Thursday, 5 March 2015

Crafternoon at Pitt Rivers

Crafternoon has recently come to an end at the Pitt Rivers Museum after a successful three-month stint as part of the Need / Make / Use project. The outcome of our congregations is a Pitt Rivers-inspired quilt, which has been donated to the Museum.

© Pitt Rivers Museum

What is Crafternoon?
Crafternoon began in Oxford in 2012. We are a group of parents/caregivers and young kids who meet once a week. Crafternoon combines childcare with co-working for parents and caregivers who have a creative practice or an interest in crafts. These crafts are undertaken at various levels from hobbyist to professional. This rich mix of experience and expertise has led to the transfer of skills and sharing of ideas. The aim of Crafternoon is to normalize the idea of having children present while adults are productive in another task, taking the popular idea of "co-working" to another level by including our children. 

Crafternoon and Pitt Rivers
Holding these sessions at the Pitt Rivers Museum couldn't have been a better fit. Not only do many of the objects in the Museum’s collection have a direct connection with parenting and childhood, many of the objects will have been produced by hand, in community settings, in the presence of children.  

For our residency at the Museum we worked on a group project - a quilt. The imagery depicted in the quilt was inspired by objects in the galleries which relate to parenthood, childhood and co-working. With the help of Maya Herbolzheimer, VERVE Activities and Outreach Officer, we were introduced to these objects through object handling and tours of the displays. We used a series of questions to think about the 'biography' of these objects and brainstormed some possible visual representations of these biographies.

With the help of our expert seamstress and quilter, Caroline King we depicted our chosen objects using appliqué and embroidery techniques. Each participant worked on an individual square which was then sewn into one large quilt. Some of us had experience sewing and some had none – we even had contributions from some of the kids themselves! 

Every Crafternoon session is an experiment. We are never sure what the dynamics of the group will be like. But the stars were well aligned for these sessions! As the adults worked, the children got on with playing or contributing to the creative process alongside the adults. It was a calm enjoyable atmosphere. 

Our quilt has thirteen individual squares depicting baby carriers, a wolf's tooth amulet, moccasins, and a Haida totem pole - to name a few. A wolf's tooth amulet was the first object we looked at and discussed. It originates from France and was worn by children to ward off febrile convulsions caused by high fevers that can occur during teething. One of the Crafternoon participants was very familiar with these seizures as both her children had them. She chose to depict the wolf's tooth in a very creative way: using coloured squares of fabric she represented the heat of fever contrasted with the coolness provided by the amulet, "The warm colours represent fever, which is spreading and taking over the body, until it comes up against the amulet - then it disappears and we're left with a tiny, calm, cool colour." 

A personal favourite is this 3D baby carrier. Here's the maker's account of her handiwork:

"My quilt piece was inspired by a small (15 cm) model of a Saami cradle made of wood covered with leather and cloth from Sweden. I was super happy to find it; it brought back happy memories of Sweden were Abel is born on the first day of snow during a cold but beautiful winter. We spent those days outside walking in the snow or skating on the ice, and Abel napped outside, tucked in a sheepskin blanket to keep him warm in the freezing cold (it sounds funny, but many mothers do this in Scandinavia). For me, the little cradle became a symbol of happy times carrying, nursing and caring for my newborn in nature, while being free to go anywhere."

This Pitt Rivers Crafternoon quilt is a tactile educational object as well as a testament to what can be achieved together in the presence of our kids! If you visit the Museum this spring, please do check it out!

Crafternoon is now back at home in the Jericho Community Centre on Tuesdays from 2–4pm. Check our website for information and updates.

Sarah Cullen, Crafternoon