Making is good for us. Using our hands benefits our cognitive development, improves our mental agility and can have a positive impact on our mental health, too. We know this, intuitively and intellectually yet, recent years have seen a decline in craft and creative education in schools (60% fewer young people have taken art and design GCSE over the last 12 years) and a shift from practical to theoretical learning models in higher education.
The impact on the craft sector is evident. Young people are leaving school with no idea that craft-based careers are even possible, and graduates of craft-based degree courses are entering the workplace with so few hand skills that their employers must train them from scratch.
But the ripples of this decline are being felt in wider society too. Disruptive behaviour in school, for example, has reached unprecedented levels, with referral units for children who have been excluded from mainstream schools warning they have reached capacity. And as we hurtle into the fourth industrial revolution, we risk losing the craft skills which make humans unique. As Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum wrote in a recent piece for the Observer, “the digital age demands more, not less creativity in schools and families. It is through play and imagination that we can rise above the robots.” (‘Move over, stuffed teddies. Museums today need more to stimulate young minds,’ 24th June 2023).
Intelligent Hands: Why making is a Skill for Life investigates the cognitive benefits of craft in life-long learning and brings together existing research and information in an accessible format to make the case for working with our hands. The authors are on a mission to enlighten the uninitiated and persuade the nay-sayers who dismiss craft as no more than a nice hobby or believe that doing things with your hands is for those who can’t use their heads. And for the converted, they offer ammunition for funding applications, inspiration for those who plan school curricula and further reading for particular specialities.
Divided into three sections and interwoven with the personal stories of ten makers, the book looks at how physical labouring became separated from academic study, how we became divorced from the materials that surround us and the important role that the crafts and creativity play in education, not just for the lower streams, but for everyone.
Intelligent Hands | Contents Foreword by Jay Blades MBE, co-chair of Heritage Crafts and presenter of The Repair Shop on BBC.
Intelligent Hands | Part I – Mind + Body The nature of work, mind vs body and what constitutes ‘good work.’ Why is the academic valued more than practical work? Plus stories from
George Siddons– PPE graduate turned apprentice carpenter
Zoe Collis – Journeyman papermaker
Daniel Carpenter – CEO Heritage Crafts
Intelligent HandsPart II – Education + Learning On apprenticeships, sloyd and experiential learning. A brief history of progressive educational theories
Plus Stories from:
Jay Patel – architect, alumnus of The Creative Dimension Trust
Christian Ovonlen – artist, member of learning disabilities arts organisation IntoArt
Lasmin Salmon – textile artist, member of learning disabilities arts organisation Action Space
Horace Lindezey – artist, member of learning disabilities arts organisation Venture Arts
Helen Brown – art teacher at a Pupil Referral Unit
Dr Bryson Gore – ‘Inventor in Residence’ at a Nottingham Primary School
Intelligent Hands | Part III – Wellbeing + Activism Therapeutic craft, touch and flow. How making can help control impulsivity (and change the world).
Plus stories from
Sam & Jacob – members of Nailsworth Community Workshop
Sue Brown – print artist. The focus is on her lockdown project Same Sea, Different Boat
Ags & Kam – members of London-based maker space Everyone’s Warehouse
Sarah Corbett, The Craftivist Collective
Betsan Corkhill, Stitchlinks
Betsy Greer, ‘Craftivism’
Intelligent Hands | Jay Blades MBE Jay is dyslexic and, after leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, he found his true vocation in restoration and supporting young and vulnerable people to find their own access to work.
Known across the UK as the host of BBC One’s extraordinarily successful The Repair Shop, it is perhaps no coincidence that his belief in the restoration of objects stems from a belief that humans too can be repaired, fixed and rejuvenated. His restoration company, Jay & Co, aims to ’save the world’ through craft. Working with recycled, reclaimed and reused materials, accessories, furniture, and fabric, they create pieces that are as good as new, and help develop a more holistic approach to interiors. Jay is currently co-chair of Heritage Crafts.
Intelligent Hands | Authors
Charlotte Abrahams is a writer and curator specialising in design and the applied arts. She trained at Central St Martin’s and since then has written regularly for the national and international press, including Guardian Weekend and the Financial Times. She is the author of several books about pattern and wallpaper and one on the Danish concept of Hygge. She is less good at making than the people she writes about, but she is teaching herself to darn.
Katy Bevan is a writer and educator specialising in craft and mother of a disabled child. She is the editor of many books on craft and writes for textile and craft magazines such as Selvedge and a trustee of Heritage Crafts. Previously at the Crafts Council she founded the publishing company Quickthorn Ltd in 2022. She blogs at The Crafter , runs workshops in darning, crochet and knitting and is mostly to be found making something.
Recent years have seen a decline in craft and creative education in schools and a shift from practical to theoretical learning models in higher education. Young people are leaving school with no idea that craft-based careers are even possible, and graduates of craft-based degree courses are entering the workplace with so few hand skills that their employers must train them from scratch.
Where did the idea come from that white-collar work should be rewarded more with money and status than that of a blue-collar worker? Intelligent Hands looks at this phenomenon, the historical precedents that led us here and why hand skills are crucial in education and for lifelong learning. The authors are on a mission to enlighten the uninitiated and persuade the nay-sayers who dismiss craft as no more than a nice hobby or believe that doing things with your hands is for those who can’t use their heads.
We’ve had a busy few weeks with some great book events. It’s been so good to make contact with real people. For the many who couldn’t get tickets to hear Freddie Robins and Celia Pym at Loop, there is a film of the whole thing, so grab a cup of tea and settle in for a listen. If you have any more questions for Celia and Freddie, just drop me a line. There’s lots more planned so sign up to the newsletter and follow on Instagram to be the first to know.
1 December The authors of When Words are Not Enough: Creative responses to grief, Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds, will be in conversation with Sophie Pierce, one of the contributors to the book. Sophie lost her son Felix and talks about how she has managed to carry through cold-water swimming and the letters she writes to him. Dartington Trust Bookshop, Totnes, Devon. 1 Dec, 6pm More information and booking here.
2 December Celia Pym, author of On Mending: Stories of damage and repair, will be online hosted by the lovely Tatter Library in Brooklyn, New York. Discussing individual stories from the book, she will explore mending as small acts of care; mending and the body and why the softening of clothing to take on the shape of its owner can be moving. After the talk Celia and Jordana Martin from Tatter will be in conversation about care and repair in textiles and the body. More information and booking here.
4 December Finding Quiet Strength has been highlighted by Juno Magazine as one of their top picks for Christmas books to gift. It’s such a beautiful hardback object. Author Judith Kleinman will be at Highbury bookshop Ink84 to give an introduction to Finding Quiet Strength, the philosophy that underpins her new book. Bring your yoga mat to get involved. Sunday 4 Dec, 11am. More information and booking here. Judith will also be hosting a longer residential retreat at Hawkwood College, Stroud, 20–22 January. Something to look forward to. More information and booking here.
The deeply personal stories in When Words are Not Enough are moving and restorative. They tell tales of grief and memory written by those that have survived. The upcoming mini online festival organised by the folk behind The Good Grief Fest is based around these ideas of grief + memory. Authors Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds will be featuring online 6.30 Friday 28 October when they will be in conversation with Dr Lesel Dawson, Associate Professor in Literature and Culture at the University of Bristol, specialising in grief, Renaissance literature and the history of the emotions. She’s leading a research project on Creative Grieving that explores how art and the imagination can enable the bereaved to express and process their loss.
Jane will also be joining Julia Samuel and Nadja Ensink-Teich on Sat Oct 29th at 11am to talk about continuing bonds, grief and memory.
“What we understand now is that although the person we love has died, the relationship with them very much continues, and so the love with that person never dies…and we love them in absence rather than presence.”
Much like the Victorians, we now understand that relationships endure – and even evolve – beyond death. The theory of continuing bonds explores our ongoing relationships with loved ones who have died and how the strength of these relationships can impact our experience of grief and memory. In this panel session we will hear from people who have integrated their lost loved ones into the lives of the living, and how these continuing bonds have provided comfort and continuity during times of pain and upheaval. Register free for any of these events at https://goodgrieffest.com/whats-on/ and you can buy books from the event here. This is a short film about the book.
The launch of the latest title from Prof. Judith Kleinman was at independent bookshop Ink84 in Islington. Attended by more people than we were expecting, we completely sold out of books! There were lots of musicians at the launch, including pop star Ella Eyre. The book has been endorsed by lots of fans, including Nick Hornby and Arabella Weir.
I learned a lot from working with Judith Kleinman. She was able to locate in me a stillness and equilibrium I didn’t know I had, and that has stood me in good stead for all the vicissitudes of work and domestic life.
Finding Quiet Strength (FQS) is a practical philosophy that connects to both ancient wisdom and modern neuroscience. Judith Kleinman’s work enables a calm, confident, and coordinated approach to life, helping us to be centred, grounded and develop a sense of poise and equilibrium. At some point, most of us need help with the challenges of life. FQS is a practice of being present in a way that develops our emotional intelligence and embodied awareness enabling us to navigate the many ups and downs of being human. The work helps us to develop a deep and gentle self-acceptance. Through this self-acceptance, FQS helps us work on an embodied resilience and become more aware of what we can let go of and change.
Book Brunch also featured the launch on their website. Finding Quiet Strength: Emotional Intelligence, Embodied Awareness is available now.
I love Judith’s work. The drawings, words and thoughts are just lovely – their message is as calming as it is bursting with positive ideas. Easy to dip into yet rewarding to read, there are some great tools for life in this book.
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