My Man and I went on a date last weekend. This is quite an extraordinary feat for us. We went and saw The Orbweavers at a pub we could ride to on our bikes on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
The Orbweavers are a Melbourne band who make songs about local landmarks, waterways and our industrial heritage. It is music, story telling and history. You can listen to their song Spotswood, about an old Melbourne suburb at the mouth of the Yarra River.
As I was listening to Marita Dyson, the lead singer tell the stories of the songs, I started thinking about localism and how to express that love of where you live in craft work.
It is tricky to express localism in craft work. There certainly is no shortage of Made In X shops but that kind of handmade stuff, made for selling is usually quite generic. Individual expressions are pooled, posted, pinned and repinned, till the ironic vintage kitsch of Made in Bristol looks the same as Made in Thornbury looks the same as Made in Vienna.
Craft work that can actually embody place and history intrigues me. I have been reading about weaving in Gautamala. Rural women weave on back strap looms made out of materials from their local environment, with wool spun and dyed from the family sheep.
But how does the knitter or quilter in Sydney or Toronto or Leeds embody their place and life in craftwork, particularly in an age of global patterns, idea sharing and materials grown in one country, processed in another and packaged in another?
It seems to me that there are a few ways that you can express localism in craftwork.
The first is by using local and found materials. The quilt sewn from the family’s old clothes or a table made from the old back door are invested with the stories of past use. Yarns grown from local sheep or dyed with local plants create materials which embody the surrounding environment. At Natural Dye Studios in Devon, UK, they use fleece from the Bluefaced Leicester and Exmoor Horn sheep which graze in the fields surrounding their studio. It is spun in the same county, by the power of the river, on machinery from the Industrial Revolution.
Localism can also be expressed in the design elements of the craftwork such as the snowflakes motifs in Norwegian knitting or those quilt blocks of Australian houses I posted a few weeks ago. The challenge here is subtlety, avoiding cliched motifs that don’t really say anything much.
Then I reckon there is also a deeper response where craft can be a vehicle to express place. Embroiderer, Liz Kueneke works with communities in the United States to stitch landmarks and pathways onto embroidered maps, literally uniting place, lived experience and craftwork.
How I can express the experience of living where I live through knitting or sewing currently evades me. Would that I had a way of knitting, spinning or sewing that could convey my love of our lane ways, galvanised iron and paling back fences, the cool air surrounding the creek, gully traps and outdoor loos, the paths we take to get to the milk bar, the route that avoids the magpies in nesting season, the view of the city from the hill above Westgarth, the smell of jasmine on a warm summer evening, the sound of cicadas from the veranda….
If you have an any ideas or examples of localism in craftwork, do let me know.
This is what happens when I go on a date!
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