Monday, December 3, 2012

Evolution of Crafting in a 1st World Economy

When I originally began this project, seeking to immerse myself in the crafting community, I immediately thought of my mother, quilting in her spare time, sewing clothing, and decorating festive holiday sweatshirts with craft paint and tiny battery-powered lights.  I thought of my days as a young Girl Scout, making crafts in order to gain another badge on my vest.  I thought of crafting as nothing more than a hobby or leisure activity, as many people in modern times tend to do.  Crafting, though, used to mean much more to humans than it does to our 1st world society now.

The origins of crafting closely coincided with the origins of modern human civilization.  The need for tools, clothing, and other artifacts necessary for survival required the development of a varied set of skills needed to create these necessities.  Without tools, it would be much more difficult to hunt for food and resources.  Likewise, without clothing, humans would more quickly succumb to the elements.  The ability to craft was quite literally a matter of life and death.  Guilds arose during the 13th and 14th centuries, in which skilled artisans of a particular craft would group themselves.  Master artisans would take on young apprentices, often their own children, and train them in their craft so that they could work alongside each other, and someday even take over the business (Jovinelly).

Over time, however, more elaborate tools were made, and more complex methods and procedures used; towards the end of the 18th century, factories and machines replaced human hands in order to speed production.  The industrial revolution took away the need for skilled artisans and the craft community.(Beck)  Although mass production in factories drove costs down, many people eventually reverted to learning a craft and producing higher quality handmade goods again in an attempt to escape the poor working and living conditions associated with these new factories.  Now, crafting was not so much a matter of life and death, but learning a craft could certainly mark the difference between living a healthier life, and suffering for low wages on an assembly line.  Now, with minimum wage established, enforced age requirements, and strict regulations on labor and workplace conditions, crafting has again become a seemingly unnecessary activity for most people living in a 1st world country.

Most people who practice a particular craft either do it sparingly in their free time, while holding a regular job, or wait until retirement to have something to pass the time and possibly make supplemental income.  Very few people use their crafting abilities as a primary source of income anymore.  This becomes very apparent upon walking into a modern day craft fair.  Nearly all of the people participating in these fairs are over the age of 40-50 years, and most of those are past retirement, allowing them more leisure time to pursue and perfect their craft.  Many younger people, who craft, will never set foot in a physical craft fair; instead, younger generations have become much more reliant on the internet in order to sell their goods while also working or going to school.  The ease of internet sites such as Etsy, which caters specifically to hand-made and vintage items, allows people with otherwise busy schedules, the opportunity to sell their goods without the necessity of their physical presence.

This begs the question: will craft fairs become endangered or even extinct one day, at the hands of the internet?  Or is there something about these fairs that can’t be replicated online?  Many of these internet sites can provide the basic functionality of the craft fair, and many even try to create a similar shopping experience; but without hearing the ringing in your ears of a hand-made Christmas wreath, wrapped in ribbon, and adorned with round, silver bells, feeling the weight and texture of a beautiful hand-carved figurine, or smelling the sweet scents of homemade candles and soaps, the internet will never embody the full experience of a craft fair.


Beck B., Roger (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell.

Jovinelly, Joann; Netelkos, Jason (2006). The Crafts And Culture of a Medieval Guild. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 8.

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