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[Guest Post] Craft Is A Feminist Issue

2011 September 28

A while ago we asked you all what you enjoy doing with your time, and whether you had any thoughts on your hobbies from a gender perspective. A fair few of you got in touch – let’s kick off with Stephanie.

I firmly believe that craft is a feminist issue. On a personal level, it’s amazing that every time I pick up my needles and what essentially amounts to a bit of string, I am connecting with women across thousands of years, as well as those in my life now; my aunt taught me to knit, my grandma taught me to crochet and another friend encouraged me to learn to embroider. I can take something made two hundred years ago and give it a modern spin. As someone who likes being artistic, but was never very good at traditional ‘art’, craft allows me to express myself.

Photo of an embroidery hoop with a blue and green butterfly stitched onto the white fabric it supports. Photo by the author.Yet I know that I am different from my grandma, her mother and so on. I do not make things out of financial necessity or to ensure that my family is clothed – it is often significantly cheaper to go out and buy a pair of socks or a jumper than what it costs to buy yarn or fabric, not to mention how long it takes to make something. And that’s where feminism comes in: I make things because I can. Because knitting or sewing something gives me satisfaction. Because of the struggle of women before me and changes that they brought to society, I am not eternally pregnant or chained to a kitchen sink- I have free time, something that women didn’t have much of. I have disposable income… if I want a £20 ball of yarn or some amazing threads, I can have them and I can make something utterly frivolous with them if I so choose, too. At the moment, I am stitching tea towels with birds and bugs from Victorian natural history drawings to sell at a local craft fair. One of the joys of having a skill is seeing how you can use it to interpret it. Want to cross stitch Judge Judy? Go for it!

I see no coincidence in the fact that me learning to knit and becoming a feminist are linked. My first knitting book was Stitch and Bitch by Debbie Stoller, which lead me to read Bust magazine. Although I had always been brought up to think like a feminist, I was now, in my early twenties, becoming an active feminist. I wanted to learn more about my place in the world and how I could make that better. And I know that it’s the same for a lot of women. Crafting is a gateway to this. (That’s not to say I think all crafting is feminist. I think a lot of it is packaging traditional ideas of women in twee, Cath Kidston-esque clothing, trying to make money off the back of all things ‘vintage’. Solution to this: just read the blogs you like and do your own thing. As always, be discerning in your crafting!) Because of my love of all things textile, I learned to be a better person and became braver in defending what I believe in. Yes, I do get ‘old lady’ jibes, but those tend to come from the misogynist idiot I happen to share a staffroom with. And I usually come back with that there’s nothing wrong in being an old lady, if it makes me happy. After all, I don’t tell him how to live his life.

Photo showing an embroidered piece of white fabric on a wooden surface. The fabric is decorated with a traditionally styled image of the Virgin Mary in prayer, stitched in outlines of black, blue and gold. Photo by the author.There are loads of plus sides to having a skill- I can make clothes that fit and flatter me, rather than being dictated to as to what shops think I should wear- I have a collection of really cool shawls and socks that are perfect for me. Vogue may say that an orange, cabled hoodie is so 2006, but if I want one, I can make one. I also have the satisfaction that I know that if the world ends/zombies take over/the second Ice Age cometh, I will have plenty of knit wear and pretty things to make life bearable, should I survive. On a more down-to-earth note, I also know that gifts I give are unique and that they haven’t been made by toddlers in a sweatshop. I know where every stitch has come from and I’m sticking two thumbs up at what capitalism says I should do (although this means that I have to start making Christmas presents insanely early in the year, due to my over-achieving nature.)

There was an article in the Huffington Post recently decrying the fact that ‘tough gals’ in feminism no longer exist, and crafting (specifically knitting) was listed as one of the activities that was not considered ‘tough’. I consider myself relatively streetwise – I grew up in inner city Leeds, went to a very difficult school and had by no means a privileged time growing up. But because I knit, I am not, apparently, tough. I think that women are re-embracing crafting because we live in a world where so much is out of our control- the world is not going to become a better place overnight and women are still marginalised in some areas of everyday life. So it is natural to want to take control somewhere, whether that is mastering the perfect satin stitch or being really good at motorcycle maintenance. Your mileage (and activity of choice) may vary.

  • Stephanie is a teacher by day, and a writer/crafter/blogger by night. She’s a young old lady who lives by the sea, reads voraciously and drinks a heck of a lot of tea. Her latest project, Ladies In Monochrome, is an online archive of ‘lost’ or forgotten vintage photographs of women sourced from flea markets and antique shops. All the images in this post are her own work.
4 Responses leave one →
  1. luce permalink
    September 28, 2011

    I don’t really understand your criticism of “women in twee, Cath Kidston-esque clothing, trying to make money off the back of all things ‘vintage’” – if this is a free choice by a woman then in what way is it less valuable than embroidering tea towels to sell at a craft fair?

  2. Stephanie permalink
    September 28, 2011

    I wanted to show that crafting is not all 50’s housewife-esque and that it can be subverted (which is what my own work often is). By all means, women can choose what they want, it’s just a personal view.

  3. Phoenix permalink
    September 29, 2011

    Yay! I too am a crafter, (though i’ve never really made something I’d be happy to give as a gift or sell, lol) and I positively identify it as a feminist hobby/activity/whatever. I share photos, ideas and website links with my friends and readily chat about homemade items and the joy they bring.
    It’s not only a great way to be creative (and doesn’t have to be too expensive if, like me, you re-use old clothes and material) but it also helps open up friends (and family) to wider issues like recycling and re-using and hopefully spending less on shop-bought tat at birthday/christmas time.
    There are so many great groups (and individuals) doing things like guerilla knitting that are really inspiring – more groups and more ways to not only network, but also to learn a new skill? You have to love it!

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