Friday, 29 March 2013

The Influence of Handicraft upon the Workers, 1918 Part 1

On February 28 1918, Ethel Blount and her sister Maude E. King presented a paper at the Peasant Arts Fellowship meeting in Caxton Hall titled Our Experience of the Influence of Handicraft upon the Workers (The Peasant Arts Fellowship Papers No. 10, Vineyard Press, Messrs. J. M. Dent & Sons, London, 1918).  Their speech began:

"If this paper, the subject of which is one of deepest human interest, proves but a dry cataloguish affair, we would ask you to consider the difficulty of compressing the experience of many years into fifteen minutes...

Interior of Weaving House, Kings Road, Haslemere
from Pooley, B., The Changing Face of Shottermill,
Acorn Press, Haslemere, 1987

"A girl coming into the Weaving Home or the Workroom quickly interested in the work, becomes very proud of her growing skills, and, while gradually mastering a beautiful craft, is also acquiring the splendid patience of the good hand-worker.  If, at the outset, she is less refined than her companions in the workroom we find she soon grows noticeably gentler in her ways and simpler in her dressing.  During the careful processes of craft, much grinding and polishing of human jewels would seem to take place, for many unsuspected treasurers are brought to light.

"For example, one embroideress develops the power of drawing minute reductions of large designs, very fluently and charmingly; another reads a paper in defence of hand - opposed to machine-work at her chapel guild; another gets a loom of her own into her cottage in order to weave the clothes of her dearly loved little son, as well as her own best wear; another stays behind and works overtime to make her own wedding-dress.  "Of course, I couldn't be married in anything but a hand-woven dress." she said, when we expressed our pleasure about it.  Yet another develops a rare sense of colour.  Of some more than usually beautiful arrangement of colour we sometimes learn from her fellow-workers - she is too modest to tell us herself - that she has tried therein to symbolise something of herself or of them, her friends, or the mood of a sweet grey morning or the splendour of autumn woods.

The Tapestry Studio, Kings Road, Haslemere
Art Journal, 1906
"A philanthropic millionaire was watching her weaving in a public exhibition not long since, and - mechanical speed and high pay embodying for him the highest good! - he remarked compassionately, "Well, God help the poor creatures that have to make a living at that!".  "Yes, He does!"" said the little weaver surprised at his simplicity.  Doubtless, had the philanthropist lingered long enough to discuss the matter, he would have asked, "Well, allowing that it is worth a girl's while to weave for you, how is she when busy in her own home ever to find time to weave for herself?"

The Weaving House, Kings Road, Haslemere c. 1902
from The Craftsman, January 1902

"Let this story answer him.  In a remote Sussex village lives a young girl, trained in our Industries, whose father is a small farmer, baker, and miller.   The mother is a very busy woman, constantly called into the little shop, and this, the eldest daughter, must help with the cooking and home-work generally.  And yet on Christmas Day last she gave her father a suit-length of tweed which she had spun, dyed, and woven herself.  Now she is making a dress for her mother, and clothes for brothers and sisters are to follow.  All this, be it remembered, is done in the spare times of a busy, dutiful life, where, as a Highland woman once said to us, "she has a great deal to do all amongst everything, indeed!"  She has a little workroom, where with loom and wheel and the fleeces from her father's South Down sheep, she sits and works wonders like any little princess in a fairy tale!  And here she holds a weekly spinning circle for her sisters and friends, doing her utmost to kindle other flames from her own bright torch.  We are all very proud, I am sure, to acknowledge her as one of the first members of our Peasant Arts Fellowship."

Blount, E. and King, M.E.,
Our Influence of the Influence of Handicraft upon the Workers,
Peasant Arts Fellowship Papers, No. 10,
Vineyard Press, Dent & Sons, 1918


  1. How lovely to read how the craftswomen's lives were affected by their work and what skills and individualism they themselves developed or added to the group. It was a two-way street, it would seem.

  2. Thanks Bovey Belle. It is so enlightening to read an account of the impact upon the actual workers, the everyday people. How lovely it would be to read their own account of their experience, than the interpretation of the owners of the industries!


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