Shelbyville's bookbinding classes recently enjoyed a little mention in an article in Spectrum, a supplement in the weekend edition of The Sydney Morning Herald (January 8-9, 2011).
The article by SMH journalist Samantha Selinger-Morris, titled 'You're just my type', suggested that traditional 'old fashioned' craft skills are coming back into vogue, from bookbinding to letterpress to cross-stitch, with additional mentions of typography design, book clubs, and print museums.
Must admit, I was amused by Samantha's encompassing description of all these things as "...a fetishisation of words you can manhandle"..!
While I whole-heartedly agree with Samantha in that (of course) people love the physical touch of the printed word - who isn't compelled to run their finger over the slight indentation of toothy letterpressed paper, or flick through the tactile pages of a beautifully handbound book? - I can't say I agree with Sherman Young, one of the interviewees, who is quoted as saying "...it's like the so-called vinyl revival...a nostalgic grab back to a past age".
No, I think it's more likely an inherently human, common, everyday need than just a faddy, nostalgia-based 'movement' that Sherman Young thinks will come and go. Handcrafting (whether traditional or modern) is a very, very natural impulse - and it's been that way all through time. I believe it's just part of our human make up. Perhaps it's just the different forms that handcraftedness takes that's in a constant state of flux, popularity, and trend cycles (I mean, I don't know anyone who's into macrame, or woodturning table legs, or tie-dying...).
Sure, letterpress printing and letterpress paraphenalia are both exceptionally "hot" right now (just take a look at the astronomical price of single wooden letterpress blocks in the Sydney store David Met Nicole to see what I mean!), and yes, there's been a massive, almost "trendy" resurgence in knitting and fabric crafts among the younger generations in recent years, and "handcrafted" truly is the buzzword of the moment (just look at the sheer number and popularity of handcraft markets and websites currently on offer), but I'd argue that these are just a couple of smaller trends within a greater and broader constant. I'd say that the need to use creativity and skills to handcraft goods and objects, as a whole, is constant and unchanging, and has always been around, and will always be around. As is the appreciation of (and desire for) well-made, handcrafted goods.
The changing factor, particularly in recent years, is of course the INTERNET, the technological infrastructure that has allowed handcraft skills and products to be so easily accessed, shared, communicated, promoted, sold, distributed, and cross-pollinated, not to mention how it has enabled crafty people to find each other, learn about what else is being made, share tutorials/materials, and most importantly, to connect with each other, both online and in the physical world. And this is at every level of community: local, national, and global.
And even if you aren't "making stuff" yourself, the internet at the very least allows you to find, buy and share the handmade stuff with remarkable ease.
Ironic really, considering that computers are pretty much the complete opposite of handcraftedness, but without the internet (and all that other digital gadgetry), I doubt that this "new handcrafted movement" (as the mainstream media likes to refer to it) could have flourished at all. The two may be opposite but as it turns out, they're also the perfect complement to each other. And they balance out nicely too.
I can relate to this on a personal level - I actually began the Shelbyville blog five years ago as a way to share my little creative pursuits and projects with friends. I spent a lot of my free-time 'making and doing stuff' to counterbalance my digital working life as a graphic designer. I handmade books, I sketched and painted, I took lots of arty photographs, I crafted all sorts of stuff out of paper and other found materials. The handcraftedness kept me sane, and allowed me to express myself creatively in ways that the computer didn't and couldn't fulfill. And I wanted to take my creative pursuits/products further than just the kitchen table or the bedroom floor.
By posting about my projects on the blog, and then later selling my handmade items in online stores such as Etsy and MadeIt, I was able to access a whole wide world of like-minded souls, people who appreciated the same things as me, who were doing their own creative projects, or who were just keen to connect. The internet is like the world's most amazing community builder, connection is what it's best at. A good deal of my friendship circle (and creative life) is the result of the internet and all the fabulous stuff it enables, as mentioned above. And it's a give & take situation too - it's not just about putting my own stuff online and sending it out into the world, it's also about the inspiration it gives me in return, the access to materials and tutorials, the ability to communicate so freely, to find out about events and groups, and so, so, so much more. Creatively, I couldn't do what I do without it.
So, getting back to my original point...
Yes, mainstream media has now become increasingly aware of the vast resurgence of handcrafted goodness, but my belief is that it's always been there (and always will be) and it's just that technology and the internet have made it massively more visible and massively more accessible, and virally multiplied it on far greater scale than has ever been possible before.
And don't be fooled by the label of "old-fashioned" skills - creative people do some remarkably contemporary things with what are generally considered traditional crafts! That's what makes the outcomes so creative and exciting...
Sure, there is basis to the fact that a sense of nostalgia is certainly at play, but it would be very narrow-minded to suggest that that's the total reason behind the popularity of handcraftedness. Nostalgia is just another creative input/inspiration, as far as I'm concerned.
But enough of my prattling...! Give me a bottle of red and some crackers and I could talk about this stuff all night long (and have been known to in the past...). But I'd be interested to know others' perspectives on this - do you think that we're in the middle of a trend-based craft "revival" or "movement", or do you think it's always been there and it's just happened to have found its way into the mainstream spotlight of late? Hmmmm, your thoughts?
Oh, here's a couple more pics, and a bit more of a close up of the article where the bookbinding classes are mentioned ;)
Shame though that I'm no longer living in Sydney, and I'm not holding any more bookbinding classes until at least later this year, but when I organise the next few classes (no doubt in Brisbane) I can say that the details will be posted first on this blog!...
Stay tuned :)