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Crafting Enterprise exploring making career options

by By Emma Daker and Helen Tomkins, edited by Lisa Falaschi

Exploring making career options

Originated by Craftspace and produced in partnership with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Made in the Middle features thirty-two makers from across the Midlands, reflecting the strength and quality of making in the region today. From emerging to established makers, the exhibition presents a wealth of careers, materials and processes.

The aim of the exhibition is to highlight the ongoing value of craft through the exhibitors’ work, their careers and the action research project; Crafting Enterprise. At a time when craft education is at risk, the exhibition explores craft’s intrinsic value to society, culture and heritage. The contribution of makers to material knowledge and their entrepreneurial skills are also highlighted.

Action Research Approach

Craftspace’s approach to exhibition development is driven by a process of enquiry and action research. Projects are run in the build up to exhibitions, in partnership with host venues and relevant organisations, targeting a different community of interest dependant on the nature of the exhibition. Facilitated by practising makers with established reputations, these projects enable different community groups to question social issues. Documentation of these projects and sometimes pieces produced, are featured within the exhibitions as they tour to galleries and museums.

Action research participants offer a different voice within the exhibition, one which visitors can often relate to and identify with more than that of the curator. They are also a tool to question and unpick issues around making and craft practice. 

Putting Craft at the Heart of Education

The Crafting Enterprise action research project continued the value of craft exhibition theme and was devised in response to Our Future is in the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making. The 2014 manifesto, developed by the Crafts Council, highlighted a significant fall in student participation in craft related learning. In the six years from 2007 to 2013 this amounted to a drop of 25% in craft related GCSEs. In higher education, the number of craft courses fell by 46%.

The manifesto is a call for change and for action, with six key areas of focus. The Crafting Enterprise project was a response, a provocation, specifically to the call to ‘put craft and making at the heart of education’.

We wanted to work with Year 8 students who will choose their GCSE options in their next school year; spring 2018, to explore the varied and valuable skillsets and learning developed through craft and making. Our aim was to discover and challenge preconceptions of craft related careers, and enhance knowledge of materials and making processes and how these impact on industry and entrepreneurship. We wanted the project to test if intervention with focused craft based activity could stimulate take up in art, craft, design & technology qualifications. 

The main aim was to enable students to understand craft employment opportunities within creative industry; from jobs within a regional creative manufacturer, to entrepreneurial skills of a local maker and curatorial skills used in contemporary craft online exhibition planning. It was also important to us to highlight the contribution of craft based skills to industry and enterprise.

Craftspace initiated Crafting Enterprise, then worked with the education team at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum to identify a school in Coventry as Made in the Middle would be launching in the city. Visual artist and Made in the Middle exhibitor, Hayley Meaden, (previously Hayley Beckley) was invited to facilitate the project supported by a freelance project coordinator Helen Tomkins.

A group of Year 8 students from Blue Coat Church of England School and Music College worked with Hayley to learn new skills in textiles and metalwork. The final goal was to develop a collection of wearable accessories, which would be for sale to the public. The students also worked towards a Bronze Arts Award, gathering evidence of their participation, progress and reflection throughout the Crafting Enterprise programme.

The Process:                                                                                             

Hayley worked with the students for 10 weeks. The group were introduced to the themes, materials and processes that Hayley employs in the development of her work and the wide variety of ways in which she uses her craft skills to earn a living. The very first practical task put before the young people was an introduction to knife and box pleats using paper, reflecting the style of Hayley’s ‘Found in the Forest’ collection.

‘It was really interesting to see how challenging some of the young people found the pleating task. Many of them were close to giving up at points and I felt that maybe I had misjudged the difficulty of the first challenge I had set. However, with guidance from myself and the school’s textiles technician Janete, every one of them managed to complete it to a standard that they were pleased with. It worked well as a demonstration of where concentration and perseverance can get you!’ Hayley Meaden

The students were also introduced to the wider context and history of the textile industry in Coventry, with a visit to local manufacturer Cash’s. This enabled the students to experience first-hand, possible making or creative roles within manufacturing industry; demonstrating the possibility of making careers which aren’t personally driven.

Next stop the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, where the students met curators Huw Jones and Ali Wells. They were told about their roles both in looking after museum collections and in putting together public exhibitions. The group visited the museum stores where an archive of Cash’s products is held alongside other historical textile items and artefacts.

“There was already evidence that some of the quieter young people were gaining confidence from hearing the bolder students speak. I admit I was quite surprised to hear some of them making critical contributions of their own so early on.” Claire Owen, Art Teacher at Blue Coat Church of England School and Music College

The next three sessions were dedicated to learning new craft skills. Students worked with Hayley to develop their textile techniques which included hand sewing and using the machines to create bows and cuffs.

“I really like textiles and expected the project to be very interesting and it was. It has also really made me think about other jobs in craft.” Orna, student

Following the textile sessions, Hayley took the students through some metal processes, helping the group to experiment to create textures and finishes on copper. As the students gained new practical skills they were also encouraged to think about what products they would like to make for the final collection and to start working on their own designs.



Using images that they had gathered, the next step was for students to start creating patterns for the fabric that would be used in their final pieces. Each student learned how to use Photoshop to manipulate a digital image and the patterns they created ranged from subtle and naturalistic to vivid and psychedelic.

“I enjoyed metal work the most, I liked creating the different textures and finishes and I found it easier to visualise a final product. With textiles it was a lot more complicated and there were more steps where things could go wrong. I really liked my printed fabric though and felt very proud; I never expected it to look so good.” Ela, student

Finally, the students began to develop their collection. Each student was tasked with coming up with three accessory designs, employed the materials and processes they had been introduced. With support from Hayley the young people planned how they would like the collection to be presented at the marketplace event, keeping in mind research, observations and discussions that had happened over the course of the previous eight weeks.

As a project finale the Crafting Enterprise group took their collection to the Making Merry marketplace at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. With the chance to meet both the buying public and other stall holders they got a festive, pre-Christmas taste of life as a designer maker.


Although we haven’t been able to determine if the project has been successful in encouraging more uptake in art GCSEs yet, as the participants are still to take their options, the feedback was very encouraging:

“The programme has given me an easier choice about what I want to do. It has shown me what you can do with art, different designs and what you can sell.” Ju-eun, student

“I have thought about being a designer like Hayley and making some products, modern things that are useful. I like work that looks good but also has a function, this is what I find inspiring”. James, student

The response from the school regarding the impact on the students was also very positive.

“Once the students had learned new skills, they appeared to really enjoy the independence they were given to make their own creative choices and develop their designs. The structure of the sessions supported a very cohesive dynamic across the group. As the project progressed members of the group that had not previously worked closely together paired up to share their ideas and the skills they had learned…Taking their collection to the Making Merry Marketplace at the Herbert Art Gallery was a great way to be able to put the all the work they have done into the context of entrepreneurialism and the practising designer maker.” Jane Flanagan, Head of Art, Blue Coat Church of England School and Music College

The students’ reflections on what they have learned through Crafting Enterprise are documented in an accompanying film, which features in the exhibition. Here is a taster of the film:

You can see the whole film here:

In addition to challenging perceptions of craft, creating new audiences and responding to a research question, Craftspace action research projects also provide a development opportunity for the artists that facilitate them;

"Teaching children to express themselves and giving them opportunities to explore materials and skills is so valuable and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to do this on the Crafting Enterprise project for Craftspace. 

Seeing how the children developed creatively and gained self-confidence as they learnt the skills and created their own products has really cemented the value of creative learning for me. I am driven to incorporate more workshops and share creative skills as much as possible.”

I was so proud of all that the pupils at Bluecoats achieved during the project and hope the self-expression, problem solving and the joy of making will stay with them." Hayley Meaden

Made in the Middle online

Following the Making Merry event, the group met again led by Project Coordinator Helen Tomkins to curate their own online response to the Made in the Middle exhibition. Armed with their new craft knowledge and skills, the students visited the exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. Following a discussion, they each chose their favourite works and considered questions to ask of the makers. These questions were sent directly to the exhibitors to respond to. The students also did some research on their chosen maker and selected images to be shown in the online exhibition. The images, exhibitor interview and the student’s personal artistic response to the makers work, make up a small exhibition on Craftspace’s Made in the Middle 30 website:

This website celebrates the 30 year history of the Made in the Middle exhibition series and now also includes an online exhibition curated by the Year 8 Students from Blue Coat school in Coventry:

Visit the exhibition

Made in the Middle, featuring Crafting Enterprise will open at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum on Saturday 20 January and will be on show until Saturday 10 March 2018.


Hayley Meaden is now trading as Freeformity.

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