Craft as Conversation

Conference paper delivered at the Decorating Dissidence: Modernism, Feminism and the Arts conference in 2017.


The joy of communal craft is familiar to many, be it through social knitting groups, educational workshops or simply making objects with friends. This paper seeks to understand the particular power of communal craft by viewing it through bell hooks’ idea of “conversational learning”, and identify key aspects of communal craft which allow it to function as a space for informal learning and the sharing of knowledge.

In “Teaching Critical Thinking” hooks’ encourages a “conversation–based model of learning”, which breaks down “defensive barriers” and encourages students to learn through compassionate communication. This theory of “conversational learning” provides a theoretical framework through which to understand how conversation through and with the act of crafting can function to generate and share knowledge. hooks’ definitions of “conversational learning” as democratic, non-hierarchical, compassionate and fun, as well as able to enhance understanding, can be applied to the act of communal crafting, especially in small workshop groups, and this parallel is explored to indicate its value as a radical means of informal learning.

The methodological framework of autoethnography is used as an outline for the use of personal experience in this research, with first-hand experiences drawn from teaching craft-based workshops with female and LGBTQ identified young people providing a data set for consideration and reflection. This particular environment and participant group indicates the potential for conversation with and through craft as a tool in generating and sharing self-care knowledge in youth communities.

The paper concludes with a series of recommendations for developing communal craft environments with a variety of audiences, which allow craft to function as conversation and encourage knowledge sharing.

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