How Basic Does It Have to Be?

How basic does it have to be for your craft to be considered handmade? If you use tools at all, other than your fingers, does it disqualify you from claiming “handmade?” I mean, even knitting needles are tools.

There was a discussion on one of the fiber arts groups on Facebook this morning about “cheating” by using a knitting loom. When your hobby is already practicing an old-fashioned back-to-basics skill like spinning or knitting, how basic does it have to be? Do we rank the “basicness” of our hobbies? Do we judge others based on whether they are struggling as much as we are for our art?

“More suffering, or your heart’s not in it!”

Facebook commenter, joking

The more I think about this, the more I realize that we this practice this strange judginess about all kinds of things in our lives. The first time I cooked dinner for my now-ex-husband, he looked very suspicious as I placed the vegetables into the microwave, and asked, “Do you know how to use a ‘real’ stove, too?” Jump ahead 30 years to another time, place, and relationship: a real wood-burning stove was impractical in our house, so we had a pellet stove, which was fussy and annoying and always breaking. We recently upgraded to a fake-flame electric “fireplace,” and you know what? I’m just fine with the “cheating,” ’cause it’s great!

“…It’s only cheating if you promised needle based knitting that you would be in a committed relationship. I am a serial fiber philanderer, but I never promised any craft that I’d remain faithful.”

Intelligent Facebook User

When it comes to spinning or knitting (or crocheting or felting or embroidery or…) we’re already practicing skills which have been used for thousands of years but which have been modernized, mechanized, and industrialized. When compared to buying commercial acrylic yarn from the local dollar store, it seems that there isn’t a lot of difference between spinning on a drop spindle, a spinning wheel with a flyer, or an electric spinner.

I had a professor in college who taught such interesting classes that I maintained a friendship with him post-graduation. He taught Viking Literature, Anglo-Saxon Language, Folklore, and The History of the Blues. Who could not want to be friends with a guy like that? He commented once that I was “one of those people who like to start from the very beginning.” I introduced him to his first Wool Festival up in Estes Park, Colorado. He’d heard they had a show of Icelandic sheep and he really wanted to see them. After positively gawking all day long at the strangely primitive goings-on at the festival, he purchased a ball of roving. I asked if he would like me to teach him to spin, and he said, “Oh, no! I just want to hang it on my wall like it is and feel it sometimes. I wouldn’t know what to do with yarn.”

As someone who likes to start from the very beginning, I began pondering today, “How basic is basic enough? Is it ever ‘cheating?'”

Just for fun, I came up with this quiz, attempting to assign points for varying degrees of primitiveness. I know, I know… I didn’t include a LOT of skills on this. If you have opinions about the points I assigned, or suggestions about other categories like crochet, felt, embroidery, or anything else, put ’em in the comments at the bottom of the page!

quiz on spinning and knitting how primitive are your skills

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