The Undermining of “Craft”

“Crafts” have occupied a large part of my life. I was fifteen years old when I knitted my first sweater.  My mother taught me to knit when I was so young my fingers had trouble wrapping the yarn around them.  I didn’t realize it then, but being left-handed certainly must have made it more difficult for me to learn, yet learn I did, and to this day I knit as a right handed person does. It was the beginning of a love affair.  When I was in my twenties I had a brief moment when I was the editor of the “How To Knit” page in Elle Magazine.

Ariane Zurcher Designs
Ariane Zurcher Designs Capelet and Sleeves

My mother also taught me to do embroidery and sewing, this was in the days when knitting and fabric shops were as abundant as Starbucks.  It was a special occasion when my mother would drive me to San Francisco so we could visit Britex, which carried the most luxurious silks and fabrics from all over the world. When I moved to New York City there was a little knitting shop on Sixth Avenue in the village that had hand dyed and spun specialty yarns.  They were out of my price range as I was a student on a budget, but I would wander into that shop and just smell the wool and gaze at the beautiful colors, coveting the skeins that hung like candy along the walls.

Emroidered Creche my mother & I made when I was a teenager.

My father, born and raised in Paris, used to do Petit Point, at least this is what he called it, though in fact I believe he was doing what in America we call needlepoint. It was my father who taught me how to do basket weave needle point so the back of the tapestry resembled a basket weave, and was not as prone to warping the fabric and lay flatter or so he insisted. He looked down upon those who did their needlepoint by going back and forth horizontally. I have a pillow he made for me with the letter A prominently displayed in the center, it’s tattered back and edges giving clues to how old it now is.

The Pillow my father made for me

When I came to New York City it was because I’d been accepted to Parsons School of Design.   My love of fabrics, sewing, knitting and all things crafts-related propelled me into the world of fashion design.  It was an uneasy alliance and ultimately one I could not reconcile.  I learned early on that anything “Crafts” related was the sullied, unkept cousin to “high fashion.”  Crafts were what housewives did, it wasn’t the sort of thing an “artist” indulged in. So the thing I loved most, creating things by hand, became the thing I felt ashamed of.  The world of fashion and the designers whose work hung on exquisitely tall and impossibly thin models, exemplified all that I wasn’t.  My love of crafts became something I began to hide and even reject. It was “woman’s work” and if I was ever to make a career for myself, it was best to put those “childish pursuits” behind me.

“Craft” has begun to get its well deserved recognition and I couldn’t be happier. It is no coincidence that female artists in general are generating more interest in museums and galleries. Women’s work finally elevated to more prominence in a male dominated world is as it should be. “Craft” and all that it encompasses is yet another way we have been taught to undermine, under value and even ridicule work done by, mostly, women. We have a lot further to go, but it is wonderful to see that beginning to change!

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