Friday, 5 February 2016




If ever you need a reminder of how much fun social history can be, check out the BBC's "living history" series Tales from the Green Valley (and its subsequent series' Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm etc.). In it, a crew of social historians and archaeologists live in a Jacobean farmhouse for a year and try to recreate the workings of the farm using their knowledge of the period and a pile of research, recipes, and theories about how things were done. Figuring out how people did things by doing them yourself can be a murky, contentious practice in this area of research; just because you managed to rig up an outhouse using period-appropriate tools does not mean that you haven't sullied the historicity of the technique with your modern knowledge and expectations about how people would or should have built something.

Luckily for you, dear Reader, I am willing to tarnish history for my own entertainment. Which brings me to Lost Crafts: Rediscovering Traditional Skills by Una McGovern. It's definitely not a how-to manual, but it does advocate that the average individual take up traditional crafts and skills for the sake of carrying that knowledge into the future, and for people's own enjoyment and entertainment. The book briefly explains the context, history, and uses of a series of crafts relating to: farming, hunting and gathering, food and drink, home and garden, practical things, and decorative things. I haven't had the opportunity to attempt "Trout Tickling" or make my own wooden clogs, but the section on decorative crafts was basically written for me.

McGovern writes that "it is only within the last 40 years or so that people have begun to think seriously about preserving and reviving these crafts before they are lost forever."

The idea of crafts being lost to history was what prompted me to begin needlework, as if I were a one-woman bulwark against the march of time and industrial production processes. Of course, I cannot single-handedly save crafting from obsolescence. No one has ever done that. Throughout history, the people making coracles probably were not also shearing sheep and blowing glass and then sitting down to work on their sewing sampler. But many of these individual skills are incredibly rewarding: think of the pride you could have in making your very own dry-stone wall! That requires having a yard, though, which is why I am sticking with two smaller-scale crafts until I find a way to move out of my apartment and take over a country estate. Here, let me teach you two, too:


I mentioned tatting once in a museum I was working at, and discovered that all the curators were tatters, too--it must be the unofficial craft of museum professionals!

I took a bunch of blurry photos of my hands to try to illustrate how to tat, but they explained nothing. However, as McGovern advocates in Lost Crafts, finding online communities dedicated to teaching specific crafts is a great way to become part of the movement: the online tatting community is rich with explanations, free patterns, and how-to videos. From youtube user 11Frivole:

Eventually, you end up with piles of lace and can start festooning your sweaters with it.

To make this lace lay flat and look pretty, I will need to "block" it by wetting it and pinning all the little bits flat to a corkboard. Image: Anya Baker.

Cutwork Embroidery

This craft was not in Lost Crafts, but it is one that I learned to do Maker-Space style by fiddling around and wasting thread until I got it right.

To begin: thread a long embroidery needle with two strands of embroidery thread. If your material is a heavier weight, you might not need an embroidery hoop to keep the material taut. If you have a plan, good. If you have no idea what you're going to do, even better. Here, I am embroidering a pair of cuffs for a blouse.

Outline the shape you want to cut out. Image: Anya Baker.
Use the satin stitch all the way around. Keep the stitches close together to prevent the material from fraying. Image: Anya Baker.
Cut out the middle with very sharp scissors. Image: Anya Baker.
Eventually, you get this. This is the neckline of the blouse. My scissors were obviously not sharp enough, because the edges are shaggy. Sharpen your scissors!

One day I hope to do embroidery of this quality. In the meantime, happy crafting!


  1. I've recently taken up cross-stitching (embroidery for dummies) and it's so great to have something to do with your hands while you're watching TV. When I get bored of it I will have to read McGovern's book and be inspired to find a new hobby!

  2. I have a lot of tatting materials at home because I'm trying to learn how to make lace. This really motivates me to practice!

  3. Anya that cutwork is beautiful! I love that you are "willing to tarnish history for [our] enjoyment". Hear hear! Let's share another bottle of mildly authentic but incredibly delicious hypocras sometime? :)