by hand


I had some great conversations this week about what the Craftstitute is and what we hope to do with it. It's been interesting to see how people react and rally to the cause. I think we all tend to labor in pockets of isolation and when we find one another sparks fly.

A woman I spent the morning with has a high-end silkscreened fabric business. She prints using a traditional method. She starts her designs with colored pencil and ink. She does the color separations herself, and then prints these amazing world-ethnic-inspired textiles using up to five or six screens. The layering of the inks gives her many more colors in the final designs. We had a rambling talk about color, dye, methods, business, art, and how it all fits together. I left full-to-overflowing with energy -- and some ideas for how we might start teaching more complicated surface design techniques. 

But there are a couple of moments I keep returning to in our conversation: They were about what we are doing here, at the Craftstitute. She completely grasped the Craftstitute's intent, and why it's important to share knowledge of how to make things with our hands, and how the community we gain is so energizing. I keep thinking of her comment "Nobody even had time to mourn film photography; it was just suddenly gone."  Now we all use computerized filters to try to capture the analog slips and color shifts that happened in the darkroom. It's a lot harder to learn about f-stop and exposure value when your camera is smarter than you are.

Likewise, digital textile printing has increased access to custom textiles -- and it has enabled some visually arresting design techniques. But there is a difference in uploading a file versus thinking through the color separation and preparation of screens. And there are things lost: the same design printed digitally will look blurrier and mushier than it will printed using a traditional method.

Waxing nostalgic? Maybe. I did just read Station Eleven. But my husband, who teaches engineering, says many students, on their exit surveys, say they wish they'd had time in a machine shop. A jeweler I spoke to asked how can people cast or print metal jewelry when they don't understand the basic properties of what they're working with? What do we lose when we no longer understand how to make things by hand?

When we learn to make something, we learn it from the inside. My couple of years as a hobbyist studio potter (I sold dishes!) have affected what I think when I pick up a bowl. Do i like its shape? Is it balanced? How thick is it? Does it fit my hand comfortably? I understand what went into it; I understand some of why it turned out the way it did. I appreciate the skill of the maker in a new way. It changes how I evaluate what I buy or choose not to buy, and what I choose to use or not to use. 

I'm not shunning new technology. I lust after that laser cutter as much as the next kid. But knowing how materials are going to respond when I use them? That's ace.

x Erika