The Not-So-Boring Begats

When I was a child, I went to church.

In that church, we read the Bible. The whole Bible.

Or at least that was the idea, the goal. We were encouraged to read the whole thing, as well as memorize the names of the books of the Bible (which I can still reel off with weird precision 50-ish years later, for the first 20 or so).

Parts of the Bible were interesting. But then one would get to the boring begats, the long lists of genealogy, like this one in Genesis:

[7] And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters:
[8] And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.
[9] And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan:
[10] And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters:
[11] And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died.
[12] And Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel:
[13] And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[14] And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died.
[15] And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared:
[16] And Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[17] And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died.

And on and on. Who were these people and how did they live so long? These were the sections I skipped.

I find, now, that my life is full of a different sort of begats. I think of this as the crafting begats, the way one project begets others.

These begats are anything but boring!

Each weaving project begets new ones. I start with one color and think what a different one would look like. Or one treadling pattern and imagine others. I work on a scarf and want to see how the structure would translate to towels or a baby blanket.

Each quilt begets new ones. As I work on the redwork squares to reproduce the antique quilt I have, I think of ideas for a modern version, with blocks that reflect my current life.

This weaving project begets ideas for a quilt—wouldn’t this look pretty in pieced fabric?

IMG_3986

I work on the quilt I am making, with quotes about women’s rights, and think of embroidering a short phrase, a few words, to represent every day of my year, a stitched journal.

I iron vintage linens and inevitably find pieces with damage that makes them unsellable. I put them aside because, in my mind, they beget a quilt made of the pretty bits pieced together. Or they beget rag rugs, woven from strips of the usable fabric. Or they beget special buttons . . .

re-use-4

I imagine this organic moving from one project to the next, each unique but related to something that came before, happens to us all—gardeners, bakers, painters, potters . . . makers.

With my making begats, I’ll never be bored.

My projects are fruitful and they multiply. How about yours?

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Making A Living Versus Making, A Life

old main

One of my beloved schools–Penn State

It’s late August and I really should be back at school . . .

That’s what my subconscious tells me. In my conscious brain, I know I’m not starting classes next week, that I am done with that and quite pleased to be, and, yet, old habits die hard.

“Being in school” is one of two themes that have dominated my life.

For 50 of my nearly 60 years, I went back to school every autumn.

From age 5 to age 33, I was a student. Grade school, junior high, high school, undergraduate school, grad school and more grad school. I made grad school last longer than most!

And then I started a career . . . at school. For 22 years I was a college professor and administrator. I taught things like public speaking and rhetorical criticism and critical thinking skills. I was associate dean for a few years.

To this day, I believe that there is no better way to make a living than being a college professor. You get to deal with ideas in a field that fascinates you. I never failed to get a thrill from the notion that, in my classroom, we were discussing the same ideas and principles that Aristotle discussed with his students 2500 years ago. Tingle!

As a college prof, you also get to work with young adults who force you to stay younger than you might otherwise feel. They teach you that the smartest, kindest person might live within the pierced and tattooed body, under the brightest dyed hair. They teach you that no matter how clear, articulate, and brilliant you think you are, you’re confusing someone.

They also teach you that no one, ever, reads the syllabus.

And, of course, being a teacher provides that other benefit, the one the rest of the world envies.

Summers Off.

And, yes, summers off are everything they’re cracked up to be, even though they get taken up, in part, with research and course prep.

Being a college teacher offered just the right blend of freedom and constraints, autonomy and interdependence for me.

Being in school for my life, making a living there, was one theme in my life that gave me the time and opportunity to indulge in the other theme of my life—making, creating, crafting, whatever we call it.

All along the way, while I was happily making a living in the so-called “life of the mind,” I was still yearning for the life of the hands.

Even in grad school, I can remember venting to my doctoral advisor about the frustrations of academic research—I just wanted to see what I’d done with my time, put my hands on a product I made.

And my research, even when published, never felt like a product.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of seeing my book and articles cited by other authors and I do indulge in a vanity search on Google occasionally. But I can say, honestly and truly, that I am happier with, and more proud of, my quilts and candies and handwovens than I am my published research.

And that explains why, after all those years in school, I retired the moment I was eligible to. I can now turn my focus, almost entirely, to making things and having evidence of progress, if not a full product, in my hands every day.

Making a living was important and satisfying and fulfilling.

Now I choose making, a life.

What I Do For Love

IMG_4544I spend a lot of time thinking about how fortunate I am. It’s true—I’m fortunate by pretty much any standard you could think of to apply.

But the good fortune I’ve been thinking about lately is how fortunate I am to be able to make what I want, when I want, and not to have to do it for money, to make a living.

Historically, craftsmen and artisans did a job of work. They worked long hours, they sought to please others—a patron, a customer. These craftsmen could not stop when their backs ached or when they lost the creative impulse.

I do a job of love.

Making for the love of making is different from making to make a living. I have and will continue to sell some of the things I make but I do it entirely on my terms.

If I don’t want to make fleur de sel caramels anymore, I don’t have to, even if they are the most popular candy I sell.

If I find no joy in purple or pink, I can leave those colors out of my quilting and weaving, even if other people love them and would pay for them.

If I want every single item I make to be entirely different from the last, I am free to do exactly as I please, even though that’s inefficient in the marketplace.

When we were in Ireland, we talked to two weavers for whom weaving is a job, both excellent life-long weavers. They weave to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads. They prized efficiency and output—they had little choice.

They made multiples of best-selling items. They wove in colors deemed popular and made items designed by someone else, someone who understood the trends. They did the simplest of weaving because simple is quick and yields the highest return for time expended.

They laughed at us because we don’t use a flying shuttle—“you’re so slow,” they said!

But we’re lucky enough to be able to go slow.

I can make a quilt in which every stitch is done by hand, because that’s what pleases me.

I can make an Etruscan loop-in-loop chain where every link is formed and soldered and woven by hand, because that’s what pleases me.

I can hand dip, one by one, every chocolate, because that’s what pleases me.

I can pass the shuttle slowly, from hand to hand, and watch the fabric grow slowly, inch by inch. It pleases me.

I don’t have to worry about pleasing someone else. Just me.

Now, let’s be clear—I like selling things I make. It’s a special kind of thrill when someone honors my aesthetic and my skill by trading their hard-won money for something I’ve created.

I like that but I don’t NEED it. And that, my friend, is good fortune.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you make your living from your art or craft? Do you sell your work at all? Do you struggle to please yourself while pleasing buyers? Can the pressure of making a living co-exist with the joy of creativity?

The Craftsman’s Creed, in the Depth It Deserves

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve,

With fingers which are masters of the tool.

–James Parton Haney

I’m always trying to articulate what draws me to the work I do, how craft differs from art, what is motivating to the makers who devote time and energy to making items that are both practical and beautiful. I first saw this statement of a “craftsman’s creed,” a set of guiding principles for makers, in of one of my weaving books. It has given me plenty to ponder.

The book contained, as it turns out, only part of the original the creed and it was attributed to “anonymous.” But since we live in a world graced with the internet, I was able to track down the author with not too much trouble.

James Parton Haney, an art educator, first offered the creed as a code of belief and conduct in 1913, according to an obituary for the man published in the ‪Bulletin of the Art Center, New York.

Haney’s words and teachings seem to have been well-respected and circulated in his lifetime. In fact, I found a reference to the Philadelphia Club of Printing House Craftsmen singing the creed at their 1918 meeting. But, by 1956, the Christian Science Monitor published the poem without attribution. If nothing else, this post returns credit to the man—and I think he deserves to be known for this fine statement of what we do!

I like a lot about Haney’s statement of what it means to be a maker:

I like that it’s written in lofty terms. It may be true that this is partly a function of the fact it was written over a century ago, but the language used seems to be more formal and grand than what would have been considered everyday talk, even then.

The language Haney used makes it a little harder to read and digest the creed but I’d say that’s a good thing. It asks us to slow down and really think about what it means to call ourselves craftsmen.*

The grand language seems designed to elevate what some might have dismissed as a humble undertaking, mere “craft.” Those who embrace the creed are asked to see craftsmanship as not merely the use of tools to make the stuff of daily life, not a lesser undertaking than art, but its own endeavor, with its own passion and criteria for excellence.

I like that the creed focuses the maker’s work on connections with the past, the present, and the future equally.

For me, one of the most compelling aspects of learning a craft is that every craft has traditions; the work we do we grows from the work done by those who came before us. We learn from them; we draw on accumulated knowledge and technique; we take the next step in the journey of advancing the craft. Haney’s creed acknowledges and honors this connection to the past. We are the latest members of a family of makers.

The creed also focuses on the present and the day-to-day satisfaction that is to be derived from making a thing of beauty and usefulness. When Haney describes work as a boon, done with loving hand and loving mind, he focuses our attention on the satisfaction we get from our efforts—we are making not only because the product of our labors fulfills a need, although it will, but because the act of making pleases us.

Haney’s creed also makes references to the equal partnership of heart, hand and mind in making finely crafted work. He speaks of love, of skill, and of the thought that go into the work we do. Could we call it craftsmanship without any one of those elements?

Lastly, the creed makes the case for an obligation of the craftsman to the future of the craft. The future of the craft depends on each of us feeling an obligation to teach our skills to others, so that the craft continues to flourish.

On this topic of sharing what we know and teaching it, I also really like that Haney gives such short notice to the topic of making money from the craft, unlike a more modern craftsman’s creed offered by Josh Kaufman. Of course, many craftsmen are concerned about making a living but Haney’s creed seems to assume that, if the tenets of the creed are upheld, the making of a living will follow. Just as the Hippocratic Oath of Physicians states that, “If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession,” Haney’s creed expects the work of the maker, in service to the craft and to the well-being of others, to ensure thriving and prosperous business.

One more aspect of Haney’s creed that really speaks to me is his casting of craftsmanship as a boon to be thankful for. The full text of Haney’s original creed (see below) makes reference to craft skill as gift from God. You can do with that what you will. I am happy to consider my skills a gift given by nature, nurture, my teachers, my own hard work.

But, whatever the source, it’s a gift that one should recognize as such and be thankful for and respectful of. Sometimes I forget to stop and think about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do the work I do. Sometimes I get so caught up in making quick, little projects—something I can give away as a quick gift or, yes, blog about—that I lose track of what my real purpose is. And that purpose, for me, is to make the best quilt, or set of dishtowels, or peanut butter meltaways I am capable of, because these are my crafts and I owe them the respect of doing them well and striving to do them even better.

James Parton Haney’s Craftsman’s Creed is far more, to me, than a nice poem, a pretty summary of what I like to do. It’s really more of an inspiration. My tendency is toward being a “Jill of all trades,” toward racking up one craft after another, and then moving on. My life has sort of epitomized the “been there, done that” school of crafting.

But pondering Haney’s words makes me want to expect more of myself and to honor craftsmanship, to challenge myself to focus, learn, learn more, become as expert as I can in one area.

Will I do that? Will I choose one creative outlet, to the expense of all others? No, not likely—that’s just not me. But Haney’s words can still inspire me to give my different crafts my full focus, each in its turn, and, instead of jumping on the next bandwagon, to push myself deeper into what I already do.

And what about you? How does Haney’s creed represent your experience in crafting and commitment to your craft? Does the creed articulate what motivates you, in your quilting, your knitting, your baking, your gardening, your work?


* Does the gender-specific word “craftsman” bother you? It does me, sort of, but I strongly dislike “crafter” and haven’t come up with other suitable options. I’m hoping the whole discussion can be shelved for another time and not take away from the meaning behind this creed.


This is the creed as Haney wrote it. It contains a reference to pay and the last lines about God (as marked) that don’t appear in the version I’ve seen published more recently and attributed to “Anonymous.”

THE CRAFTSMAN’S CREED

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve, though least for pay,

With fingers which are masters of the tool

And eyes which light to see the pattern’s play–

As it unfolds obedient to each rule of our dear Art.

 

So all my craft is praise to God–at once part homage and part song.

My work’s my prayer, I sing the whole day long

As Faith and Beauty shape the forms I raise.

The Craftsman’s Creed

Does the following creed address what you do, as a maker of lovely and useful things? More on the subject soon . . . .

THE CRAFTSMAN’S CREED

I hold with none who think not work a boon,

Vouchsafed to man that he may aid his Kind

With offerings from his chisel, wheel, or loom,

Fashioned with loving heart and loving mind.

 

All of the fine traditions and the skill,

Come from my elders through the long line down,

Are mine to use to raise our crafts’ renown

And mine to teach again with reverent will:

 

Thus do I live to serve, though least for pay,

With fingers which are masters of the tool

And eyes which light to see the pattern’s play–

As it unfolds obedient to each rule of our dear Art.

 

So all my craft is praise to God–at once part homage and part song.

My work’s my prayer, I sing the whole day long

As Faith and Beauty shape the forms I raise.

–James Parton Haney

 

Pride Goeth . . .

shuttle and bookI’ve heard it said that bad things come in threes.

If that’s true, what can we expect of annoying things? Do they come in fives? Eights? Eights to the nth power?

We’re in one of those pesky annoying stretches around here.

First, it was the brakes on the car. Again. They grind and make other scary sounds. The car is, admittedly, 12 years old but still.

Then it was the water heater, refusing to do what water heaters are designed to do.

Then it was the sump pump, giving notice that it had been worked too hard and was retiring from service. The sump pump repair guy came yesterday, which meant we had to cancel our planned outing to Montreal’s Marché Jean-Talon, which, in turn, left me blog-postless today. Instead of photos of lush fruit and lovely veg in a fabulous urban setting, you get whining. It’s not my fault.

And, as if it wasn’t enough that all the machines around here have decided to break down at once, our craft heaven on the banks of Lake Champlain has turned, if not into hell, at least into a little bit of purgatory.

We’ve had twisted threads, uneven tension, and big gloppy tangles of threads on the looms. Color combinations that sounded striking in theory and are oh-so-boring in reality. I have repeatedly lost my place in my weaving pattern (every time a repairman comes to the door!), at which time I stand and look blankly at the loom and wonder why, why would I want to do this stupid craft anyway?

I’ve had to un-weave multiple inches of fabric, which is second only to unquilting in terms of soul-sucking tedium. These are hours of my life that I am never going to have back again.

I finally left the loom but even the supposedly super-simple fabric yoyos are tormenting me, refusing to be either super or simple.

If purgatory is the place one goes to expiate sins, before being allowed into heaven, I have to wonder what my sins have been?

Not sloth—I mean I’m trying hard, I’m just not succeeding. Not wrath—although I admit to feeling pretty piqued about the unweaving. Not any of those other naughty things but . . .

I think it must be hubris, over-weaning pride, that’s always gotten me in trouble in my making of things. I start to feel a little cocky, a little sure of myself, and the craft goddesses feel the need to give me a smackdown; they remind me that I am a striver, not an expert in these things.

Okay, craft goddesses, are you listening? I get the message! I am chastened! I repent. Now, can I get back to domestic paradise? Please?

Do you have days when nothing goes right? What do you suppose neurosurgeons do on those days?!

“And Then She Made the Lasses O”

green growYesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, 18th-century Scottish poet and songwriter.

Burns is best known for “Auld Lang Syne,” which Americans sing on New Year’s Eve and Scots sing at Hogmanay. He also wrote “Scots Wha Hae,” a patriotic anthem of Scotland, and dozens of other poems.

My favorite, though, is “Green Grow the Rashes O.” It’s a paean to women, based on older (very) bawdy songs. I love Burns’ version for its theme of artistry and crafting, and for Burns’ gentle honoring of all women.

In the final verse of this song, a “toast to the lassies,” Burns casts Nature as an artist, who turns her loving hands to the making of humans.

At first, while an apprentice, Nature practices on making man.

And, then, having worked out the kinks, Nature makes woman:

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her ‘prentice han’ she try’d on man,
An’ then she made the lasses, O

What’s not to love about that sentiment?!

_______________________________

Full lyrics:

There’s nought but care on ev’ry han’
In every hour that passes, O
What signifies the life o’ man
An’ ’twere na for the lasses, O

The war’ly race may riches chase
An’ riches still may fly them, O
An’ tho’ at last they catch them fast
Their hearts can ne’er enjoy them, O

But gie me a cannie hour at e’en
My arms about my Dearie, O
An’ warly cares, an’ warly men
May a’ gae tapsalteerie, O

For you sae douse, ye sneer at this
Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O
The wisest Man the warl’ e’er saw
He dearly lov’d the lasses, O

Auld Nature swears, the lovely Dears
Her noblest work she classes, O
Her prentice han’ she try’d on man
An’ then she made the lasses, O

Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O.