Cræft: an inquiry into the origins and true meaning of traditional crafts

Alexander Langlands

For those of us who like working with our hands, there is nothing as satisfying as making a useful and beautiful object we can use for years. Cræft, being skilled at creating unique, hand-made items sourced from nature locally, has nearly disappeared. Once, being a craftsperson who could create all the durable goods people needed – shoes, baskets, roofs, ponds, tools – were highly valued. In the modern single-use throw-away culture, cheap identical objects can be purchased anywhere. And in all likelihood, discarded, broken or worn in a short amount of time.

Author, archeologist and TV presenter Langlands takes his love of making a step further than most interested in becoming skilled at hand-work. Using his archeology background, he studies how people of past generations crafted tools and made life comfortable and secure with the natural resources they could find. He has also parlayed this interest into a series of British TV shows showing life on a farm in previous generations.

Langlands looks at leather work, roofing (thatching), beekeeping, tilling, masonry and more in his far-reaching book. Much of his experience and skill is learned by watching, talking to skilled craftspeople, and simply trying the skills for himself. Sometimes with great success, other times with some funny failures.

The only thing that would have made this book better would have been some woodcut illustrations. I found myself googling pictures of the numerous and unique tools he mentions throughout the book. Langlands’ book is not only a satisfyingly in-depth appreciation of skilled craft, but a call to try and create something long-lasting, attractive and useful for ourselves.