Peg and Awl

Peg and Awl, (version by the Carolina Tar Heels)
In the days of eighteen and one, peg and awl! (twice)
In the days of eighteen and one, peggin’ shoes is all I done,
Hand me down my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.
In the days of eighteen and two, peg and awl! (twice)
In the days of eighteen and two, peggin’ shoes is all I do,
Hand me down my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.
In the days of eighteen and three, peg and awl! (twice)
In the days of eighteen and three, peggin’ shoes is all you’d see,
Hand me down my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.
In the days of eighteen and four, peg and awl! (twice)
In the days of eighteen and four, I said I’d peg them shoes no more.
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl!
They’ve invented a new machine, peg and awl! (twice)
They’ve invented a new machine, prettiest thing you ever seen,
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl!
Makes one hundred pair to my one, peg and awl! (twice)
Makes one hundred pair to my one, peggin’ shoes ain’t no fun,
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl!

I think of this song and others like it when I am in the tedium of production handwork, as is now my daily charge. The song speaks to me on several levels, and illustrates at least one precept for the Deep Craft manifesto:

Handwork may be the bedrock of innovation, but nostalgia for handwork is quicksand.

The song itself is what I would consider an example of Deep Craft. Though presumably written by an anonymous cobbler almost two hundred years ago, its message remains relevant, like an early 19th century version of Moore’s Law, and the song’s survival both transcends and acknowledges the passing from a craft-based to an industrial production paradigm. Yet it manages to romanticize neither.

My argument here is that progress in manufacturing most often has origins in craft tradition, but the inevitable backlash which leads to craft revivals (Ruskin, Morris, etc.) has origins in academic nostalgia for a romanticized past. On some level, even in the Information Age, there will always be ‘handwork’. What needs to change is how we perceive its value. Deep Craft is not inherently anti-machine, but posits a more time-tested relationship to machine production, informed by the ethos of handwork and its more communal by-products, manifest in songs and celebrations.

The origin of the word ‘toil’ has two Latin derivations. As a verb, it derives from ‘tudes’, to hammer; as a noun it derives from ‘tela’, a web.

The Hammer and the Web. Cool.

As illustrated by the song ‘Peg and Awl’, making things offers an opportunity to elevate the ‘toil’ of handwork into something more timeless, like a memorable song, which might outlive any of the practical products of artisanry (shoes?). The cadence of the song and collaborative exchange of its interlocking parts hints at a kind of pre-machine logic. The low-energy instrumentation and light-hearted delivery captures a comic ambivalence and reluctant enthusiasm for the dawning Industrial Revolution. More so than shoes, ‘Peg and Awl’ is the exalted product of tireless handwork, and sounds like its authors knew exactly what they were doing.


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