Tinja Lohenoja: Craft Studies Is So Much More Than "Just Knitting"

Tinja Lohenoja fulfilled her big dream last summer when she got in to study Craft Studies and Craft Teacher Education at the University of Helsinki. In this interview she tells us what motivated her to apply to university with vocational education background, what the studies have been like so far, and why studying Crafts at the university level matters.

How did you end up majoring in Craft Studies and Craft Teacher Education?

I’ve been interested in crafts ever since I was a small child, and especially my grandmother and earlier school years have directed me towards it. I already have a vocational upper secondary qualification in Textiles and Clothing, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do in the future. I really wanted to get a university degree and so I started browsing through university websites to find something that would fit with my interests and earlier studies. This major immediately felt right. However, as I did not go to high school and nobody at the vocational school ever encouraged me to apply to university, getting in was a dream I thought would never come true. I applied twice, and at the second try I got in.

What motivated you to study for the entrance exams, even if it felt impossible to get in? How did studying for the exams feel, as you did not have any previous experience in similar kind of studying?

Actually, precisely the fact that no one believed I could get in motivated me. Even one of my close relatives said to me that I would never get into university. I wanted to prove everyone wrong and show that I could do it.  

Studying for the entrance exams felt a bit strange – there were a lot of words I had never heard before. But the feeling that I was already constantly learning new things even when I was only reading for the entrance exams motivated me even more.

Now you’ve been studying for one semester. How has it been?

It has been exactly like I expected it to be. It definitely feels like my own field. There are a lot of courses on different sorts of techniques and on how to adapt those to teaching.

Before the studies began I was afraid of the unknown, but I’ve noticed that studying at the university is not as difficult as I worried beforehand. Everything has gone well.

Craft Studies is not the most usual university major. What sorts of attitudes towards it have you come across?

I’ve encountered a lot of belittling attitudes. Students from other fields have asked me if you really can study crafts, saying that it’s ”nothing but knitting”. Some people have said that we have it so easy compared to everyone else at the university.

How have you responded to these comments?

I’ve tried to emphasize that studying Craft Studies is so much more than ”just knitting”. Having a Craft Studies programme at the university level is extremely important because it ensures that children and young people are able to get good-quality teaching in Crafts. Nowadays, as schools are trying to save resources, class teachers are often in charge of Craft classes, which naturally leads to poorer quality in teaching.  Many people do not realize how important it is to teach young people how to work with their hands, especially in our technologized world where children otherwise don’t do crafts that much.

This lack of skills in crafts can be noticed in every area of life. For example, one of my fellow students was observing Craft teaching at an upper comprehensive school last fall, and there were boys in the 7th grade who did not even know how to use scissors! I, on the other hand, got to observe an extremely qualified Craft teacher at an elementary school where even the 3rd graders operated sewing machines fluently.

You have already worked for over a year as a craft instructor for the Youth Department of Helsinki. What has the concrete work been like compared to the studies?

Both have definitely supported each other. I’ve been able to utilize what I’ve learned at work in my studies, and vice versa. It’s amazing being able to have a job in my own field at such an early stage of my studies. Working as a craft instructor also motivated me even more to apply for Craft Studies because I already knew what the concrete work was like.

What is the biggest reason for you wanting to become a Crafts teacher?

When I was in upper comprehensive school, my own Craft teacher motivated me so much by noticing my skills and encouraging me to keep on doing Crafts. I, too,  want to be able to encourage children and young people who may already have a spark for crafts, and maybe guide them deeper into the world of crafts.

Photo: Tinja Lohenoja