Jam & Jerusalem

Keep­ing alive cre­ative crafts

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - Jan Turner

Afew weeks ago I read in a na­tional news­pa­per that crafts are in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar and fi­nan­cially re­mu­ner­a­tive. It has be­come a ‘life­style trend’, as much about ‘well­be­ing’ as about in­di­vid­ual cre­ativ­ity.

GFWI mem­bers seem to be fol­low­ing this trend, in fact they may even have started it – many of our craft work shops have been greatly over­sub­scribed and ex­tra ses­sions have had to be ar­ranged in or­der not to dis­ap­point mem­bers who wanted to re­fresh their skills or try new ones. Nee­dle-felt­ing, cro­chet, hand em­broi­dery, glass en­grav­ing, Shi­bori bead em­broi­dery, ku­mi­himo, batik, mokume gane, cre­ative pa­per-cut­ting and mar­quetry have all featured in re­cent pro­grammes, while silk in­fin­ity scarves, bug houses, gar­den mo­saics and green man stoneware masks have all been made in pre­vi­ous work­shops.

This in­ter­est in craft is not re­ally sur­pris­ing. When WIS be­gan in the first years of the last cen­tury, hand­i­crafts were con­sid­ered very im­por­tant al­though the rea­son why was some­what dif­fer­ent. Tra­di­tional English and Welsh crafts had largely dis­ap­peared since the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion; they sur­vived mostly in vil­lages and the NFWI ini­tially thought they might be re-es­tab­lished on a com­mer­cial ba­sis in ru­ral ar­eas, thereby pro­vid­ing a bet­ter liveli­hood for vil­lage women.

The WI craft­work dis­play in the Na­tional Econ­omy Ex­hi­bi­tion in Hyde Park dur­ing June and July 1917 at­tracted con­sid­er­able in­ter­est, as did Cuth­bert the Rab­bit, the star of the Sus­sex ‘top­i­cal rab­bit’ toy­mak­ing ven­ture. With a grant from the Carnegie Trust loans were made to WIS to set up craft work­shops. War­wick­shire for ex­am­ple re­ceived £2 10s to en­cour­age bas­ket-mak­ing and a1918 a Toy So­ci­ety was es­tab­lished. It soon be­came clear how­ever that craft as a busi­ness propo­si­tion for WI mem­bers was not vi­able. The pol­icy was amended in 1919 to en­cour­age good crafts­man­ship to meet home and lo­cal needs and the Carnegie Fund was used for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses and the cre­ation of trav­el­ling Loan Col­lec­tions of fine crafts­man­ship.

In the in­ter-war years the Guild of Learn­ers, later the Hand­i­craft Guild, en­cour­aged WIS to ‘prac­tice home hand­i­crafts with a view to restor­ing the best tra­di­tion of English work­man­ship’. In Glouces­ter­shire the county coun­cil sup­ported classes in up­hol­stery ap­plied to home work, sim­ple dress­mak­ing millinery and glove mak­ing from rab­bit pelts. Amp­ney Cru­cis was so suc­cess­ful at this last that it was asked to pass on the skills learnt to nine more WIS. Later, mem­bers tried their hand at quilling, sil­ver work, tapestry, glass en­grav­ing and more, pro­duc­ing items of re­mark­able ex­cel­lence.

The Sec­ond World War, not sur­pris­ingly, brought about a change in em­pha­sis. Al­though WIS were en­cour­aged to con­tinue their craft­work and other ac­tiv­i­ties to ‘relieve the strain of war and to main­tain health, strength and good spir­its in the vil­lage’ (does that strike a fa­mil­iar note?), mak­ing-do and mend­ing, cloth­ing fam­i­lies, fur­nish­ing homes, pro­vid­ing for evac­uee chil­dren, knit­ting for the armed forces, patch­ing, turn­ing col­lars and cuffs, cob­bling, tin-smithing and plumb­ing were the or­der of the day. By 1942 most hand­i­crafts were thrift crafts al­though mem­bers were re­minded that thrifty things need not be ill-made or ugly!

Post war, mem­bers re­turned to more dec­o­ra­tive crafts: an ex­quis­ite silk waist­coat for the Beatrix Pot­ter Mu­seum, a rag doll gra­ciously ac­cepted by HRH Princess Anne for her daugh­ter Zara and pa­per-quilled cards for the royal ba­bies, HRH Princes Ge­orge and Louis, the RAF Cen­te­nary Pan­els are but some ex­am­ples of GFWI mem­bers’ crafts­man­ship.

And the tra­di­tion con­tin­ues. Mem­bers of Twyver and Lyd­ney have de­signed and are busily stitch­ing their Glouces­ter­shire wall hang­ings (pic­tured) which will be dis­played in our cen­te­nary ex­hi­bi­tion next year in Gloucester Cathe­dral, to­gether with many more beau­ti­ful ex­am­ples of the crafts our mem­bers have made in the last 100 years at home, in GFWI work­shops, at Den­man or in the in­for­mal craft groups which are so much a part of lo­cal WIS. con­tact 01452 523966 www.thewi.org.uk

Mem­bers of Twyver and Lyd­ney have de­signed and are busily stitch­ing their Glouces­ter­shire wall hang­ings

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