Crafting For Crazy People Part II: Craftpod review*

As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, I use crafts as a tool to manage my mental health conditions, as well as for the enjoyment of creating, so imagine my delight when my mum gave me a quarterly craft subscription box for my birthday.

Luckily I didn’t have long to wait to try out my new subscription, since it came the following week. Much more cheering post than the usual round of bills, credit card spam and pizza menus (although those are always fairly welcome…)!

This particular subscription box is called Craftpod, and each box is themed around the season it’s released during. This one couldn’t have come at a better time, with January being even colder and more miserable than usual this year, and the theme is all about cosiness and comfort. Perfect!

When I opened the box, I found: a letter explaining the box, all the equipment and instructions for an embroidery project, all the equipment and instructions for a stamp-making project, a cute woodland-patterned postcard, a sheet of wintry stickers, a black chai teabag, and a bar of Vivani chocolate.

I’ll tell you more about the craft projects below, but I just want to mention the extra touches first that made opening the box so enjoyable for me. I absolutely love the tea and chocolate element in the winter box; it feels very self-care-focused, which is exactly what I look for in craft projects, particularly at this time of year. From my mum, I also knew that there would be two craft projects and tea, but I wasn’t expecting the extra stationery bits, so they were a really nice surprise. All of the collateral is gorgeous as well, which is a lovely little touch that makes the box feel that bit more special and treat-like. The instructions are also super easy to follow and written in a friendly, approachable way that makes it feel a bit like Jo is crafting along with you!

I’ve not had time to get stuck into the stamp-making yet, but I’m absolutely loving my embroidery hoop. It’s really simple but has enough detail and different stitches/parts to it to still be engaging, which is a balance I sometimes struggle to find with embroidery projects, since I’m not a particularly accomplished embroiderer… It’s also just repetitive enough with all the berries to be quite meditative (as Jo points out in the instructions as well), so very relaxing to do in front of the TV of an evening.

The stamp-making project seems like a good contrast to the embroidery, since it’s a bit more active and (for me at least!) exotic. I also love making things that are useable, not just decorative, so it’s right up my street. I’ll come back and post pics when I’ve made my stamps so you can see how they turn out!

Overall, I would seriously recommend this box for anyone who enjoys crafting, particularly as a means of self-care. As I mentioned in my previous post, I sometimes feel pressure to finish projects quickly so I can have something to show for my efforts, so the frequency of this box is perfect for me. Two projects every three months is enough to have exciting and relaxing things to do, but not so many that it feels overwhelming and just wouldn’t get used. If the box was monthly, I think I’d feel a bit stressed by the number of projects that ‘needed’ doing, and it would deplete the enjoyment a little.

This box feels like it was made for me, which was my mum’s comment when she gave me the gift, so great work, Mum! If you want to learn more about Craftpod, you can visit the website, or search the #craftpod tag on Instagram to see makes from current subscribers.

*This is not a sponsored post (if ONLY I got paid to chat about crafting!); I’ve just really enjoyed my first Craftpod and wanted to share the recommendation. If you’re interested in receiving fun, themed craft projects for every season, or gifting that experience to a crafty loved one, you can head to the Craftpod website to subscribe.

Intimate Jewels: Surrealism, Fetish and Fairytales – thoughts on a lecture by Dr Sabina Stent at the UCB School of Jewellery

The Jewellery Quarter continues to surprise me with little treats: it turns out the School of Jewellery (University College Birmingham) is currently running a lecture series called ‘Talking Practice’ which is open to the public as well as students. Research seminars are one of the things I miss most about university, so I’ve been planning to take in a talk or two for a while now. I hadn’t got round to going to any before last week, but as soon I heard there was an upcoming talk called ‘Intimate Jewels: Surrealism, Fetish and Fairytales’, I registered on the spot. Jewellery and feminist scholarship? It’s like the event was made for me…

I scooped up a like-minded friend (obviously I’m not enough of an adult to go to something new by myself – who does that?!) and we headed over. I’d checked a dozen times that the talk actually was open to interlopers like us, but I still left feeling a tiny bit like this:

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So, Dr Sabina Stent gave us an introduction to female surrealists (who I knew precisely nothing about before the lecture, to my slight shame) and their contribution to material culture.* She highlighted the fact that with female surrealists, as in all Art History, people tend (understandably) to focus on paintings as the evidence of artistic output, and sculpture, furniture, clothing, and so on often get left by the wayside. So far, so good (I like a good painting as much as the next person but I find objects much more interesting. The Cour Marly is my favourite part of the Louvre by miles).

Another interesting point Sabina made right off the bat was that part of the reason female surrealists are underrepresented in scholarship is because they’re too often viewed as the muses of male surrealist artists rather than artists in their own rights. For example, Dora Maar was immortalised in the public mind as nothing more than Picasso’s Weeping Woman, but was actually an exceptionally talented photographer.

Two artists were discussed in particular detail: Elsa Schiaparelli (who Chanel described as ‘that artist who makes clothes’ – great bit of vintage shade there) and Méret Oppenheim. Both created a variety of objects, and both tapped into the surrealist movement’s love of using disembodied body parts as a key type of imagery. Some of the key pieces Sabina introduced to audience to included gloves, hats, accessories and tableware:

 

Straight away you can see the focus on disembodied limbs and externalising the internal. (I also really, really want that last brooch.)

Of all the pieces Sabina introduced, the most difficult and interesting was undoubtedly Méret Oppenheim’s Ma Gouvernante:

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There’s no other way to put it; it’s uncomfortable to look at, from the scuffed, white shoes that suggest the Madonna/whore complex to the overtones of bondage and cannibalism. When it was originally shown in 1936, a female viewer flew into a rage and smashed it, forcing Oppenheim to make a second version. The lecture emphasised the female surrealists’ practice of creating sexually-charged, whimsical and provocative art, attempting to reclaim femininity through dark humour. From that angle (and I’m assuming statistically that Oppenheim had at least tangential experience/knowledge of the sexual violence which the piece suggests), I feel that Ma Gouvernante externalises a distinctly female set of intense and difficult emotions, experiences and societal expectations.

And while we’re on the topic of expressing difficult issues, the other thing the lecture highlighted was the surrealists’ exploration of the lines between civilisation and wilderness, as epitomised by Oppenheim’s werewolf gloves:

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Subversion of fairytale tropes? Check. Weaponised femininity? Check. Suggestive of raw female power? Check.

These gloves are particularly interesting to me in the context of the surrealist movement’s attitude towards mental health issues (shocker). When I reached out to Sabina after the lecture, she made the point that the male surrealists had a tendency to romanticise the ‘mad man’ while shunning the ‘mad woman’, but that several female surrealists did use their work to express their mental health issues, notably Leonora Carrington and Dora Maar.

Sabina was kind enough to give me some recommendations for further reading (yes, yes, I know, I went to a lecture voluntarily and asked for homework – I’m the worst), so I might come back to this post with a bit more insight at some point in the future. For now, I know I’ve focused heavily on two of my specialist subjects (feminist issues and mental illness) in this post, so it’s probably going to seem a bit intense, but what else is art criticism but projecting your own meaning and experience onto the artist’s final product?!

So, let’s finish on a sparklier note. The only criticism I can make of the talk is one I level at the world on a regular basis: there could have been more jewellery. I’ve had a scout about online to satisfy my own interest, and found some gorgeous Schiaparelli and Oppenheim pieces to share with you all:

 

For me, these pieces demonstrate the full potential of jewellery, which, if you think about it, is essentially wearable art. They also remind me of a quote from the lecture (one of my new favourites):

‘Jewellery reigns over clothing not because it is absolutely precious but because it plays a crucial role in making clothing mean something.’

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*For anyone interested in learning more, the surrealists referenced in the talk were: Leonora Carrington, Emmy Bridgewater (a Brum-based surrealist!), Dora Maar, Elsa Schiaparelli and Méret Oppenheim.