While sewing and knitting might have once symbolised a second-class life for women, crafts are now a vehicle for empowerment, argues Louise Hutt.
This post first appeared on Louise Hutt’s blog Say Cheese Louise.
Being into crafts generally gets me one of two comments: “What are you, 90?” or “Wow I wish I could [insert craft here]”, both of which I have learned to anticipate and craft an answer to (see what I did there…). The craft renaissance that’s been happening over the past 5-10 years means I get less and less of the first comment, and the internet means I have a bucket load of resources for whoever says the second. However, there’s a new comment I’ve noticed rearing its ugly head more and more, and it’s stuck in my head because it made me incredibly angry. Something along the lines of this: “If I wanted to be a bad feminist, I’d be at home working on my handicrafts”.
As a feminist who has a dedicated crate of crafts next to the couch, obviously such comments strike me deep. That’s not to say I’m above examining my own hobbies, but I’ve spent a long time grappling with the fact that knitting and sewing and cross stitch and crochet are some of the most traditional gendered hobbies I could take up. Of course, I didn’t get into crafts because that was something I should be interested in – if anything I’ve had more ridiculous comments because I chose to take it up than if I hadn’t. However thinking about the ‘bad feminist’ dig led me onto a bigger question: Why do we still look down on crafts as being something inherently worthless because it’s a “women’s hobby”?
Here are a few thoughts in defence of crafting.
Crafts embody design and engineering
I’m knitting socks at the moment and holy shit, the person who came up with turning a heel is a genius for realising we’d all be a lot happier with a sock which is shaped to fit the silly flesh lumps we call feet, all while making it out of a single piece of yarn which is looped over itself again and again and again. But we don’t think of socks as a product of design and engineering, like cars and space travel – things which are highly valued and generally done by men. To be fair, socks have been around a lot longer than space travel so maybe the novelty has worn off, but having a perfect thing to keep your feet warm, stop your shoes from getting too smelly, reduce blisters, and let you do sweet slides on tiled floors means we’re not spending time trying to invent that and get to focus on space travel instead. I’m not saying socks allowed us to go to the moon… I’m just saying it might have helped.
Crafts are good for my mental health
Having to focus on how many stitches I’m counting, or what pieces I’m sewing together, means the voice in my head telling me “EVERYONE HATES YOU” has to be quiet for a moment, and that is such valuable time for me. It’s also a way I can look after the people in my life – with hats and gloves and scarves – so I can prove to myself I might be a good friend. And maybe one of the biggest ways it’s good for me is that I have a creative output which doesn’t involve a computer. So when I want to throw my monitor at a wall, or write angry letters to Adobe, I have something else which I can take a break with. I can’t undo all of my sewing by accidentally knocking out a power cord, thankfully.
Crafts give me a positive way to keep in touch with my heritage and the women in my family
For me, there’s not a lot to be proud of in my Pākehā history. But a few years ago, after my grandma had a stroke, I decided I wanted to learn how to knit from her before she passed away. Sitting in front of the TV with her and my mum, getting frustrated and confused, but ending up with a cute headband at the end of it is something I will never forget, and I know are skills which have been passed down in our family for generations and generations. My other grandma passed away when I was 16 and she left me a huge box of vintage material. I really appreciate that she knew I would use it and value it, and I still do to this day.
Crafts make me a better feminist
Having made my own clothes I know exactly how frustrating, physically painful, and time consuming sewing is. One weekend of sewing will make my back and neck ache, and probably give me a headache as well. To know there are women living in poverty and being denied their human rights due to sweatshops and slave labour, all to serve our throw-away fashion culture, makes my stomach churn. It shows how little we value the work of women, especially women of colour, when really it deserves our respect both as a skilled trade and something which literally creates the clothes on our backs.
I like and enjoy crafts for a bunch of diverse reasons but at the end of the day, I’m just tired of being berated for my choices because of other people’s own internalised misogyny. If you’re making golliwogs or selling sugar-skull cross stitches then yeah, your crafts probably have some feminist issues, but I think for those of us who just want to make a beanie or a t-shirt for ourselves, crafts are not un-feminist. They’re just a hobby.
Louise Hutt blogs on crafts, feminism, fashion, media and mental illness at Say Cheese Louise