Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Cræft: Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands

book cover
Cræft: Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts
by Alexander Langlands

ISBN-13: 9780393635904
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
Released: Jan. 2, 2018

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In the midst of a seemingly endless supply of mass-manufactured products, we find ourselves nostalgic for products bearing the mark of authenticity—hand-made furniture, artisan breads, craft beers, and other goods produced by human hands. Rediscovering craft helps us more fully appreciate human ingenuity and the passing on of traditions from generation to generation.

Archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands argues that our modern understanding of craft only skims the surface. Reaching as far back as the Neolithic period, he combines history with scientific analyses and personal anecdotes. We follow the author as he herds sheep, keeps bees, tans hides, spins wool, and thatches roofs. We learn that scythes work much better on tall grass than the latest model of weed trimmers, that you can spin wool using a large wooden spoon, and that it was once considered criminal to work on animal hides before a requisite twelve-month soak.

My Review:
Cræft is a mix of the author's experiences and thoughts about various traditional skills that were once vital to our survival. The author is an experimental archaeologist who was involved in BBC shows like Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, and Warime Farm. He told stories about his experiences while trying a craft or using the products of traditional crafts. He also contemplated the costs of modern ways of doing things and some advantages of using traditional methods. For some crafts, he described the labor that went into gathering the raw materials and how the craft is done. He provided enough detail that I could understand the basic principles of how it's done, but it's not a how-to guide. It's more an attempt to get readers to fully appreciate traditional crafts.

The author periodically delved into the origins of various words, and he started off with cræft and how it's meaning has changed over time. Then he talked about the tools and considerations that go into haymaking, evolutionary flint tool development, various ways we still use sticks (like in shepherd's crooks), making wicker hives and beekeeping using these hives, building drystone walls and maintaining hedgerows, taking flax and wool from harvesting/shearing to making yarn and weaving, and making wattle hurdles.

He examined the various local materials that were used in thatching and how they were used to thatch a roof. He talked about how leather was tanned and the many ways leather has been used (like shoes and harness). He talked about his visit to a traditional farming spot in Iceland and about how British farms used to be very diversified. He talked about dew ponds and how livestock ponds were traditionally constructed, the many ways that pottery and baskets were used in the past, how baskets are made, and his adventures in lime burning. He also talked about digging, both as an archaeologist and in clearing land for a garden.

The one thing I found lacking was pictures. Except for one set of sketches showing some tools, there were no pictures of the places or objects he talked about nor pictures of people doing the craft. I think I would have been able to follow his explanations better if there had been some pictures. Overall, though, it was an interesting book about the author's involvement with traditional crafts.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

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