Handworked was commissioned by Durham County Council throughout 2021/2022 to celebrate craftworkers who live and/or work in the North Pennines. Exhibited through the summer of 2022 as a site specific installation at Killhope Lead Mining Museum the series of images celebrated ‘crafts’ in their many forms; the artisan, the heritage craftsman, the micro factory. The common thread that binds these crafts is that the products made are all hand worked, and, whether artisan or tradesman, these skilled individuals’ creative ideas are brought to life through their hands and the tools they have adopted.

At the peak of Lead mining at Killhope, it was commonplace for people to use their hands and skills in their jobs to extract raw materials or make goods that local and far off towns and cities needed. Now to work and craft with our hands is thought of as an artisan skill. In our digital world we use our hands and bodies less in both our leisure and work but for the historic workers of Killhope, and the Artisans in Handworked, having the right tool for your craft is important.

A maker and their tools have a synergy. As Sondheim explores in his musical Sweeny Todd when he talks about his razors as an extension of his arm;

Sondheim, 2010

Like any artist such as those whose work is demonstrated here at Killhope, having the right tools to craft your work is vitally important. Having a connection to those tools that they become an extension of your physique adds to this interplay of body and tool that aids the connectivity of man to craft and the wielding, moulding of their materials in a creative flow. A blacksmith knows the weight and force of his hammers, a carver the length and feel of his blades and the handle that rests in their hand, the felter the thickness, temperature and feel of the foamy water in preparing the fleece for felting. The weight, contours of how the tools are held, their length, sharpness, bluntness all have importance in how the artisan creates their work. Thus, for some, creating their own tools that fit their hands and physique is an important part of creating their work as a whole. Where disposable or cheap tools impinge on how we feel about our craft processes whilst using them. We are more conscious of the negative sensations of the tool in use, and this disrupts how we think of the task we are trying to do. Many of us know how a blunt kitchen knife feels to work with or cheap scissors that still have a plastic sharp edge around the handles where they have been badly taken from a mould.

Our hands feel their way through the world learning skills and encountering textures and temperatures that inform how we think and be in the world. Tools help us extend these capabilities. Where we are less conscious about the tool in the creation of our work the tool becomes an invisible extension of ourselves. And when we put the tool away, look after it, we take ownership of its function and ability to perform for us in a pleasing manner. This in turn builds pleasurable memories of positive use, creating a virtuous circle of care, use and performance.

In this way it is understandable that sons and daughters wish to care for their fathers’ and mothers’ tools which although grey and worn through time have a stronger construction, feel and lasting performance. Good tools have emotional resonance, they talk to us.

Essay by Sarah Morehead