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A Brief History of Crafting

Posted by blitsy

For centuries, people have found joy and purpose in crafting items that are useful and beautiful. Let's explore the history of crafting together.

In your love of crafting, have you ever wondered how crafting has evolved over the years as both a hobby and as an industry? Well, we sure have! What is the history of crafting? Why do people love crafting?

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Let's start with the basic definition of craft:

craft \kraft\ : an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands

Human beings have always been driven by a desire to make things. From the first cave drawings and ancient pottery, to medieval armor, Japanese swords, early garment patterns and fifteenth century commonplace books (the very first scrapbooks!) -- people have found joy and purpose in crafting items that are both useful and beautiful.

How did crafting go from profession to hobby?

The industrial revolution forced mass production of many items that had previously been handcrafted. This sparked the transition of crafting from professional skill to hobby. For example, the mechanical knitting machine was invented in 1598; as it continued to improve, knitting by hand became a craft practiced almost exclusively by those in rural areas with easy access to fiber.

By the mid-nineteenth century, hand-knitting, needlepoint, and quilting had become more of a hobby for the wealthy and middle class. Today, we are seeing a resurgence of knitting, partly due to the "handmade revolution" led by the likes of Etsy and DIY bloggers. We've even spotted celebrity knitters like Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts, and Ryan Gosling!

The History of Paper Crafts & Scrapbooking

As you may know, Paper Crafts is one of the most popular categories in the crafting industry with scrapbooks owning much of that space. Over 4 million women in the United States identify themselves as scrapbookers with 51% of scrapbookers reportedly spending at least 10 hours per month scrapbooking.

As mentioned above, the history of scrapbooking can be traced back as far as the fifteenth century to what were referred to as "commonplace books". Today's scrapbooks are a simple tool for preserving memories -- from photographs and news clippings, to artwork and love letters. Commonplace books served the same purpose: compiling information about one's life in a way that uniquely represented that person. Some were friendship albums made to solidify a special relationship or group of friends. Others were created as souvenir albums during long trips away from home as a means to document the adventure and share it with others.

One of the earliest inventors of scrapbooking supplies was none other than Mark Twain. Twain loved to fill scrapbooks with pictures, articles about his books, souvenirs, and illustrations. In 1872, he patented a "self-pasting" scrapbook, or thin strips of glue on the pages that made it easier to adhere items. It was his only invention that ever made money.

The very first scrapbook store was opened in Utah in 1981 by Marielen Christensen and her husband after having authored and published the scrapbooking how-to-book, Keeping Memories Alive. Christensen is credited with pushing the scrapbooking trend toward what it is today, a multi-billion dollar industry that doubled in size between 2001 and 2004 and continues to hold a special place in the hearts of so many crafters.

Why do we love crafting?

So why do we love crafting so much? Obviously everyone has a slightly different answer to this question. It's possible that the faster we move toward digital solutions and a world where fewer people make physical products professionally, that many of us crave the opportunity to sit down and focus on making something useful and beautiful ourselves. We come back to that basic definition of craft: to make something in a skillful way using your hands. Because there's no better feeling than exclaiming the words, "I made this myself!"

The history of crafting is undoubtedly as old and nearly as complex as the history of mankind. But one thing is clear -- as long as we've been making things, we've had a universal drive to mark those things with our creative signature. Even the most basic ancient tools contained markings unique to their makers. When we craft, we want our creations to contain a piece of ourselves, our identity, and our voice. As you sit down with your child to craft simple handprint fish puppets, you will see them strive to be individual in their craft. It's that natural urge to express ourselves, to make things, and to share with others -- that's why those of us here at Blitsy love to craft. Happy Crafting!