Will crafts survive the next generation?

2011-06-23 00:00

VISITORS to the Craft Hall at the recent Royal Agricultural Show will have been impressed as usual by the showcase of fine midlands crafts — home-made jams, detailed needlework and stunning quiltwork.

But these beautiful displays may soon be changing as the younger generation struggle to find the time or discipline to learn the impressive skills that were on display at the show.

In years past these skills were passed from mother to daughter and father to son. The days when television took priority in the home were a long way in the future. Manufactured goods were a luxury and many families could ill afford them.

Chairperson of the crafts section­ of the Royal Agricultural Show (RAS) Henrietta Whelan­ says that this year the entries came rolling in, just like old times, but times have changed and the majority of the fine needlework­ and the edible entries definitely come from the older midlands folk.

“Every year our committee looks at the categories and makes sure that we have new hobby categories that will appeal to the younger generation, and sometimes we remove old categories that are no longer relevant,” she says.

“We have to accept that times have changed and people don’t have the time or the money they used to. I have noticed that some of our old entrants stop entering when they move into an old age home. They don’t have the same kitchen or space facilities and they are worried about the cost of getting ingredients or materials.”

But for others, while their hands may be arthritic and hips may creak, their minds are sharp and they have a need to create — which drives the many exquisite entries that are received every year.

The benefits of learning the skills used in craftwork are well known.

Dr Stephanie Smith says on her website www.drstephanie smith.com “Parents should encourage their kids to do arts and crafts from an early age. They should make it fun.

“Older children can handle more complicated crafts, such as sewing, knitting or carpentry. Most of the children who enjoyed making crafts as a child will usually enjoy them as they grow up and become adults.

“Making crafts can help children learn about other things — such as mathematics — by identifying shapes and sizes. They will be able to learn more about colours and shapes, learn how to measure using a ruler, and practise drawing and colouring in.

“These activities allow them to express themselves better, thus helping them deal with problems they might have in school. Apart from that, they will also able to think faster and make decisions quicker, hence making them smarter.”

Anne Tarr, principal of Laddsworth, the school that won the prize for the best school craft submissions at this year’s Royal Show, said that generally children are less interested in arts and crafts outside school than they used to be.

“There are too many distractions such as play stations, TV, and computers. Before these distractions, children definitely showed more perseverance and interest in creating things.

“Our crafts teacher has noticed that beadwork and pottery are popular among young children, but they need encouragement. We always encourage our pupils to enter the RAS, but there has been a declining interest. Few parents teach their children how to knit, crochet­, embroider or how to do woodwork or sew. There are so few stay-at-home moms today, as more moms have to work, and time is an issue.

“We generally face a generation who cannot sew a button onto a garment or sew a hem or darn socks. We have become a generation who would rather throw away and buy new, than repair the old. New technology has dictated new skills.

“Unfortunately time restraints and the school syllabus have discouraged an emphasis on crafts such as cooking, sewing or woodwork. These crafts require finance and equipment, which not all schools can afford.”

Whelan has also noticed that craft interests have declined among adults too. Her own interest in crafts was sparked by joining the Women’s Institute (WI) as a young woman. This organisation has also suffered from declining numbers.

Now Whelan, whose mother was also on the RAS Crafts Committee, is in her 50s and the youngest RAS craft chairperson.

“I am a knitter,” she says. “It is a useful hobby that gives pleasure and creativity. This year I won the most points overall in the knitting category. One learns from the comments of the judges. I think this is the spirit of the show. You try your best, put up your work for comment and then learn for the next time.”

Whelan says she does not believe the crafts section will die because “human beings have a need to create”.

“Sewing machines get more advanced and we have a category for machine embroidery, but there is still exquisite hand embroidery that must be admired.”

The RAS crafts section has become something of a family tradition for some families who even send their entries in from abroad. A committee member’s daughter has emigrated to the United Kingdom, but she and her daughter still submit their entries.

Popular sections that attract great attention in the show are the quilting, needlework, school artwork, woodwork and the soft toys. A new and growing section that attracts entries is the photographic section for beginners, intermediate and advanced entrants.

This year, pensioner Anne Duckworth won the overall points for the jellies and jams section for the second time. She told The Witness that she always enters for fun. “I use what I find in my garden, and my friends and family love my mulberry jam. I was selected for the mulberry jam, the China guava jelly and my orange-lemon cordial­.”

Anne cannot bear to waste fruit and she loves to cook. Once she even tackled an unusual Feijowa­ jam recipe — made from an unusual bush in her garden, and she also buys seasonal fruit from the market. “I like home-made jam as it is fresh and healthy and you know what’s in it.”

Another winner this year was Pelham resident Avril Mus- grave,­ who is a compulsive crafter. She entered many categories and won the trophy for most points in crafts. She has recently retired and says she never has a moment to rest as she is always busy crafting.

“I love to fiddle,” she says laughing. Her home is full of crafting paraphernalia and she is always keen to try something new.

Her quilting and crochet entries were a big hit and she is always experimenting with felt work. But she simply finds it difficult to choose one craft over another.

“The benefit of doing crafts is that you always have a ready gift for a friend when it’s a birthday, and people love hand-made things — it’s much more personal. I started entering the RAS because a friend of mine was on the committee and she said they needed entries.

“When I got my first prize I was hooked. It is so much fun. Even if you don’t win, you are encouraged to try a bit harder.”

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