This is a topic that sounds really light and fluffy on the surface, but turns quite serious when you get beyond the surface. It was inspired in part by the mention of leaf currency during the discussion of Economics a few weeks ago.
These include knitting, weaving, making clothes. They also include pro crafting, Etsy, Maker Faires, etc.
When I was reading Hild by Nicola Griffith, I was really impressed by the way that women would spend all day working on textiles. That kind of effort changes daily life drastically. It can also have special significance, as when Celtic knotwork indicates identity, or sweater patterns are used to identify sailors as members of a particular clan should they be lost at sea and then found again. Crafts are also common souvenirs, allowing you to bring something of a place back with you.
The kinds of crafts used depend greatly on the resources available. Persian carpets were mentioned as an example of something that varies widely based on designs and materials. They are often made of wool, and the designs have culturally local meanings. Often children are employed to tie tiny knots. They may be finished by getting run over by cars! (or livestock or wagons, perhaps), then washed. I mentioned George Washington's octagonal barn, where wheat was processed by having it stamped on by horses.
Craftspeople often have their own organizations. They will have juried shows, etc.
Craftspeople are sometimes spoken to as if their crafts do not count as work.
Many crafts are aided by the invention of machines such as the spinning wheel or the sewing machine. Before machines were invented, crafts often took a person's entire day every day. I mentioned a lace-making display I had seen in the museum of Caen which showed the spindles used for complex lace-making. It brought home to me how the rich ladies of France were not just wearing fancy clothes, they were practically wearing someone's entire lifetime of work! Che mentioned couture fabric with embroidery, and Lillian brought up the symbolism of embroidered designs on Japanese kimono.
Sewing took up so much time that it was more a lifestyle than a craft.
Crafts have generational traditions, "schools" of practice, and also (sometimes) academic-style schools. They include things like furniture-making and carpentry. Colonial Williamsburg is an amazing place to visit in part because they have people practicing the crafts of the era, including wig-making, shoe-making, carpentry and window/door-framing, etc.
Many of our discussants enjoy crafts. Che sews clothes for dolls, and paints with watercolors. Lillian makes jewelry with wire, beads, and elastic. Glenda does some needlepoint. I sew Halloween costumes. Raj has worked with precious metals.
When people have other work they are doing, crafts can be beneficial as a break for the brain. Sometimes even if you are good at the craft, you don't want it to be a constant task so it won't become work. There is a great benefit to taking pleasure in crafts and feeling a sense of leisure.
Some craftwork is toxic! Paints can have toxic fumes, and so does the process of precious metalwork. Making hats involved mercury and led to poisoning.
Sometimes you don't see crafts in a story because characters are too busy with plot to engage in crafting. We all agreed it's fun to get a glimpse of the workings of life in a fictional world. What do people do with their free time? What do they do when they want to keep their hands busy? Games? Sports? Music? Collecting things? Birdwatching?
For some people, hobbies become obsessions. That would be an interesting thing to do with a character!
Glassblowing was mentioned as an art that constantly keeps changing and growing. Pottery is also great, involving traditional techniques and modern ones. Japan has local styles of pottery making, so that items will take their names from the local area ("Unzenyaki", "Kiyomizuyaki")
To do research on crafts, antiques roadshow can be a really good resource, because you get to hear expert appraisers talk about the ways that different objects were made. Delving into research can be really rewarding.
There are many crafts associated with religion, also - calligraphy, painting, stone carving, etc. Cathedrals were a project of hundreds of years...and think of how much the techniques of making them must have changed over the lifetime of their construction! Mosaic is another technique that has been used for thousands of years. Cameos, shell carving, creating musical instruments... the list goes on and on.
Can a craft development change social environments? Is crafting gendered in your world? There are so many questions that can be asked to help make your fictional world richer and more real.
Thank you to everyone who attended! This week's topic, discussion at 3pm today, will be Diversity.
Next week, we have a specially scheduled guest author hangout... Wednesday, December 3 at 10am Pacific, we will be joined by guest Aliette de Bodard, who will be talking about her new novel and about her worldbuilding! I hope you can join us.