Christmas and everyday making
National Life Stories’ long life history interviews all ask questions about the interviewee’s childhood, seeking to capture something of their family history, their early memories, and the interests, influences and accidents that led them to take up their chosen careers. In interviewing for Crafts Lives we ask particularly about family members who made things and a childhood interest in making. The 1940s and 50s, when most of our interviewees grew up, provide rich material. The interviews are full of grandfathers with workshops, fathers bodging up greenhouses and garden gates, go-cart making and sewing, knitting and cooking. It was an age of make do and mend when ingenuity was required even though the results were sometimes surprising. Here textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood recalls seeing his treasured green teddy bear return from being mended by his grandmother.
It is difficult, as the person being interviewed, to recall the detail of everyday life and the making that went into feeding, clothing and homemaking that was so habitual that it formed part of the unexamined texture of childhood. One way to help the interviewee is to ask questions about the details. In this clip textile artist Michele Walker initially says that no one in her family made anything but careful questioning reveals interesting nuggets of information about the jumpers that were always knitted as Christmas presents with wool from a yarn club and leads on to her talking about the things she made herself as a child.
Questions about Christmas in general are often fruitful as people tend to have clearer memories of the heightened atmosphere of high days and holidays. In addition it is a time when people particularly invest time in making: - in cooking special food, making presents and creating decorations. Here jeweller Andrew Logan describes the Christmas tree fairy made by his mother, which is still a prized family possession.
The making that characterised many interviewees’ childhoods in the 1940s and 50s was on an everyday, almost unconsidered, level. Much of it was borne of necessity but listening to the interviews also reveals the care, skill, creativity and talent for improvisation that went into everyday making. It was from this landscape of practical intelligence that the studio craftspeople and designer makers of the 1960s and 70s emerged to take craft in new and unexpected directions. Even if making is not as universal as it once was, Christmas is still the highpoint of the calendar. Whether it’s Christmas cakes or cards with glue gun and glitter, happy making and Happy Christmas.
By Frances Cornford
NLS Project Interviewer