Crafts Help Connect to History

This article was published in February of 2014, written by Kevin Geary, Curator of Education

Crafts today are luxuries; ways to pass time, learn a new skill, or decorate our homes.  But there was a time in our past when crafting was a necessity.  Without the skills learned through crafts, families would not have access to furniture, clothing, and other basic needs.

Traditional materials are usually used in crafting.  The huge variety of trees in the United States provides wood of striking color and pattern variations that are used in furniture and woodworking.  Glass and clay offer endless possibilities in making decorative pieces for the home.  Grasses, plants, and flowers allow cloth makers, weavers, knitters, and spinners the chance to create a rainbow of color pallets to dye their yarn to use in their work.

Historically, crafts were passed from parents to children.  Sons learned needed woodworking skills from their fathers and at the same time, they whittled and carved toys to play with like tops, yo-yos, and ball and cup games.  Mothers taught daughters necessary skills through needle crafts like crocheting, knitting, needlepoint, and doll making.  The skills learned by children served them well as adults.

The Tri-Cities Historical Museum hopes to preserve the crafting skills of the past by offering a variety of craft classes throughout the year.  Teaching and learning crafts is an effective way to preserve these dying arts, and to pass them on to new generations.  Last fall, the museum offered classes in tatting (lace making), gourd art, crocheting, and card making.

This spring, the museum is offering more classes.  A rug hooking class, offered in late January, taught participants to transform scraps of material into beautiful, durable rugs.  As with most families in the past, nothing was wasted.  Families used and reused resources because many items were not readily accessible or available to them.

On Saturday, March 1, a drop spindle spinning class will be offered.  Students will learn the skill of spinning and plying on a wooden drop spindle to produce yarn that can be used for a variety of needle crafts.  Later in the spring, the museum will offer craft classes in calligraphy, basket weaving, lace knitting, and papermaking.

Calligraphy is an ancient art, variations of which are found in many cultures.  The class will cover basic principle and pen strokes of this beautiful writing style.  Basket weaving was a part of Native American cultures as well as European, African and Asian cultures.  The beginner's basket weaving class covers basic techniques needed to create baskets using natural materials.

More experienced knitters may be interested in lace knitting, which would be an ideal class for knitters used to skills like yarn overs and increases and decreases.  The museum's papermaking class will include "seeding" the paper, which allows participants the opportunity to plant the paper they create and then watch the seeds sprout and grow.

The Tri-Cities Historical Museum offers all crafting classes at the Akeley Building and they are appropriate for students 12 years of age and older.  Pre-registration and pre-payment of fees are required.  If interested, please call the museum at (616) 842-0700 for more information or to register.

Whether or not you choose to participate in the museum's classes, please consider taking up a craft.  It is a great way to learn new skills or perfect old ones.  Crafts are a fun activity to participate in, and a great way to learn and preserve our history.

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