Jam & Jerusalem
Keeping alive creative crafts
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