Thursday 27 October 2011

How to Be Crafty

Middle class Jen Teale and Eileen Weybridge are into parchment craft, beadwork, stamping, greetings cards, scrap books – something where you get a kit and follow instructions. But they may also be highly skilled at tatting or bobbin lace, or completely obsessed with white- on-white knitting.

Sam Upward used to follow Kaffe Fassett patterns but found the resulting garments, now utterly dated, were always rather unwearable (they sagged and lost their shape). She spins her own yarn and dyes it with onion skins, and likes crafts where you improvise and the result is unmistakably hand-made. She used to make her own paper.

Jen wishes women’s magazines had more knitting and crochet patterns like in the good old days as she’s bored by all the celebrity fashion crimes. (In the 80s people used to say “How can you be a feminist and knit?” and also “But knitting patterns are all awful” – that was just before the Kaffe Fassets came along and created middle-class designs. And suddenly knitting was OK for feminists again.)

Caro Stow-Crat works on Ehrman tapestry kits, Sam sews William Morris, Eileen sews autumn scenes, bluebell woods and Cotswold villages, all rather ineptly drawn. Jen “stitches” golden retrievers, swans, and pierrots with a tear on their cheek. Mrs Definitely works cross stitch kits of teddies and hearts.

When Eileen retires, she painstakingly learns how to paint in watercolours at a local institute and produces pictures of bluebell woods, windmills and sailing boats. She calls it “watercolour painting”. Sam goes to “right brain, inner creativity” painting classes and produces multicoloured blobs. Jen, never having picked up a brush in her life, suddenly produces a perfect copy of Constable’s The Cornfield.

It’s all right for Stow Crats to have no taste in art. They live in a house designed by Vanbrugh, surrounded by Lely paintings, Nollekens sculptures and Grinling Gibbons carvings, but they have to take it all utterly for granted. You don’t say “Isn’t that a Gainsborough?” It’s not “a Gainsborough” but “Great Uncle Frederick” (or the 11th earl, as he was known). (As some aristo said after guests had left: “Feller noticed me pictures!”)

Upwards insist that investing in art never pays and besides you should buy what you like. (They also hate people to make money out of property deliberately. The only good money is old money, but when your house soars in value it’s all right to go on and on about how little you paid for it.)

Eileen brashly asks an Upward friend with expertise what her objets are worth - he refuses to tell her, and says patronisingly, “What matters is the pleasure it gives you.”

Jen loves Cash in the Attic and makes quite a bit on her yard sale. Mr Definitely is an expert in something unlikely like Japanese netsuke or samurai swords. Mrs D collects Royal Worcester.

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