Eh Sayers Season 1 Episode 3 - The Craft of Crafting in Canada

Release date: December 22, 2021

Catalogue number: 45-20-0003
ISSN: 2816-2250

Eh Sayers podcast

The age old practice of working with one's hands in skill and time honoured endeavors has seen a resurgence during the pandemic as people seek out ways of keeping busy, exploring a fleeting interest or honing their skills on a professional level. But there's much more to it, according to Maegen Black, director of the Canadian Crafts Federation. We discuss the arts and crafts movement across Canada, its renaissance and its necessity.


Tegan Bridge


Maegen Black, director of the Canadian Crafts Federation

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Eh Sayers Season 1 Episode 3 - The Craft of Crafting in Canada - Transcript

Tegan: Welcome to Eh-Sayers, a podcast from Statistics Canada, where we meet the people behind the data and explore the stories behind the numbers. I'm your host, Tegan.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, suddenly a lot of people found themselves with a lot of time on their hands. Not everybody, of course. But lots of people suddenly had to actively look for ways to fill their days, but with the additional limitation that they couldn't really go anywhere or see anyone. Suddenly, we could only safely connect virtually. Lots of places, like universities and libraries, advertised online offerings to help people feel like they were doing something productive with their time. I signed up for a course about the science of well-being, which was particularly relevant at the time, I think. Some people got into personal fitness in a big way. Others decided to try to learn a new language. Others got into journaling or other creative pursuits, things like crafts.

Crafts played a really special role in this pandemic. At the amateur level, they gave people something productive and very positive to do with their minds and their hands. Some crafters took it to the next level and started selling their creations for the first time, joining the ranks of professional craft artists. Whatever the level, from hobbyists to pros, crafts can build and reinforce community, something I think we all needed.

To find out more, we spoke to Maegen Black.

Maegen: My name is Megan Black and I'm the director of the Canadian Crafts Federation.

She's also the host of the Citizens of Craft Podcast.

Tegan: Could you tell us a little bit about what you do?

Maegen: It's actually a little difficult to explain what I do. Being the director of a national Art Service organization is a little bit of an unusual position. I help craft organizations to connect with one another, to learn from one another, and to advocate on behalf of craft for the sector at large, here in Canada and abroad. The Canadian Crafts Federation has been around for a really long time in different iterations since 1974, as it stands right now, but I've been with the organization for 15 years now, working on a variety of different projects with wonderful people across the country.

Tegan: My first one is a very big question. What is craft?

Maegen: That is the question! That is the question that I get asked the most on a daily basis, probably throughout my whole professional life, and there really is no one succinct, easy definition of craft. I often say like, well, "what's the definition of art? Or what's the definition of beauty?" It is-- It gets that esoteric, but when I'm really just trying to cut to the core of it and explain, one of the versions of this definition that I use is that craft is a form of making that pairs material traditions with contemporary skill, design and technology. So that can cover a broad range of different types of craft. But at the end of the day it's people making things for beauty or for purpose and sometimes for both.

According to the 2016 General Social Survey, half of Canadians aged 15 and over participated in creative activities, with crafts being the most popular, followed by making music and visual arts.

Tegan: Are there things that people are doing that they might not necessarily think of as craft, like the one that I always think of is baking. Can baking be a craft?

Maegen: You know, again, it really depends. And craft is definitely a spectrum, so when we talk about craft at the Canadian Crafts Federation, we really mean people who are working professionally as craft artists, so people who are doing, you know, metalsmithing or furniture design or pottery or glassblowing or things that really have that deep technical skill level to it. But there's just no escaping that in contemporary society the terminology of craft has spread so far that you even just say honing your craft and it could mean anything. And so I understand why sometimes it's a little bit difficult to pin it down, but I think that thinking about it in a spectrum capacity allows people to understand, like I might not be, you know, perfect at this thing but I have a role to play in any form of making. So you know, I don't like to sort of say some things are in, baking is in, or baking is out or or glassblowing is in or glassblowing is out. It's sort of like how do you professionalize that activity? But also have a place for amateurs to be involved.

If baking's your thing, you might care to know that… In 2020, there were 60.4 kilograms of wheat flour available per person in Canada. Also, Canada imported over 13 and a half million kilograms of active yeasts in 2020, over 3 million more than in 2019.

Tegan: When the pandemic first hit, grocery stores were running out of yeast because so many people were suddenly baking bread. Why do you think that was? Why? What was it about the pandemic that had people wanting to create something with their own hands, something that they would usually buy in a store?

Maegen: You know what, this is just my own personal impression of this. Based on, you know, being in the craftworld for so long and having lived through the pandemic myself, of course. I think it was a sense of control. I think people had so little control over their daily lives and what they could and couldn't do and a lack of knowledge about what the future was going to bring that in some ways you could put your energy into something that was going to bring you a moment of joy or a moment of understanding, or a moment of revelation in a time when we really didn't have a lot of that going on. So I think there was something core about making, whether it was trying your hand at, you know, doing some sort of textile arts, teaching yourself how to crochet, teaching yourself how to maybe perhaps bake, or just sort of dipping your toes into these things that surrounded us at all times, but maybe we didn't have the time or the desire to necessarily really take that next step and actually put your hands into the materials and try to make things. So I'm hopeful that people are coming out of the pandemic with a deeper appreciation for what goes into making all of those things, whether it's a chef in a restaurant making their own or baking their own bread, or doing, you know, sort of... What's the word I want, like consumable kind of versions of what we make or... whether it's a piece of jewelry or a stained glass object, or the mug that you're drinking your coffee out of. There's, like I said before, there's this whole spectrum of different objects that exist and that surround us all the way up to public art, even and and the things that you see in your city, in your community, that make your community what it is, or that reflect your community back to you. And so I think even though it goes from the small scale of what can you do with your own hands, it goes all the way up to how are we connected through our the places that we live work and and play really, and when we didn't have that during the pandemic, we found those personal ways to make those connections.

Making and maintaining connections has been important for many people as we deal with the pandemic. Almost 38% of Canadians reported that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they experienced feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Tegan: Have you noticed any pandemic crafting trends?

Maegen: I think one of the biggest trends of pandemic craft is definitely making masks, and so you know everyone and their brother was trying to get their hands on a mask for many reasons, very important health reasons, but also just because it was something that we could do to help each other and so tons of people were making masks and selling them online. A lot of textile artist shifted their businesses to make really creative ones. I know artists in Cape Breton who were making sort of shibori style dyed, natural dye masks. There were artists all across the country taking different perspectives on it, and actually there was a really great exhibition that formed through a Facebook group and it was a community-oriented project. It's called breathe and if you look online you can find amazing, amazing masks that were made by artists across the country, and these are not pieces that were meant for safety or for security, they were really artistic sculptural pieces. So there's birchbark ones, there's beaded ones, there's fur pieces. A lot of indigenous artists were involved in creating works for this showcase. It was primarily indigenous artists from all across Canada, but across North America as well. It's a beautiful community, a coming together of artists who were using the mask as a symbol to create something in a time of great difficulty for people. And it was a really beautiful project that's gone on to be showcased in real life, let's call it, not like off of the virtual realm, and it's touring the country now. So it's a great exhibition that I really, really recommend.

Maegen: I remember in the months before Christmas, I was like, this is going to be the hot like stocking stuffer of the year, is gonna be handmade masks. I was right.

Tegan: You just reminded me, my mom actually handmade masks for all of us when you couldn't buy a mask in a store. My mom is a great, excellent seamstress. Made you know, Halloween costumes for me, my entire childhood and yes, so she got some -- Got herself some fabric and you know, made us all these custom masks. Just to make sure that we were all protected 'cause it was a way that she could, you know, take care of us from far away.

Maegen: Well, exactly right, and that's a really beautiful aspect of craft. It's like necessity. You can make something for yourself when you need it, but it's also a way to show that you care and appreciate, that you can do something to help someone through like just a simple skill of making something.

Tegan: Have you noticed more people looking for something creative to do with their time since the pandemic started?

Maegen: Since the pandemic, I think so yeah. I mean, just in my own life and connections that I have, friends and family and people in the community. We've definitely seen more people just trying their hand at something new. And I'm not sure if that's from just not being able to do the other things that would fill our time with, like travel, or you know, going out to restaurants or whatever it might be, but I do think that people were looking for something to bring a little bit of joy back to their day or to even just busy themselves, right? I mean to have something to do when you're so restricted from what you would typically engage with. I think it was... It's not a stretch for people to have looked to craft as an outlet.

Leisure is important!

Women aged 25 to 54 spent an average of 3.6 hours per day on leisure activities in 2015, and men, 4.1.

Tegan: Do you have any sense of which crafts have been the most popular during the pandemic and why that might be?

Maegen: Again, statistically speaking, we don't necessarily have information about that just yet. It may come in the future, but I think if I were in those shoes again, or if I were to take that time to to look in that way during the pandemic or after post-pandemic, I think some of the easiest crafts to get into are textile based just because they're not, in some ways they're not, as messy as some of the other ones. There's... there are, of course, tools and and you know, studio spaces that you need in order to do those things, but they can, you can go on a very basic level to start to make things with just a needle and a thread and some scissors and some fabric like, really, as a first step. It gets far more complicated as you go on right down to the, you know, you can spin wool from, you know, carded wool off the back of a sheep like. It really gets down to the individual threads, right? But I think that textiles--sort of a short answer. I gave you a long answer there, but a short answer really would be that textiles is probably the most accessible one that people can jump to first, but there's a whole world of craft out there. That one little baby step takes you into a whole big new world of trying new things. So the studios when you start to get into ceramics it gets a little bit harder. You have to have a kiln and you have to have some more specific spaces with which to make those things. The same goes for metal or blacksmithing. You know you've got to have fire, and you've got to have anvils, and you've got to have ventilation, and you've got to be careful. So yeah, it's a huge range though. It really is a huge range.

If you're interested in textiles, such as creating something from sheep's wool, it may behoove you to know…

In 2019, according to estimates, 1.1 million kilograms of raw wool were purchased in Canada directly from Canadian producers.

Tegan: Have you seen people take on new crafts remotely?

Maegen: I think that people have always been doing that. There's been many, many, many, many generations of people trying new things or trying to learn a new skill or dipping their toes into a different aspect of craft. No matter what the medium or the discipline is. But I think I probably have seen an uptick in, I'm going to call them like, kits or workshops or you know, that whole paint night phenomenon, I call it. That's definitely something that I think has increased. And because people have in some ways more accessibility to instruction because of the Internet and people being able to, you know, teach themselves things. I've seen artists doing really interesting things like there's an artist in Nova Scotia....[Gradual fade out to the narration.]

Maegen explained that some craft artists have gotten creative, selling kits and tutorials online to help you learn a new craft. Sometimes these even included live online sessions.

Third Story recording

My name is Andrea Tsang Jackson, and I'm a textile artist and quilt designer based in K'jipuktuk/Halifax, Nova, Scotia. Alissa Kloet of Keephouse Studio is a textile designer and lives in Seaforth, Nova Scotia. She and I are long-time collaborators. While on an artist's residency together in the summer of 2019, we came up with the idea to collaborate on some quilting kits. She would design enhanced cream for print fabric and I would create a quilt pattern to go with it. Quilters often like to buy fabric in bundles called Fat Quarter bundles which means various quarter yards of coordinating fabric.

We launched our first Fat Quarterly box just before the pandemic hit. The handmade provides us a connection with the physical world, in a world that has been so forcefully moved digital during the pandemic. There's so much comfort and familiarity associated with quilting. In a world that is so uncertain we look for things that we can cling to, literally, and quilts are tactile. The act of creating, away from all the Zoom meetings and FaceTime calls, brings a connection to the here and now. They can also provide a physical hug from afar when we make quilts for others.

And so that's sort of a step above just getting a book, or just getting an instruction manual and trying it out for yourself. You have an expert who can guide you through it and give you advice, and that's really where the magic happens, I find, when when you're learning a new skill, talking to someone who knows a little bit more about it, or who has practiced this for a long time and can really guide you through that process. That's a really, really, I think, inspiring experience, and it's something that vaults your skill level tenfold. When you've got someone guiding you through the process.

Tegan: For our crafting listeners who might be interested in taking it to the next level. You know, maybe there's someone who is doing something, a craft, on an amateur level, and they now are interested in going pro. Do you have any advice for them? Any resources that might be helpful for them?

Maegen: Absolutely. I have so much advice for people who are interested in taking their craft to a next level. The number one thing that I would tell people to do is connect with your local, provincial or territorial craft counsel. Whether it's craft Ontario in downtown Toronto or the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton, they also have a space in Calgary. It doesn't matter if you're in a main city or if you're in a rural area, look to your provincial or territorial craft council and see what programs they have available. They can connect you with other guilds or with other artists in your own community. Look to your local art gallery as well. A lot of them have courses or classes or one off things that professional artists come in and teach. There's so many opportunities and I can almost guarantee you in every community whether it's a big city or a tiny hamlet across Canada, there will be a craft shop somewhere in your town, so look for them. Talk to the people who are working there, purchase work from your local artists and see if they teach any workshops or classes. But If you really want to take things to the next level, those craft councils are the way to go.

If you'd like to become a professional, you're not alone.

In 2016, there were 14,160 artisans and craftpersons employed in Canada.

Tegan: And just one more question for me. What would you say makes Canadian craft artists special?

Maegen: I think that what makes Canadian craft special is that it encompasses so many different diverse backgrounds and experiences and contemporary experiences. So it can incorporate traditions, but it also ties to what we're making now or the trends of the styles or the experiences that we're having now, or the concepts that we even want to explore right now. You can look at the history of a place through craft and culture as a context, and I really honestly feel like Canada is such a diverse place. We have so many different people from so many different backgrounds. Whether it's indigenous artists who have histories going back thousands and thousands of years, or if it's newcomers who have been around for a couple generations or brand new newcomers who are coming to Canada. And craft has accompanied all those different experiences. And I think that we have a lot to learn and share and and... it's a way of us understanding each other without language barriers in a lot of ways. I do think that craft and art allow us to share and grow and learn about each other and perhaps understand each other better from all of those different places. Canada is also a complex history and I don't think anybody can escape that conversation. And frankly, I think it's irresponsible to not think about that conversation. So there is also this deep, deep history of indigenous craft in Canada that I think is beautiful and has so much to say and is so purposeful in society, you know, from an artistic standpoint, from a cultural understanding standpoint, and from a way that we can start to understand each other. You know, when you talk about big and difficult issues through the arts, it helps to open doors and open minds and open perspectives, so you know, I don't think it will solve all problems, but I certainly think it is a way for people to connect with each other and there's so much value in that specifically. So I also encourage people to connect with like the indigenous curatorial collective with First Nations collections and museums in galleries with shops and boutiques and artists who are working across Canada from different nations and from different communities. There's just so many beautiful things out there that we can connect through and with, and I hope that people take the time to explore them because Canada is so diverse and so is our craft.

Of course, you can't talk about crafting in Canada without talking about indigenous craft.

In 2017, about one quarter of Indigenous people aged 15 and older living off reserve made carvings, drawings, jewellery or other kinds of artwork in the past 12 months.

Tegan: Yeah, so the last question was, was there anything that I didn't bring up that you'd like to talk about?

Maegen: I think I would encourage people across Canada to look to craft as a way of reconnecting with community, not just in their own homes or for their own personal experience. Those are both very, very healthy and good things to do. But when you're, let's say, emerging from the post pandemic cocoon that we've built for ourselves, look out to your community to see what craft practice is happening there, or what craft events are happening there, because it's a way for us to get back out into the community, to support one another, to enjoy ourselves, to feel productive, to feel connected, and there's just so much opportunity to look at craft, to purchase craft, if you want to collect it, or to take an opportunity to learn something more for yourselves by trying a new craft practice. So there's educational institutions that offer programs, there's, again, the craft councils across the country. There's gallery's, there's museums, there's local shops, there's friendship centres. There's so many places you can connect with craft, and if you are looking for something fulfilling to do, I think it's a really great place to find yourself.

There are lots of places you can connect with craft.

In December 2020, there were 67,930 businesses in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry.

Tegan: If someone would like to learn more about you and your work, where can they go? Can they find you on social media?

Maegen: There's two places that you could look for more information about the Canadian Craft Federation itself and craft in general. There's the website which talks about our organization and all the many organizations that we work with. And then we also have Citizens of Craft. It's called That's where there are over 700 profiles of different craft artists and organizations from across the country. We explore the meaning of craft there. It's really a hub of information about craft, and we also have our own podcast called the Citizens of Craft Podcast. Of course I want to share that with everyone. And yeah, check us out online there. And I'm hanging around at Citizens of Craft and at the Canadian Crafts Federation and pretty much every craft event I can get my feet too. That's where you can find Megan Black.

And if you're looking for that mask art exhibition that Maegen mentioned...

Maegen: So for that exhibition, if people just search, Breathe on Facebook, it's breathe, but there's a period at the end. So breathe with a period at the end. It should take them to a public group. There's about 2,000 group members and hundreds of masks that people have made.

So do check that out. It's pretty cool.

You've been listening to Eh Sayers. Thank you to our guest, Maegen Black of the Canadian Crafts Federation. Thank you also to Andrea Tsang Jackson of Third Story Workshop.

You can subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts. There you can also find the French version of our show, called Eh-coutez bien. Thanks for listening!

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