I observe in the children.
Where does this come from and in what way is this different from the children operating computer programs, movies and other social media over a period of a week?
We are humans that are made up at least of three different “engines”, if you want to call it that. The most used or called on “engine” in our modern life today is perhaps our capacity to think. Let’s call it our thinking “engine”, or our brain capacity. School life is dominated by the attempt to get our children to remember what they are taught and regurgitate this as accurately as possible during examination times. So we could not even say that our school systems are trying to teach our children to think, as I would consider that capacity yet another one from the ability to simply regurgitate. But none the less, the thinking engine is used to do this activity in some way or another. Another pivotal “engine” in our beings is the capacity to feel. This “engine” is known to us as the place in which we have the capacity to feel likes and dislikes, love and hate, and all other feelings in between that. As we gradually become adults, we supposedly learn how to “control” this capacity so as to comply to the societal norms regarding permissible feelings, what is “allowed” , “expected” of us or even regarded as “normal”. Furthermore, the third “engine” I would like to refer to is that of our will. Our will is connected to both feeling and thinking, but at times also takes on a life of its own. It is perhaps the most unconscious of our “engines” yet driven by both in a most mysterious way. Our will is what pulls us out of bed in the mornings, takes us to work and back, and is partly responsible for the actual doing of most of the tasks that we accomplish on a daily basis. We have a variety of feelings and thoughts about what we like and don’t like doing, etc. but in effect, despite how we feel or think about things, certain things in life have to be done, and it is thanks to this “engine” that these things do get done.
Humans are very diverse and the way we learn is also very different. Whereas some of us may be stronger in our abilities to think, others may be stronger in their capacity to feel and others again better at getting tasks done. However our present schooling systems teach first and foremost to the “thinking” capacity of our beings. Many children fall by the wayside on this journey, more and more in fact, and many find their school years incredibly difficult, as they attempt to compete with those who are more adept at learning with their heads.
Crafts and doing crafts is a much more inclusive and holistic approach to learning that includes the whole human being, all three “engines” so to say, and therefore I believe leaves all children in a more content and satisfied place once they have mastered a particular craft and learned how to use the material offered in such a way that now enables them to begin to be creative with this medium.
Every age brings its gifts and has its losses or costs, and perhaps the resurgence of crafts world-wide is the result of our modern 1st world communities becoming more and more one sided in their approaches to learning and advancement.
A mere 100 years ago, many young adults would enter an apprenticeship with a crafter that would provide a community with essential goods that were required to survive. The young adult, usually around the age of between 14 and 16 years, would become apprenticed to a master tradesman/woman and learn to create something that was needed in the survival of their community. This direct connection is lost to us today in much of our learning processes, with young adults still often sitting on school and university benches learning in abstraction what will hopefully one day become their income capacity but the direct connection to society and its needs is lost in many of these studies. It is very common for a young student to ask their parents or themselves today, ”Why am I doing this for so many years, and in what way does this prepare me for the life of an adult?” I am not suggesting we go backwards in time but what about reassessing our learning options in the modern age according to what our children are saying, yearning for and seeking in order to make meaning of their own life and its contributions to this modern society.
I will now, in this article, attempt to describe the main learning processes that occur in a few of the traditional crafts that are offered on the Winter Craft School as well as in many other center's of the world.
– FROM SHEEP TO THREAD
- Preparing the Raw Wool
- Accurate Spatial Estimation
- Fine Motor Skill Sensitivity
- The Drop Spindle
- Inner and Outer Sense of Balance / Learning to trust the body’s unconscious, intrinsic learning ability
- Multi-tasking using body and
Preparing the raw wool
The process of spinning and felting actually begins with the shearing of the sheep. Bunches of matted and dirty oily wool needs to be washed and subsequently “carded” or brushed in a very specific way in order to ensure that it is usable in the process of producing yarn or a piece of felted material. In ancient times this was the only way in which materials were made which humans then covered themselves with and kept themselves warm. Therefore humans and animals had a very symbiotic relationship with the worth of a community or family often being measured in the number of animals they owned.
Preparing the Wool for Spinning
Once the raw wool has been brushed, it is prepared by the learner for the spinning process. For that, the learner takes small bunches of carded wool and places it upon one another, ensuring that the end of one bunch is carefully placed at around the mid-point of the last bunch, thereby ensuring the “crossing of the threads” whilst spinning. This exercise is often the first one the children encounter in the spinning workshop as we receive the wool beautifully washed and carded directly from the mills. So it is here that we make the connection between the sheep and the wool the children are working with.
In the preparation of the wool for spinning, what is being asked of the child is
- Accurate spatial estimation, something that is more and more lacking in the modern child, and
- Fine motor skill sensitivity – working with feather light wool that hardly weighs anything, the child is often totally dependent on the ability to estimate with their sense of feeling in their fingers, alternatively with their eyes. Modern children often lack this sensitivity which is formed in the very young child when it is developing its lower senses as a baby and toddler. At that age, ideally, the baby and toddler touches, feels, often tastes and sometimes swallows everything they want to learn about, in order to fully grasp its actual physical quality and internalises this into memory. Due to a variety of factors the modern child has often not had this opportunity and therefore yearns to catch this up once given the chance.
The Drop Spindle
and Outer Sense of Balance
- Learning to trust the body’s unconscious,
intrinsic learning ability
If the learner is learning first to spin via a drop spindle, they now start to use their whole bodies in the process of mastering this skill. Whilst standing in an upright position, they hold a drop spindle in their one hand, usually already with some thread attached to it, and with the other they are picking up the wool they previously prepared very carefully from next to them, in order for it not to fall apart whilst bringing it to the end of the yarn.
An incredible amount of inner balance is needed at this point, as three tasks are now being required of them almost simultaneously:
- Balancing and slightly spinning the drop spindle with the fingers of their one hand
- Picking up the wool carefully with their other hand and bringing it to the end of the yarn without losing concentration on the spinning of the drop spindle
- “Feeding” the wool onto the yarn with the use of the individual fingers and
allowing it to twist onto yarn whilst constantly ensuring the spinning motion
of the drop spindle.
Any disturbance in the sense of balance in a learner will be challenged during the learning process and naturally corrected. Sometimes it takes a little time, as many years of one sidedness is not corrected in a day, but certainly correctable! Furthermore, some significant or insignificant developmental steps that were missed in the learner’s childhood will be caught up with in the process of learning this craft. Hence many adults find intense pleasure in learning this craft, which once learned has many side effects that are most positive to the kind of life we lead today. Not least among them the overriding feeling of wholeness, of the whole body being engaged in a process that is also creating something of value, something beautiful and something that can be used.
The Spinning Wheel
moving onto a Spinning Wheel, as a progression to having developed the ability
to spin with a drop spindle! This process is the climax of engaging the whole
body in the learning process as the feet are now required to do a further set
of steps to activate the movement of a separate mechanism which assists in the
process of transforming the loose, soft and almost floating substance into a fine
thread that can ultimately be used in a number of ways to produce any number of
Whilst the learner’s one foot is stabilising the whole body weight and position, the other foot is engaged in moving the plate of the spinning wheel up and down in a steady rhythmical motion that facilitates the evenness of the thread being spun together. This step requires a fine tuned balance between left and right brain hemispheres, again, something which is seldom seen anymore as our children have been through a very one sided learning process in their schooling. Hence, the craft of learning to spin calls upon this balance, and the process of learning these individual steps teaches the body to balance itself, correcting any imbalances as it goes along. We can call this autocorrection in the general sense of balance.
Now you may begin to understand why, at the end of such a learning process, the learner is rewarded with a deep sense of inner and outer fulfillment, as finally all their “engines” have been engaged in a process of learning and have achieved something whole, complete and visibly useful to their immediate community. They experience also a sense of meaning, as the connection has been made between themselves and their community and their abilities to contribute, despite their young age, to the requirements a community’s needs may make on its individual members to make a meaningful contribution to its survival.