Ar­ti­san sieves? Spare me the mid­dle-class craft fan­tasies

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment - claire co­hen fol­low Claire Co­hen on Twit­ter @claire­co­hen; read more at tele­­ion

In my kitchen cup­board, there are two sieves. Both stain­less steel and both bought from Ikea for less than £2 each. Nei­ther was, as far as I know, hand­crafted by an ar­ti­san. Be­cause, re­ally, who needs to drain their penne in any­thing other than a bog-stan­dard uten­sil?

Yet, if the Her­itage Crafts As­so­ci­a­tion has its way, we might all be do­ing just that. The or­gan­i­sa­tion, which counts Prince Charles as its pres­i­dent, is con­cerned at the num­ber of tra­di­tional skills dy­ing out in Bri­tain. It has com­piled an “en­dan­gered list” in a bid to save them from ex­tinc­tion. The most “at risk” are those that only have a hand­ful of re­main­ing spe­cial­ists and trainees.

So, we are all sup­posed to have sleep­less nights over the loss of such vi­tal skills as swill bas­ket-mak­ing, pa­per mar­bling, fore-edge paint­ing and Devon maund-mak­ing (no, me nei­ther). Hand­crafted sieves are, along with cricket balls and lacrosse sticks, al­ready a thing of the past. I’d dab my eyes with a han­kie, if only I could find some­one to em­broi­der one.

Don’t get me wrong, I love craft­ing. I take a pot­tery course and, last week­end, spent a morn­ing cheer­fully con­struct­ing a pinata. For me, do­ing some­thing prac­ti­cal with my hands is a form of mind­ful­ness; the per­fect an­ti­dote to the pres­sures of the mod­ern world.

In­deed, it can be no co­in­ci­dence that de­mand for evening craft classes has surged, with wait­ing lists of up to six months, or that hip­sters fill their homes with vin­tage sewing ma­chines and mi­cro­brew­ery kits. The idea of mak­ing some­thing by hand is a ro­man­tic one. We sit glued to the Great Bri­tish Sewing Bee, and hark fondly back to a sim­pler time when life wasn’t dic­tated by the con­tents of our in­boxes.

But we must also recog­nise that mak­ing things is now a lux­ury. We have come a long way from the days when we lived in huts and spent weeks labour­ing over a sin­gle clay pipe, just to earn a crust.

Back when we were all clog-mak­ers (an­other “dy­ing art”) we had nei­ther the time nor in­cli­na­tion to craft as a hobby.

Where our next meal was com­ing from de­pended en­tirely on what we were do­ing with our hands.

To­day, lit­tle such im­pe­tus ex­ists. The in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion and mass pro­duc­tion lib­er­ated us from bogs and fens, and meant we were no longer re­liant on hand­made goods. We can’t pre­tend that spend­ing days pro­duc­ing an ar­ti­san saw is any longer a ne­ces­sity.

Mod­ern craft­ing is a choice and a priv­i­lege, as ev­i­denced by those en­ter­pris­ing souls who sell twee gifts on web­sites like Not on the High Street and at lo­cal mar­kets, at in­flated prices.

Its 21st-cen­tury func­tion is to al­low the mid­dle classes to in­dulge their fan­tasy of liv­ing a sim­pler life; the so-called “virtue shop­ping” trend of buy­ing things you hope make you look whole­some and gen­uine. Nowa­days, hand­made hat blocks are for pos­ing, not prac­ti­cal­ity.

Of course, it would be a shame were th­ese spe­cialised skills to die out com­pletely. But, the truth is, we have long passed the point when they were handed down through the gen­er­a­tions.

To­day, learn­ing a her­itage craft is a rar­i­fied pur­suit, some­thing that can take decades and mounds of money to per­fect.

When you can buy a sieve for a cou­ple of quid, it all seems like rather a lot of ef­fort, doesn’t it?


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