Backwards to go forwards


I am on a really interesting pathway at the moment.  I am doing some extensive research on cottage industries that existed in Scotland leading up to the industrial revolution and charting what change then occurred and why.  The first part is hugely positive as it is all about notions of community kitchens when the main household and others would spend so much time engaged in a variety of different activities, all of them incredibly productive.  The second part of the research is not so positive as it has uncovered the ‘fat cat’ mentality of Lairds and others desperate to steal the skills and processes and move them into factory environments with cheap labour.  The rise in productivity and the speed in which things were then produced devalued the work being done in cottage kitchens.  Then there were a series of deals made and laws published preventing certain cottage industries taking place.  It was illegal in Scotland to process your own oats and barley unless there was a storm preventing the windmills from working.  Bit by bit cottage industries started to disappear.  No doubt there will have been some useful progress at this time but in the main production values changed so deeply that they could never be reversed.  There are endless examples of change being motivated by greed.
Still, traditional crafts existed in small pockets and in more rural locations.  The remote Scottish islands manages to hang onto traditional skills longer than most.  Move forward a good few years and the Isle of Harris has recently been named a world craft island due to its heritage in weaving.  There is much renewed interested in traditional cottage industries but they take up a niche place in the market rather than supplying households.
What is so important in this research is that we understand the value of time.  Before the industrial revolution cloth took a long time to turn from fleece (for example) to a finished garment and moved through many stages and different hands.  When the industrial revolution took hold and factories sprung up in the towns and cities time was valued differently.  It was all about how fast something can be produced.
I am at a stage, as a maker, when I want to work far more slowly and therefore I am naturally drawn to crafts that take time to complete.  Natural dyeing, paper making, eco printing, spinning and weaving are all excellent examples.  I am reinventing the cottage industry model in my own home making things slowly and often for use by my family or friends.  I am still selling when I have enough to sell but it is no longer the priority. As time goes on I will create projects that are time rich where the different processes can be photographed and logged in careful record keeping.  Someone, one day might find my records and use them.  We have come full circle.

2 thoughts on “Backwards to go forwards

  1. Love reading your blog, your writing resonates very strongly with me and my thoughts on slowing down, nurturing old skills and traditions and living in tune with the land. I have also been experimenting with natural dying and eco-printing, inspired by the work I have come across on groups such as 52 Stitched Stories. I think you thoughts on the value of time are spot on. I look forward to hearing more about your inspiring research. Thank you.

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