On Art & Knowledge & Inheritance

I’ve been wanting to write for some time about the recent loss of my Aunt Teresa (Aunt T) who was a powerful force in our family and in the community of friends whom she considered family.  In part, I’ve delayed because I’m unsure of all the ways I and my family will feel the loss of a matriarch who was so dear to us, but also because I wasn’t quite sure how to connect my feelings about her to a piece for Wandering Knots.

T was a photographer. Although her work has been published and won awards, it was something she did primarily for the love of it. Her father was also a photographer and she first learned the skill from him. Over the years, she shared her knowledge of photography and enthusiasm for the art with her daughter, nieces & nephews, and others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this passing down of skill/craft/art, particularly when it passes along a line of women. The value of this work has varied, but has generally served to provide either monetarily or materially for a family or community. Because of the commercial expense and even lack of availability in of textiles in the preindustrial world, the inherited work of women was often based in fiber – things like quilting, embroidery, lace making, weaving, tailoring, knitting.

Nowadays, we have little to no need to make or mend textiles at home because they are neither scarce nor expensive and so the skills that were once common have begun to die out of our society or to be seen as valueless. In listening to the most recent KnitBritish podcast and this lovely episode of The Moth that Ariel shared with me, I reminded that even though this feels otherwise, there is still and should be value in handwork and in the continuing of craft skills being passed down.

At this point, we’re several generations out from the industrial revolution and many of us no longer have parents or even grandparents with this type of skill to teach us or we may only have a small skill set to sample. One of my grandmothers is a sewer. She taught me the skill as a child and while I can do many of the basics, I’m not proficient and I don’t have a love of it. I’ve learned the knitting skills I have through a mashup of Youtube videos, some books, many friends, and hundreds of mistakes. I wasn’t able to learn it directly from anyone in my life but I hope to be able to pass my knowledge on in the odd bit at a sip & stitch with you wonderful Wandering Knitters, on a camping trips with my cousin, at the beach with my sister and her family, to my day-job knitting circle, and anywhere else I can. I do this, “A of all,” because I want to live in a world where handcraft and maker artistry are valued, and also, because I don’t think their value is limited to production but that it extends into the emotional, physical, and spiritual health or maker and user.