Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Struggling to Learn New Craft Skills

I have a few things going on that are making me realize the difference between an art and a craft. What is happening is that me and my children are struggling to learn how to use the tools of some different ‘crafts’. The bottom line is that when you do certain things that require that you use certain tools and that you use them in just a certain way in order to get your ‘finished product’ to come out ‘right’ then to me that is a craft.

Even when I have a unique idea which I consider a creative artistic skill, it cannot come to fruition with out a certain level of skill and mastery of the tools for certain types of work.

When I see a finished piece of artwork or craftwork that a person designed and conceived all on their own I consider that person an artist. The more I learn about mastering certain types of craftwork the more I realized that there is both the element of the mastery of using the tools and the artistic and creative idea in and of itself. I admire not just the finished stained glass window’s design but I admire the fine soldering work as well, from seeing my mother struggle and get angry with the soldering part of the stained glass works she used to make. The more I learn about certain types of work the more I realize which kinds of things are difficult to do. A stained glass maker can identify a design which has a successfully executed difficult shape or size of a piece (it make take many botched cuts before they finally got the glass to cut correctly as they wanted it). This is why those who know about making certain arts and crafts especially those with hands on experience at trying those crafts, can more deeply appreciate well-executed pieces of finished art. A person who is ignorant about the basic skills cannot appreciate as fully what that finished piece represents.

Part of making an artistic well-made finished product with a craft is mastering the actual tools and using them correctly. With a craft if you don’t have good tools, or if you are using the tools incorrectly or you are not yet skilled with using those tools, then the finished product will look bad, not just in an artistic way I mean, but it just won’t be right. I was so frustrated with my first (and only) stained glass making attempt because after all the work of cutting I realized two pieces didn’t fit well enough together to actually use them in the piece! With a craft you need your raw material, true but you need the tools to make those materials into something other than what they are in their raw state. You may have your vision of the artistic rendering of the finished product, such as if you designed your own pattern for knitted socks, but if you cannot master the working of the tools then this finished product will not come to fruition. Period.

The learning to use the new tools takes patience. Sometimes people get hung up in that learning process and give up. Being frustrated with using the tools is not a direct reflection on the person’s creativity or artistic talent, it is purely an issue with the tools and has to do with skill and lack of mastery of those tools.

Weaving with a Loom

Right now my son is trying to weave using a Brio (brand) loom. This was lent to us by our church as part of a children’s art show. It sounded like a great idea. However they didn’t give us the instruction book. I had no way to know what the proper way to start a new piece is. We don’t know how to properly remove it from the loom in order to not have it unravel. I don’t know how to rethread the loom to make another piece. All they showed him was how to do just the weaving part (the easy part).

When using the loom last night the tension appeared wrong. Since we have no directions we don’t know how to fix this. I then moved a piece on the loom like you are supposed to and a piece of the wood snapped. Oh no. I then realized that some of the strings were tangled. Further inspection revealed that the way the loom was strung I believe was incorrect. The strings were bungled up more near the middle instead of being evenly spread out across the length of the span of it (this is how we received the loom). Having the string going on an angle caused too much tension on that outmost ‘rung’ or whatever it is called and caused the thin wood to snap.

I should mention too that I had spent time on the Internet twice now going all over trying to find directions for this Brio loom to no avail. I have found direction for different looms which are not at all the same as this one. I feel like we are the blind leading the blind here.

This Brio loom is quite nice and I see it sells for $40. It comes with a booklet and I am sure if I had that information we’d be in a much better situation right now.

Today I tried to rethread the loom. I had to dissect it to see how it was set up and now I have tried to re-string it (or whatever that process is called). This is very hard to do when one does not know what they are doing. This is when it was underscored for me that a person needs to understand how to use a tool like this—that is part of the ability to make the finished product; there is skill and knowledge of the tools involved here.

Beading (Jewelry Making)

Two weeks ago I strung my first necklace with beads. I was following directions in a book about how to make jewelry including the very important step of crimping the ends so that the thing doesn’t fall apart. I struggled with that. My son (the seven year old) made me a necklace. Then it fell apart making me realize I had crimped it wrong.

I spent time later reading books and watching YouTube videos about crimping and realized the tool I own that led me to believe it was an ‘all in one’ tool was not a crimping tool and so it didn’t do the task right. I hoped the finished pieces I had already made would be alright.

The next day another necklace I made fell apart right in my lap while I was in a public place. I gathered up the beads and tossed them into my pocketbook. This underscored to me that although I used creativity and an artistic eye while designing my own necklace, the fact that I used the tools incorrectly really screwed the whole thing up. The necklace was not functional, it was in pieces.

Later I went in search of a crimping tool only to find out while staring at the wall of jewelry findings that the tool needs certain sized crimping beads and the bead size depends on the size of the thread you use. Why this very basic information was not clearly stated in the three books I read ‘for beginners’ is beyond me. I learned this by reading many labels and by putting two and two together on my own.

Those are the times when I realize that having a local friend who does a craft or taking a workshop can be very useful. I will say though that I did take two workshops on beading which ended up being only a putting together of a pre-made kit not actually learning anything about me making a beaded item from scratch but that is a longer story that I may tell another time. I guess another lesson learned is when you pay and attend a workshop you should have a clear understanding of the goal and content of said workshop. Probably the two workshops were done to meet what the majority wanted, they wanted to just string the beads onto a necklace to have the finished product in their hands. Well I wanted to learn the basic skills of the task and to be able to do the entire process on my own (all the making of it plus the designing of a unique creation).


The second project is that for a long time I have wanted to learn to solder. I would like to make some of my own charms to use in jewelry pieces. I grew up watching my mother make stained glass windows and soldering but never looked at what she was actually doing. She liked to work alone and she hates teaching others so she never taught me any of these skills. (Well a few years ago she tried to teach me stained glass and that was SO HARD.) I have read three books about making metal things that use soldering. I still felt that I didn’t get it. I then discussed this with my mother yesterday and asked her to demonstrate it for me. Instead she explained it verbally in a way that I suddenly realized I had something very wrong. I kept having to ask her to explain in again and in a different way so I could fully understand what she was saying. I then verified that from reading the books I had the most important part of the process incorrect. I realized that part was never shown in photos in a step of soldering and that if I had tried it based on how I thought it was done from the book instructions I would have failed.

My mother told me the soldering iron we bought at Home Depot is junk. She lent me hers which is much larger and looks more industrial and heavy duty. I told her of some of the recommendations in my books about buying more expensive ones with thermostats on them and so on and she said that is nonsense. I said how the book said you need a metal stand to hold it and she shooed me a hunk of pine wood that she used for years and said it sufficed quite well. So much for needing expensive stuff that can only be bought from specialty companies. If a person has been soldering stained glass windows for years with a not super fancy soldering iron and a piece of cheap scrap wood then that is proof for me that not the best equipment on the market today is always necessary either. There are times when the best of the best equipment is needed and there are other times when being skilled with the tools is sometimes acceptable for making fine finished pieces. The best tools with weak skills is worthless also.


Lastly the urge to knit persists in me. One reason I want to knit is that it will keep my hands and mind busy at times when it kills me to sit still. I would like to knit while a passenger in the car and while sitting in a boring meeting or even while listening to a conference speaker. I would like to knit while sitting on the side of the room for my son’s Boy Scout Troop meeting. I would like to knit while camping. I would like to knit while visiting relatives and having conversation with them. I’d like to knit while watching our nightly TV show with our family. I need something to do that is portable. I need something that is not very personal (journal writing or sketching in a sketch book is too personal to do in public or around family sometimes).

I looked at some knitting books last week as I had a 50% off coupon for Joanne’s and also A.C.. Moore and a 40% off coupon for Michael’s (they are all in a 1.5 mile range from each other so I can go do a craft run and use all the coupons to stock up on various supplies). I got overwhelmed by the knitting books as some projects used three different needle sizes. Other projects used even other needle sizes. I wanted to just buy one set of needles and do something from start to finish with that one set of needles. I guess then I’ll have to make a scarf, is that my only option?

I realized I should narrow down what kind of knitting I want to do. I was reading some felting books and was thinking about making a felted handbag like a friend of mine does. But two stores didn’t have the needle sizes I needed to do the projects in the book that the stores were selling. Groan. So I bought nothing.

My mother agreed to teach me to knit. I then realized though if I bought a book of a project she’d never done (like knitting socks using circular needles) then she could not help me. I figured then that maybe I should just have my mother teach me to knit in the way she knits and that I should start off doing just what she does. Once I have my general bearings I could buy a book with a different technique and teach myself that.

I also will share the fear that I felt when I looked at the list of the directions to knit what the book called a simple sock. A terror ran through me and I had that feeling that maybe I was not smart enough to handle doing that kind of work.

Thoughts on Skills

I saw a piece of soldered jewelry that was a real mess because the person was not skilled at soldering well. My son’s weaving is coming out terribly because the tension is not right on the loom, it started out wide and it very narrow further along. Those are both signs of the fact that a person can make a craft while they are not yet skilled in the craft itself. My point is that when working with certain crafts the mastering of the technique itself, just handling the tools and materials I mean, is something very different than having a unique creative idea and making art with it. Other artistic endeavors such as drawing doesn’t need complicated materials or tools but requires the skill of being able to draw. I guess then the eye and hand are the tools?

So you see in these three different craft projects the use of the tools themselves are a skill that has to be learned in order to make the project at all. While a craft such as weaving, making metal jewelry charms and knitting is art making—especially when the person designs their own unique creations out of raw materials (yarn, glass, metal, and homemade art collaged pieces)---the art piece cannot be made at all if the person is incapable of using the materials in the right way.

Other Thoughts on Crafts vs. Art Making

One last thought about ‘crafts’ is that to me a craft is sometimes something that requires certain materials that must be used and bought and that also has a preset finished product conceived by some other person. To make that craft you then follow strict instructions to create a project entirely conceived by a stranger. There is little room in there for creativity or uniqueness of the maker. The person who just follows that direction and uses preset materials is not freely expressing their artistic vision. A perfect example is the scrapbook kits that have everything you need to make pages and they give examples of finished pages and when a person makes an exact copy of someone else’s work. Another example is if you watch a craft TV show and exactly replicate something they made on the show.

On the other hand some crafts can allow for more open ended artistic creation. When our family used the Fabric Blo Pen kit it came with factory made stencils that we could use. We instead designed our own stencils and used other tools that I owned to do that part of the work. I already knew the process to make a new stencil and I already owned the special tools needed for that part of the job. We then used the fabric paint from the kit to make our finished product. I feel that more creativity was used as we used our unique ideas.

Knitting allows for more creative expression when the knitter picks out their own yarn instead of just copying what the directions say. If a knitter makes up her own patterns then that to me is very artistic.

Creating one’s own things from one’s own imagination takes creativity, desire and guts. It can be scary to create something totally unique.

I personally enjoy working in a more organic manner with more of an intuitive flow. I like to have materials at my disposal and then to just begin working and creating. While I am in the flow I just make things, sometimes without putting thought into it, following my gut feelings. What the thing ends up being in the end is something that I had not planned out in advance. I can’t always plan things and then execute them to the end. This is why I like to draw and make collage. I just start in and get to work and stuff happens. This has been true also with my recent playing around with embroidery and needle felting with wool roving. I don’t like the craft kits with pre-planned work though of by other people as the most fun for me with creating is just diving in and me being in control of what is being created. I also do like to have some ideas ahead of time and try to make those come to fruition (with beading my own designed necklaces, with wanting to knit ).

Anyhow those are some thoughts on my mind today.

My Collage Status

Last note: I have not been working much with collage at all lately. The reason is I have been busy and have not even had time to haul the stuff out and use it at my kitchen table then no time to clean it up in time for three meals a day and homeschooling at the kitchen table. I make much more collage when we are not doing our homeschooling lessons (such as in summer) or when we are on a ‘break’ from it. I make more collage when I can leave the kitchen area messy. I’ve been on a kick to really keep my kitchen decluttered and clean and that includes having the art supplies stashed in the basement and closet (and some overflow on the unused dining room table). (No, I cannot use the fancy dining room table for making arts and crafts or homeschooling lessons or eating all three meals a day.)

This of course had led me to pine for my own workspace. I have been thinking of converting part of the fourth bedroom which is presently being used as a playroom into a studio for ME. Gasp! I also have tons of room in the unfinished basement and some desks and tables that I could use. However I find unfinished, poorly lit basements dark and gloomy places which I really don’t want to spend much time in let alone trying to create things in a space like that. I’m not really thinking much about that whole idea right now and am instead trying to learn the new crafts that I described above which are less messy and are easier to clean up and can be done in various places not just needing a big flat table space to work on.

Most of my creating since about Christmas 2007 has actually been done in my bedroom sitting in bed: the journal writing, the embroidery, the needle felting and the necklace making. I do not make collage or use adhesives in my bedroom or while sitting in my bed (yet). My drawing and sketching in my little sketch books has been done in public or while a passenger on a car or train.


jeremiah said...

My name is Rita Jeremiah. I too have a BRIO loom. My husband & I bought it at a flea market for $10.oo. I have not used it yet. It came with instructions, but to me are not at all detailed enough. Maybe it is time for me to give it another try. If you are still interested, I can send you a copy of the instructions that came in the box when I bought it. I ran across you as I was online trying to find more detailed instructions, which I believe may not exist, if they do I sure do not know where to look to find them anyway, just e-mail me and let me know! Rita

jeremiah said...

My name is Rita Jeremiah. I bought a BRIO loom at a flea market for $10.00. It did come with some instructions, but not detailed enough for me, that is why I have not used it yet. If you are interested, I will send you a copy of the instructions that I have that came in the box when I bought it. Just e-mail me and let me know. Rita