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"Why I Love PBS" Reason #8: Craft In America

I actually wasn’t going to post about this show for a while. I love it, but haven’t watched it in a while, and saw doing the post as a good excuse to re-watch. No, I’m not ignoring society to watch tv. I am doing research! 

But some recent events have forced me to reevaluate.

I am a knitter. I am not an artist, but an stretch of the imagination (refer to the Bob Ross post if you have any questions). I am a craftsman. Now, we can get into a huge debate about the differnece between art and craft, and is knitting art or craft, but I am not going to. If you are interested, there are a hundred places you can debate this. BTW, my opinion: My knitting is craft. The knitting of Mark Newport is art.

The point: recently I was asked to knit a shawl for money, like one I knit for my mother and my aunt. When I quoted a very low price for it, every non-knitter was shocked. And every knitter told me I was asking to little. So, where is the happy medium  Where is the price that is high enough to be worth my effort, but low enough that people will pay? I asked $200 by the way. The yarn would cost me around $40, and that was a good 70 hours knitting. If you do the math, I asked for $2.29/hr. Kids in sweat shops make more money than that. And this is a skilled effort. Would you ask your plumber to come and do his skilled work for a third of minimum wage? So, why am I different?

Because we in America have lost our appreciation for craft. I have been knitting for over 10 years. I work hard at this, learning new skills, improving the ones I have. A few hundred years ago, if I was a man of course, I would have been a member of a Knitting Guild. And I would have been paid lots of money for what I do. I would have gotten respect for what I do.

One of my friends, who is amazing and makes my skills look amateurish  knits for profit, and she has never once been paid what something is worth. And if she has the audacity to ask for minimum wage for her skilled work, people call her names, and none that you would repeat in polite society.

Fifty years ago, knitting was taught in schools so people would have a way to make extra money. And people had no problem paying what something was worth. They paid more for better made, and less for less well made. No problem.

But somewhere we have lost our ability, or our desire, to appreciate. 

Your grandma knit, or you think grandma’s knit, so you think that me doing it isn’t a big deal.

You can buy a pair of socks at Walmart for $2.50, so think that my friend asking for $300 a pair of hand knit socks is outrageous. Never mind that it is a lot of work, a lot of time, and smaller the gauge  the more physically demanding the knitting is.

You associate “craft” with kids making birdhouses out of popsicle sticks, or stinging cereal for decoration, so wonder why I have just spent the majority of this post  complaining discussing this topic.

Watch Craft In America. Then you will understand. 

Being a Craftsman is something that people don’t understand, or appreciate, or even think is a real thing. It doesn’t matter if it is knitting, or carpentry, or masonry, or whatever. No one cares anymore.

We no longer have apprenticeship programs, or guilds that regulate who can call themselves XYZ. We have a wide availability of stuff, so we do not value anything anymore.

But craft has made a huge influence on the world. It has made a huge impact on us as American’s. 

Homemade is not bad. Handmade is not bad. Handcrafted is not bad. In fact, those three things, and again you can find a hundred places on the internet where the definitions of each are debated, are the highest honor someone can give or receive. 

Think about it in terms that everyone can understand: I made a shawl that should cost $600 minimum (that is asking minimum wage in Arizona plus material costs). And I knit two for free as gifts. I knit a pair of socks for my step-dad every year. Again, a professional knitter says $300 starting cost. 

I do this for free, and give them as gifts. I doubt that any of the recipients of my hand knits understands what I have given them, beyond a gift of love. And that is because as American’s we place a much higher value on the cost of something, on the having of something.

Craft in America is a show that places the value on the journey. On what is all around. Sure, here is a pair of hand knit socks. But it is so much more than that. It is 50+ hours work. It is wrist and finger strain. It is 10+ years of education. It is hundreds of years of history. It is a political revolution. It is a social revolution. It is an economic revolution. It changed the geographic face of England. It dragged people out of poverty. It cemented relations between warring states. Seriously. Google the history of socks. It is pretty amazing.

Craft In America gives a small taste of that one paragraph, in dozens of different crafts. In dozens of different areas. 

Like all PBS shows, it will change the way you see the world.


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