On Wabi-Sabi Wednesdays, I feature excerpts from my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, released in May.
“My life is worthwhile even if I burn all the cookies. The creative process for me is like a path of discovery, so mostly my emotions through it are wonder and curiosity.” — Church of Craft co-founder Callie Jannoff
Making and growing things yourself is solid wabi-sabi—and a gentle rebellion against a globalized, mass-produced world. People make things because they love the process and for all sorts of other reasons from the political (exploitation and sweatshop labor) to the practical (a lot of the stuff we buy these days just isn’t well made). We no longer have to make what we need to get by day by day, but for many the desire lingers—and even surges as a strong cultural movement from time to time.
Interest in craft cycles through modern culture. Traditional domestic crafts such as basketmaking and weaving, practiced by males and females alike, were crucial to pre-industrial cultures. In the 19th century, traditionally female chores such as spinning, weaving and sockmaking were taken over by males, who formed professional guilds to protect their livelihoods. Factory-run power looms, which could spin and weave faster and cheaper than the guilders and without any skilled labor, killed the cottage industries—and the domestic arts became a female hobby.
The Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century protested the industrialists’ monotony with a call for a return to handmade furnishings, as the Colonial Revival movement’s popular stitching and crafting societies brought many women back to handicrafts their grandmothers had left behind. Popular interest in traditional crafts faded out again until Alexander Girard, Dorothy Liebes and Jim Thompson led a revival of interest in the 1950s, and Girard began amassing the anonymous folk crafts collection that became Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art. In Japan at the same time, art critic and collector Soetsu Yanagi and potters Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai formed the Japanese Craft Society. Along with their friend, British potter Bernard Leach, they spearheaded an interest in traditional, handmade crafts that mirrored what was happening on the other side of the world. Yanagi’s Japan Folk Craft Museum (a must-see if you’re in Tokyo) houses “the arts of the people, returned to the people.”
Today, interest in domestic arts such as knitting and sewing has risen as TV shows such as “Project Runway” have introduced young fashionistas to sewing and knitting needles have become Julia Roberts’ noted accessory. Trendicators call knitting “the Nintendo of the 21st century.” I don’t quite see it, although the Craft Yarn Council of America says that a new recruit joins the 38 million other knitters in America every minute. Knitting’s popularity hasn’t rivaled the iPod and never will—but a lot of people knit while they listen to iPods.
Domestic arts such as knitting and spinning are meditative and satisfying.
Photo by Joe Coca