Sydney Craft Week 2019 ✿ Learning to play & playing to learn


30 September 2019

materials preparation for Commuter Craft; photo: Chrystie Longworth

Contemporary jeweller and educator Melinda Young reflects on play, the theme of this year’s Sydney Craft Week.

Play is close to my heart and at the centre of my practice. My studies at Sydney College of the Arts in the 1990s were formative and the valuable lesson—to play—is something that I have carried with me through my career. The ability to play is a precious gift. To simply ‘be’ in the world and let experiences happen is both difficult and liberating. Children are naturals, absorbing themselves in open imaginative play, but we lose this as we grow older.

Re-learning to play was one of the greatest challenges of my early adult life, and now as an educator, I witness the same struggle in my students. The hesitation around playing with ideas and materials is real, there is fear, self-regulation and a lack of trust, but through play, there is rich, deep learning to be had. The moment when a student makes a discovery through play is truly special, a light goes on in their eyes and their work is illuminated, this is where the magic happens. Creating spaces for others to play is one of the great pleasures of my life.

Making the time and space for play in a busy life can be challenging. However, research has shown it is essential for our wellbeing to carve away a small portion of time for play, be it creative, physical or mental. Researchers including Dr Stuart Brown have also demonstrated the importance of hand-based play to enable problem-solving and the development of innovative design thinking.

For some, making time to play provides the structure that the rest of life is built around – I always have a portable craft project in my bag, snatching random moments of creative play, often while commuting. For Sydney Craft Week, in cahoots with Rumpus; Chrystie Longworth, Vita Cochran and I have devised Commuter Craft – things to make on the move, a day-long adventure with a focus on making that has been adapted for the commuter space.

Looking to science, creativity is thought to increase our levels of dopamine, best known as the driving force behind the feelings of anticipation, euphoria, motivation, and desire, this is a potent chemical with a complicated flip-side. Contemporary textile artists, the Seed Stitch Collective are playing with the theme Dopamine to generate a group show that promises to radiate with energy and colour.

Mathematics collides with craft and play at ADC with Playfold. Following international success at Bridges, Art Maths conference in Austria, and Moves at Momath, National Museum of Mathematics in New York, Playfold provides a new take on modular origami, leading participants in the transformation of a series of paper circles into forms that can be worn, suspended or draped, underpinned by a simple fold.

STEAMpop, Playfold Map

Playfulness is not just about using your hands. Many of the Sydney Craft Week events fuse materials and techniques with humorous outcomes, providing a moment of playful interaction between the maker and the viewer. Vanessa Ion, creator of Cynthia the Ibis, on the Sydney Craft Week program cover, will introduce audiences to her latest playful crocheted sculpture, koala woman Gloria at her event Zoo Life.

Kirsten Fredericks, well known for her cheeky knitted and crocheted genitalia, brings her regular event Beers and Balls to Craft Up Late. Kirsten is your devoted crochet guide for this evening of playful wool therapy and cocktails.

In the spirit of fun, play can mean making a space within creative practice where outcomes are not important. My recent making adventures have me playing with new materials and techniques. Not knowing the ‘rules’ of the materials and processes has been a journey of overcoming fear and embracing curiosity as I simply play and explore, applying ideas and tacit knowledge from my usual making while being open to what the material has to teach me.

Crafting and play connect the head and the hand, slowing us down and immersing us in creative discovery.

Jennifer Fahey glitter pods large size, image courtesy of the artist

For the full Sydney Craft Week Program, go to (11 – 20 October 2019).

Like the article? Make it a conversation by leaving a comment below.  If you believe in supporting a platform for culture-makers, consider becoming a subscriber.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *