Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The politics of craft

Photo via weheartit

A throwaway comment in an email - “For a feminist you have incredibly 'girly' hobbies: baking, sewing and buying flowery dresses” - got me thinking about the politics of my craft.  Without wanting to generalise, my personal experience suggests that most of the young women who are passionate about creating (whether it be baking cakes, sewing clothes or knitting scarves) are also educated, career-minded and, in many cases, feminists.  Which leads to something of a disconnect: how does one reconcile feminist views with wearing a flower-print pinny while potting homemade jams?

Rewind 50 years and baking, sewing and knitting were seen as women's work and a wife's duty.  During the 80s, as more women entered the workforce, household income rose, and consumer goods declined in price, crafts started to be seen as old-fashioned pastimes, perhaps only indulged in by a few grey-haired WI members.  However the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in 'making and doing'.  As incomes have fallen and the country has plunged into economic gloom, many people have rediscovered the joy of crafts.  However, these hobbies have almost entirely been taken up by women: my craft club is all women; the local knitting circle has one token man.  Why is craft still 'women's work'?  And does it make me a 'bad feminist' if I spend my free time in the kitchen or sewing room?

After a childhood spent almost constantly baking (and leaving the kitchen in a state, cleaning never having been a strength of mine), sewing or cutting and sticking, I abandoned crafts almost entirely throughout my teens and twenties.  However, much of those years were spent involved in the fanzine scene, which had sprung out of Riot Grrrl in the early 90s and was shot throught with a DIY ethos.  My interest in crafts was reignited by the monthly 'She's Crafty' columns in American feminist magazine Bust, which reminded me that making things could be fun and even empowering.  The pleasure and pride one can get from creating something by hand is incredible.  Women now have the freedom to choose whether or not to spend time cooking; baking; sewing, and if your choice is to make something, then the thrill of creation, of sewing yourself a new tote rather than buying a sweatshopped bag, or cooking a meal from scratch instead of bunging something in the microwave, is second to none.  Craftivist and writer Betsy Greer sums it up in her book Knitting For Good: "I'm not alone in wanting to literally 'craft my life,' instead of letting it craft me". 

Sitting down to read and write about this subject has been fascinating and I still have all sorts of interesting musings buzzing around my brain.  I'd be interested to hear what other people think about the craft renaissance and gender...

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