In the quiet of the evening, when the children are tucked up in their beds, blissfully dreaming of sunshine and ice-cream and holidays and hockey sticks and whatever else it is that my children dream about, it’s then that I can slowly creep downstairs, trying not to make too much noise despite the stairs protesting their use, and head to the studio, or the computer, or the sofa, or just to sit in a big puddle of crafty things on the floor and dream up my next project. It’s my time to recharge and my time to stretch out a little creativity and make the balance to my days.
Or so I thought. If you had asked me I would have said in a heartbeat that I was being creative and inventive every single time, but the other day H and I were talking about how he wanted to paint more in the days (actual pictures, not walls) but was just so tired by the evening that all he could manage was a little light colouring in. I must have looked rather pointedly at the knitting in my lap, the other knitting next to me, and thought about the quilt slowly growing in the studio, because he met my gaze and calmly replied:
“Yes, but you’re following a pattern aren’t you.”
Ouch. I take a lot of pride in my knitting; I’m good at it because I’ve practiced a lot (my Grannie taught me when I was about Kitty’s age) and I love the things I make because they are beautiful and they are useful and keep my family warm and my sanity intact.
I bridled silently under the implication that my knitting was ‘just’ following a pattern; that my art had been reduced to a mere textile paint by numbers. After all even if I’m following a pattern to the letter, which doesn’t happen that often, I’m choosing yarn (texture and colour) and the right needle size and making sure that the finished fabric has the right drape for whatever I’m making (socks are a lot less floppy than cardigans). And when I’m knitting socks that’s a pattern that I’ve evolved over the years that I hold in my head. Is painting a picture really so superior? Could all my hard work be denigrated from art or creativity to a mere craft just because I make it look easy? Do I simply have better stamina than H and should he just man up and start painting? (I didn’t suggest the last one to him)
And then I finished the easy bit of the pattern. I’m knitting another Milo for Pip because tank tops seem to be the perfect way to keep little boys warm without having to be constantly washing damp muddy sleeves, and my plan was to knit the yoke in a single colour and then knit snowflakes into the body, copying a mitten pattern for the colourwork. The snowflake pattern is absolutely amazing, but it has no repeats within any line so you have to watch the pattern for every stitch, and the pattern used 45 stitches fewer than I had on the needles so I was picking and choosing which bit of the line to repeat on every round. I know that sounds complicated, especially if you’re not a knitter but it’s completely within my skill set, it just requires a little active concentration.
And that was the rub. After a full day at work and then time spent with the children, and then supper, bath and bedtime, my brain protested any attempt to engage serious thinking. I was just too tired, and so I abandoned it on the arm of the sofa in the hope that the children might pick it up one morning and accidentally knit in the exact perfect snowflake pattern that I needed. Alas they didn’t, I decided the two yarns I was using were too similar, and I ripped out several snowy inches in favour of stripes, but that’s another story.
The truth is that perhaps we’ve stumbled upon a distinction between art and craft that I think I can get behind. So often the definition is based on perceived value (a painting costs more than a jumper) and sadly that value can oh so frequently find its roots in a gender distinction between pursuits that are more traditionally male or female (if a girl can do it, it must be easy, and therefore worthless). And those are the definitions that have me clambering onto my soapbox to shout to the world, “open your eyes! Look at a Millefiori quilt! Look at a Bohus jumper with 10 colours of yarn in one round! And then tell me you think that isn’t art”
Textile art and fibre art is as valid as sculpture, or screen printing, or good old fashioned beautiful watercolour, a dippy brush and a clean fresh sheet of paper.
But what if I said that what makes something an art form isn’t what you do with your hands, so much as what you do with your brain?
(a snippet of H’s current work in progress of the Rialto Bridge in Venice)
When I pick up a new pattern, and choose yarn and needles and decide on whatever tweaks and changes I want to make, that’s art, that’s creativity. But when I’m actually sitting there knitting away and not thinking about it, that’s more in the craft realm. Why H finds painting in the evenings harder is because he has to be mentally switched on for every single brushstroke; he has to think about the colour and the placement and the strength with which he touches the canvas and a whole lot of other bits and bobs (you can tell I’m very much not a painter!). All of that is art; every stitch I knit of the snowflake Milo that is no more, and every stitch that I will knit of the snowflake Milo I will make next winter, they were creativity.
If you’re thinking, you’re being creative.
The beauty of it is that it applies just as much to writing (an art) and photography (sometimes an art) as it does to knitting socks (an art to choose the yarn, craft once my fingers take over and make them on autopilot).
And when you put it all together: I am an artist, I am a crafter (and proud of it), I am creative – and most importantly, I’m wearing fluffy warm socks.