The Craft Sessions

Words by
Belinda Evans
| June 2, 2015

As winter approaches and the cold weather sets in here in Melbourne, I prepare myself for a few months of quiet, indoor pursuits. I’m drawn to the comfort of open fires, woolly socks and homemade soups, and my creative pursuits turn to those that warm the hands and soul: quilting, embroidery, weaving, knitting and sewing.

Image by Felicia Semple

This time of the year has also been quite a solitary one for me as I retreat into a sort of hibernation under a blanket with my weaving loom by the fire. By the time spring comes, I’ve had every cold and flu going around and I’m practically dragging myself out of bed to get to work on time in the morning. By September, I’m craving the relief of warm days spent on the beach, brunching in cafés and camping with friends.

Over the last few years the years I’ve pondered why winter always seems to be so much more trying for me than the fairer seasons. I’m staying warm, eating well and doing all the wintery things I love, and let’s not forget that it’s the only time my beloved boot and scarf collections get to come out (when I decide to actually leave the house, that is). So why is it all such a drag?

I recently discovered a long-term study on the unusually good (compared to that general population) health of the members a small community in the United States. The study found that, despite having diets that were high in wine and fatty foods and working in physically difficult jobs, this community had a significantly lower rate of chronic disease than the rest of the country.

What it found was that the main difference between this and the wider community was their strong social connection. A community of new Italian immigrants, three generations lived in homes together and more than three quarters of the men were members of a community group. This was a connected community who shared stories, thoughts and feelings every day. They laughed and cried together, and never had any reason to feel alone. The researchers concluded that this connectivity was the reason for their outstanding health and wellbeing.

On reading this study, I was reminded of the feeling of connection that I felt at The Craft Sessions weekend retreat last year. As a participant and teacher, I had the opportunity to spend two and a half days in the company of dozens of women who shared my love of craft, laughter, learning and sharing stories. Everyone was different in many ways, at different stages of their lives, with different personalities, passions and fashions, and these differences only enhanced our time together. I reconnected with old friends, met friends I’d only ever known online, and made new friends who I’ve continued to catch up with since that weekend.

This is what Felicia Semple, founder and organiser of The Craft Sessions, had in mind when she started running this event three years ago. More than just a series of craft workshops, the aim of the weekend is to bring together people who craft for joy.

Melissa Wastney teaching Embroidery from the Natural World. Image by Felicia Semple
Weaving by Tamara Erbacher in Modern Weaving with Traditional Techniques, taught by Belinda Evans - Image by Felicia Semple

The idea for The Craft Sessions came from regular nights spent crafting and enjoying wine and good company with friends around a kitchen table. They found that those nights were filled with such joy and they were never long (or frequent) enough. The types of things they made were functional and could be made in and around their every day life, and the skills they used were mostly self-taught. A desire to continue making in the company of those who shared their passion and a lack of classes in the community that allowed them to further their skills (at the time) turned into a retreat where these friends could take time from their busy lives to spend a weekend learning and practicing traditional domestic textile-based handcraft. They were sure that they could find enough other people that were eager to learn and share to make the retreat worthwhile – and they were right.

Now in its third year, The Craft Sessions is continuing to foster a love of hand making and giving traditional handcrafts meaning and context in the everyday lives of an increasing number of people.

Participants and teachers from all across Australia and New Zealand travel to the Yarra Valley, an hour outside of Melbourne, to spend time knitting, weaving, spinning, stitching, printing, sewing, and natural dyeing. These people are part of a cultural shift towards an increased awareness of how we live our lives and a consciousness around how we spend our time, who we spend it with and what we choose to bring into our lives.

This community has extended beyond the retreat and onto The Craft Sessions’ blog, where people from all over the world share their experiences with and passion for their craft, family and friends and discuss everything to do with making: the pressure we put on ourselves, conscious consumerism, perfectionism, getting stuck, making for reasons other than then end product, the line between art and craft, motherhood, and stillness (to name a few of the many themes). It has also extended into the everyday lives of the people who come to the retreat, and Felicia is constantly having conversations with people who say that they leave the Craft Sessions feeling inspired, encouraged, supported and filled up.

Since being part of last year’s retreat, I have found new ways to share, connect and grow with the skills I’ve learned and people I’ve met. I’ve met with friends for regular “crafternoons”, started sharing my skills in community workshops and collaborated with other local makers. This winter I’ll be enjoying more time by the fire, weaving loom in hand, in the company of friends.

I’ll be happy when spring comes around again, but perhaps my craving for the beach days, outdoor brunches and camping won’t be as strong as I emerge from a winter spent connecting and sharing with friends.

The Craft Sessions 2015 retreat is being held the Yarra Valley, near Melbourne, Australia on the 11th-13th of September, 2015. This year’s classes include embroidery from the natural world, natural dyeing with Australian native plants, patchwork quilting, knitting your first sock, sewing your own dress, weaving with plant dyed yarn and many more.

Find out more about The Craft Sessions on their website, Facebook and Instagram.

The grounds of the Yarra Valley Estate retreat centre - Image by Felicia Semple
Plant detritus in Embroidery from the Natural World - Image by Felicia Semple
Dyeing with natural dyes (cochineal), taught by Julia Billings of Woollen Flower - Image by Felicia Semple
One of the beautiful books Melissa Wastney brings to all her embroidery workshops - Image by Felicia Semple
Shawl knitted by Belinda Sheekey in handspan alpaca - Image by Felicia Semple