My hobby is subversion

Consider these things: Baking, knitting, growing vegetables, making clothes, rag-rugging, brewing, decorating, embroidery, growing fruit and making jam, paper making… it’s not an exhaustive list. If you do these things privately for the benefit of home, family and/or immediate tribe, you have what will be understood socially, to be a hobby. Only if someone else pays for your output, is it serious and worth calling ‘work’.

This could use thinking about. All of the activities listed above, and everything akin to them, results (once you’re good at it) in good quality, entirely original things for less than it would cost to buy new. Many of the above give you an option on recycling materials, upcycling, re-using and generally being a bit greener. But these are ‘hobbies’ and not to be taken too seriously. They are not generally viewed as an economic option, or a way of life. We are to view them as amusing and perhaps a little self indulgent and not very practical when compared to buying something readymade off the shelf. Paying for something someone else has made, is convenient – that’s the story. We may be encouraged to think it will also be better than anything we could do for ourselves.

Well, when we start out as independent craftspeople mastering a new skill, the first few projects may be less than perfect. This is fine – this is the necessary investment in learning your craft. With time and practice you get better, and the more you do, the better you get. The bread I make costs about half as much as regular sliced supermarket bread, but is much superior in terms of quality, keeps better, creates less packaging to recycle and has no troubling added ingredients. All the same things can be said of my cakes, pickles, and the meals I cook on a daily basis.

In terms of usefulness to home, family, tribe and self, the things we make for ourselves can have great worth and utility. Being custom made to fit requirements, they are always a better match to what we needed than the best fit we can get from a mass producing outlet. There is a huge value, and an even greater potential value, in crafting at home. Go back before the industrial revolution, and our ancestors did a lot more for themselves. I recall reading in William Cobbett’s ‘Cottage Economy’ his feeling that there was something shameful about a household that could not answer its own basic needs and forever needed to employ other people to sort out the necessities. He was passionate about home bread making, too.

These days it is normal to pay someone else to sort out the basics for us. It is normal for a person to have a very narrow skills base, and be paid for those narrow skills, and have to pay everyone else for their skills in return. Most of us do not know how to do most of the things that we find necessary for day to day living, and as we get ever more technological, specialist and complex, we become less able to fend for ourselves. It’s not a robust system. This makes for very fragile structures that cannot flex easily in face of dramatic change or challenge. And yet our wider culture refers to this as ‘progress’.

The Transition movement, by contrast, is all about re-skilling, and learning the essential things that help us fend for ourselves. It’s not a case of knowing where the candles are in case of a power cut, it’s knowing how to make the candles.

If we were more interested in what makes life good, what adds value and comfort, what truly enriches and pleases us, then we might be more interested in being able to make things of use and beauty for ourselves and our friends, and less interested in making money for other people.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “My hobby is subversion

  • Icy Sedgwick

    It’s a valid argument – I’m often told that my knitting, or baking, or even my writing are just idle amusements and I should instead spend my time being “busy”, or “chilling out”. What am I to do first? Spend more time working from home, making me more stressed and more resentful of essentially working for free, or spend more time sitting around doing nothing productive? It’s sad that arts and crafts have become diversions, as opposed to genuine occupations.

  • derynguest

    Thank you for this. I would like to use it in one of my sessions on thealogical thinking, and cite the blog address if that is OK.

  • Catriona McDonald

    Tangentially relevant, something which has irritated me no end of late is people looking at such handcrafts and saying, “These are good enough to sell! You should go into business!” As if there wasn’t enough value inherent in the piece itself without becoming part of the capitalist economy.

    I don’t necessarily *want* to sell my pieces. They are useful things, made for *my* home. It’s as if attaching an arbitrary monetary value somehow makes my (often hard) work more “legitimate.” Can’t it just stand on its own merit?

    • catchersrule

      You’ve got a good point here. I like whenever I’m healthy enough to make as much as I can for people over the holidays – normally it’s drawings, or cooking dinner – and I’ve heard the same as you have. My own irritation about it stems from the times I actually have thought to sell my art, which isn’t as easy as anyone in my social circle of the time might be thinking.

      • Nimue Brown

        Oh yes, I know how that goes, too. The idea that authors get instant fame and money comes from the same lack of awareness. Selling art might, perhaps, get you marginally less poor, but it’s not something to count on…

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s a very good point, I think a lot of crafters get this one, hotly followed by a total refusal to then value the piece based on actual work hours put into it. The people who want you to sell never seem to want to pay crafters the minimum wage for their hours. I would bet that isn’t a coincidence.

  • catchersrule

    Good post! I’ve got something to add though: because of the lesser value placed on making/growing our own goods, cities don’t always go with those ideas. So, there’s for instance less allowance for gardening (like at my apartment complex). It reminds me of a facebook meme that occasionally goes around, “Remember when it was your civic duty to have a garden at your house?” No, I don’t, though I’d love one. “Home economics” courses in school don’t necessarily teach what you’d need to know, on top of that, so kids aren’t growing up a lot of the time thinking there’s more to life than their laptop and ipad. But I’ve also started to see on tv and in the news more and more about people rethinking how they’re living, whether it’s recycling or learning as you mentioned to make things rather than buy them. As my husband and I both love to cook, we make our own broth from whole chicken roasters (which is cheaper, you’re right, than the canned type), and he makes bread, while I’ve learned to pickle things (though sadly I have a colostomy bag at the moment which won’t allow me to eat them)!

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