Artisan sieves? Spare me the middle-class craft fantasies
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?