‘The eldest ones said that the laughter and tears are sewn right into the quilt, part and parcel, stitch by stitch. Emotions, experiences, heartbreak, mourning, pain and regret, stitched into the cloth, along with happiness, satisfaction, cheer, comfort, and love. The finished quilts were a living thing, a reflection of the spirits of its creators.’
Stafford-Wilson, 2015, p. 89
In this blog, we explain the concept of ‘craft elicitation’, conceptualised by Caroline Larmour (2019) during her uncompleted doctoral study. Covid-19 took her from us in December 2020. All too soon.
Caroline loved the quotation above – it exemplified to her how crafting can be connecting. In using it, we are both honouring her memory and embracing her methodology, through stitching together her words with those of her eldest daughter, Lauren, and her colleague/friend Tracy Hayes. This is more than a legacy piece. We intend this to be a ‘… living thing’ (Stafford-Wilson, 2015) that contributes to discourses around creativity in higher education and outlines an innovative approach to educational research.
Craft has diverse meanings and uses. In the context of Caroline’s research and practice, craft is something created by hand using simple, everyday objects that can be creatively repurposed. She took inspiration from approaches used in early years education, which encourage creativity in an inclusive way, enabling people to join in without fearing critique. Her focus was not on craft created alone by a solitary craftsperson; it was on crafting together, in a group setting. She perceived craft as a form of applied creativity, whereby the crafting process transformed an idea into something tangible – an artefact – that could be shared with others (Gauntlett, 2011).
Caroline piloted craft elicitation as a method for data collection for her doctorate, finding that it allowed her to collect rich data focused on participants’ experiences. Elicitation is the act of drawing out or bringing forth emotions, opinions and information, and is a recognised technique for exploratory research (Gubrium & Holstein, 2001). Participants engage in craft while discussion takes place, a process that may be captured through audio recordings and observations recorded as field notes or post-activity reflections. Given (2008, p. 23) explains that an artefact created through craft can paint a picture of the person who made it and become ‘data itself through the discussion and questions that we pose’. Caroline found that through the production of an artefact combined with participants’ narratives, craft elicitation enabled her to explore the meaning individuals brought to different situations, to understand their behaviour and how they make sense of the world (Larmour, 2019).
‘Caroline found that through the production of an artefact combined with participants’ narratives, craft elicitation enabled her to explore the meaning individuals brought to different situations, to understand their behaviour and how they make sense of the world.’
Caroline was excited about exploring this further. From our memories of conversations with her, and from reading her work, we feel that the key to the effectiveness of craft elicitation as a method lies in the simplicity of the task – if it is too complicated, it will require too much attention, which will inhibit conversations. On her behalf, we invite you to respond by sharing ways that you have used craft in educational research. Together we can stitch a bigger quilt that provides multiple perspectives on the role of craft, with tips for putting this into practice through craft elicitation.This experience left her questioning what it was about craft that enabled this in a way that differed from other data collection methods. Drawing on autoethnography, she started reflecting on her experiences of using craft in other settings and had begun to create a detailed account of her lived experiences of craft and craft processes (Holman-Jones et al., 2013). Her preliminary analysis identified craft that allowed her to connect with people in a meaningful way. For example, while working within a family support setting, craft gave parent and child something to do together. She observed them connecting through the activity. Craft also enabled practitioners to interact with parents/carers and children as they discussed what they were creating as well as reflecting on the finished product.
It was becoming clear to Caroline that craft was pivotal in promoting participation and social interaction in a tacit way that bridged the communication gap that often exists between practitioners and families, and between parent and child. She noticed there was something about the shared experience of creating and talking about simple craft activities that supported relationships to develop.