In Craft There Is Neither Male Nor Female

When I was a child, my mum and I would meander around the shops, and I would point to clothing I liked. More often than not she would say ‘It’s lovely, but we can make something like that’. By the time I was thirteen I had caught on to the way that popular accessory shops dressed up very basic materials, simply assembled, as luxury items, and begun to make and sell my own. I remember my dad taking me to buy my first plier set in an antique tool shop. I thought I was in heaven! I still have those pliers.

‘We can make that ourselves’ has become a family mantra, and has subtly and unexpectedly informed my career ever since. I’m rarely happy buying off-the-shelf display solutions, for example (with the exception of De Steyl’s furniture, which we use in abundance in our shops because it is so versatile and beautiful). I far rather repurpose something obscure, or make a system from scratch.

My lovely mum painting our new earring display!

My lovely mum painting our new earring display!

We were recently faced with a dilemma in our workshop. There are lots of dividing walls, and we needed space to display and store finished pieces and our burgeoning sample bead collection. The dividing walls, however, were not the kind that one could drill shelf brackets into. They are made of light plaster and paper with a few supporting pillars inside them, and have a habit of releasing a wallplug along with chalky dust every time any weight is placed on them. Eventually though, equipped with a long 8mm drill bit, some clothing eyelets sourced from Prime Fastener, pretty paperclips, tiny clothes pegs, and some really great cord from Kwaai Lappies, we used weaving to solve the problem.

I think this is one of the things I love about Cape Town the most. This really is a manufacturing city. If there is an obscure part or fitting you need, you’ll find it here. More importantly, smaller stores are often staffed extremely well. In my local hardware store, Mica, I can go with bizarre requests and rough sketches, and they’ll help me find the part that will make the project come together. The paint department know what I’m going to ask for before I even say it (that’s because it’s always dark grey!).

The new stock and bead storage system on our ubiquitous grey walls!

The new stock and bead storage system on our ubiquitous grey walls!

Our primary work at Beloved is very light on tools. We need beads, needles, thread, some scissors, pliers, and small metal hooks, chains or clasps. That’s it. Building the display systems and doing special projects, however, uses multiple tools. For the world map called Who Is The Artist that we made recently, I used:

A hammer
A cordless drill
A sewing machine
Zips and fabric
Electricians wire cutters
Strong construction wire and large crimps
Curtain rail brackets
Photoshop
Felt tip pens
Copper pipe and wooden dowling
A pipe cutter and a hacksaw
A sharp knife
Lots of needles
30kg of glass
1.5km of multi-filament thread

Our beaded map of the world bead trade, 'Who Is The Artist?', hanging in the gorgeous shop window at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris, France.

Our beaded map of the world bead trade, 'Who Is The Artist?', hanging in the gorgeous shop window at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris, France.

We tend to think of craft as split up into traditionally male and female domains. Carpentry for men, sewing for women etc. Truly good craft practise, though, requires comfort and a can-do attitude with all kinds of tools, and a toolkit which completely ignores patriarchal gender binaries.