Tag Archives | craft

To stitch is to start 

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Simply put, the act of stitching gives us agency. That’s why I’ve been making hats for the pussy hat project. I’ve been knitting my way back into action one step at a time. Too often I make to-do lists that are grand and have massive goals, like “be more productive,” which, while aspirational, don’t help much at all, really.

What does help is the act of creating something from two sticks and string. I can watch it grow in my hands, I can see it take shape, I can literally track my production.

Textiles (along with other crafts) give us time to process. We can rip out what is not working, in both our hands and our heads. We can be inspired by the actions of others. We can join the others that came before us, stitching along with them.

Textiles are catalysts for action. They show us that action isn’t taking one massive step, it’s taking lots of little steps and stitches from which to build on. Like the stitches our hands make, one stitch becomes two stitches becomes two thousand. And in this way, textiles show us how to move forward.

I’m going to the march in DC because when I interviewed some of Australia’s knitting nannas, one of them (Louise Somerville!) told me they started showing up at mining sites to let the companies know they were watching. (Apparently that was boring so they brought their knitting- and the badassery only grew!) I am going to the march not in anger or rage, there will be no yelling for me.

Because when I’m angry, I lose my capacity to make the world a better place. That’s my focus, seeing what craftivist-type work people make, maybe passing out some #yasvb signs and taking some photographs to share with you.

Do I hope our next president makes the world a better place? Yes. Despite all my feelings, I still have hope that there will be some good done. But I will watch. I will not yell, I will not scream, I will not rage. I will continue to work quietly towards making the world better stitch by stitch, the more that want to stitch along, the better.

And that’s just my reason. There are 200K other reasons. And we don’t have to agree on why we’re going. We just have to agree that showing up in our hats is a mark of resistance. A handmade notation that “this is not okay.”

That we sat down and made hats in our own time means that we care enough to take tiny action steps. For some, we may make out of anger, chomping at the bit, but, for others, we may be stitching to embolden ourselves to speak our truths on the matter.

These stitches we make we make to remind ourselves we have agency, our voice matters, we are not alone. They can help us stitch our ways into being activists of whatever sort of activist we wish to be. What matters is that we make these stitches, that we show ourselves that we are strong enough to make something from nothing.

And, along the way, if we meet others with the same hats or wishes or stitches, we can meet their strength with our own and stand together.

Our stitches do more than just make hats, they jolt us into being and becoming agents of change. They show us what is possible. They show us we are powerful. They are the sparks that remind us that change only happens when we take the first step, take the first stitch.

With them we join a legacy of makers, a thread extending both into the past and present, who have our backs too. And in both directions, we can make our voices heard loud and clear, we just need to be brave enough to listen to our hands and our hearts first.

So, if you’re not sure where to start or what to feel or what to do, first, stitch. Then the rest will come.

Because Getting Others To Help You Doesn’t Mean You’re Less DIY

 

This monkey was kind of my breaking point, where I realized that if I make everything, I won’t have time to enjoy truly delightful things like this little guy here. So recently I have come to realize why I have only hired two people to help me. In thirteen years. One to set up my site (2003 represent!) and one to help move things to WordPress (2014?).

And I was determined not to hire anyone because being a part of the DIY craft community was my identity, which I thought meant having to do everything alone. My hands needed to make it or else I would be caving. (Even after some thought, I still don’t know what I thought I’d be caving to, other than a better life?) But keeping a site that looks like drunken elves made it because you want to stick to your teenage principles? Worst idea ever. Because I’m not 18 wearing clothes three sizes too big (ah, the 90s!) and dying my hair pink so badly I looked like I maybe had mange and thinking that I was cool (I wasn’t, I was still a total dork).

Because the real DIY scales to where you are now, not where you were. The real DIY believes in helping other people live lives on their own terms (whether that be touring in an old van or working in a cubicle) and supporting them. It does not mean suffering and now growing. It means taking your inherent skills and running with them, not ignoring them because you think you have to *literally* do everything yourself.

Being involved in the punk scene didn’t help in this capacity, as hiring someone through that lens, too, felt icky and wrong.

So I did the best I could, but it was always less than because I didn’t have the requisite skills. It’s like when I see something at the mall I could make* and then buy the materials and never use them, adding crap to my house and in almost all cases spending more time and energy than it would take to just buy the darn thing. Because I’m DIY! Thread runs through my very veins!

Then the supplies I bought sit in a box that makes me feel like guilty because I know it’s full of ideas of things I didn’t do. Knit cute covers for wood beads to stuck into a necklace? That sounds fun and looks easy! However, there is not “this took 15 hours” footnote, so I think I can just whip it up in an evening and fail, so it goes into the box.

That box is a bummer. It is the worst for real, man.

So I don’t do all I could be doing in the fields that I rule at because that box and other related things I could make but don’t need to are an albatross on my neck… because I’m DIY, damnit. Hear the mighty force of the sound of my knitting needles work, that is my Helen Reddy roar.

But you know what? Getting a small biz or individual to help you out is also DIY, because it is supporting the community. DIY isn’t about going without, it’s about celebrating your community, which you can’t do because all of your money is going to things in that damn box.

So let’s burn the box and go do all the things we’re good at and let people help us with the rest. That’s DIY too.

*If you do this with handmade things you should definitely just buy the thing- you’ll be supporting someone like you, which is DIY, yeah! 💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼

Craft Is About The Making, Not About “Moral Virtue”

While these cats in this 1915 Henry Whittier Frees may feel superior to you, it's probably because they're cats, not because they're sewing.

While these cats in this 1915 Henry Whittier Frees may feel superior to you, it’s probably because they’re cats, not because they’re sewing.

Thank all of you last week, who read, shared, and commented on my rebuttal post to Emily Matchar’s NYT op-ed piece and my post about why Etsy owes its sellers nothing, despite recent (and disappointing) changes. Those pieces were nearer and dearer to my heart than most.

One of the things in Matchar’s article that I found most upsetting was this paragraph:

Our hunger for handmade has gone beyond aesthetics, uniqueness and quality. In progressive circles, buying handmade has come to connote moral virtue, signifying an interest in sustainability and a commitment to social justice. By making your own cleaning supplies, you’re eschewing environment-poisoning chemicals. By buying a handmade sweater, you’re fighting sweatshop labor. By chatting with the artisan who makes your soap, you’re striking a blow against our alienated “Bowling Alone” culture.

Because if you actually craft and make things, chances are high you do not do so because of so-called “moral virtue.” You do so because you like it.

And, to be honest, this has less to do with Matchar than it does with people outside of the maker community at large. The people who because they don’t get it, they make up reasons why it’s bad. The people who don’t see that it’s fun to make something for yourself. That seeing alternatives to fast fashion and mass produced is not a superiority thing, it’s a natural thing. Humans have made things much much longer than they have bought them in stores. They don’t know what it’s like to create something with your own two hands. The satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, the sense of love and care.

To have such a sense of curosity and wonder about how things are being made that we circumvent the mall at times is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing. And as happens to most good things, some people that don’t understand turn them into bad things, which happens whenever something comes along that people don’t like or understand. Yes, there are people who make things and buy things because it makes them full superior to some degree. However, assigning that value to someone else just speaks to one thing, the thinker’s own insecurities.

Unless someone comes up and says, “I am better than you for drinking this kale smoothie” or “You suck for not handquilting your bedspread,” you really don’t know what they’re thinking. Yes, you can assign what they’re thinking, but that’s just you making a guess. It’s preying on your insecurities, and then it eats away at you.

Apparently this is my worst nightmare.

Apparently this is my worst nightmare.

Here’s an example. So I go “running” several times a week. It’s actually a combination of running and walking. I am very slow. I am also pretty insecure about running very slow. Since I go running fairly early in the morning or mid-afternoon, I always seem to get passed by a school bus, which is pretty much my worst nightmare. Kids will tell you exactly what they think, and there is a special breed of kids who will yell things that aren’t so nice. There is an insecure part of me that’s worried they will yell something about me being not so skinny or slow or (hell’s bells!) both. This insecurity didn’t pop out of thin air, those comments were lobbed at me when I was a kid. (In other words, I was primed to be somewhat neurotic about it later on.)

I also picked low-traffic streets to run on so I don’t have cross the paths of many people, because, after all, I’m not so good at running and am focusing on breathing, much less panting what would be a very weak and pathetic “hello.” (I’ve since decided on doing a two-finger wave that sporty people and motorcycle people seem to have down cold. At least in my head I’ll look cool.) And, God forbid, when I cross paths with someone even remotely sporty looking, I turn into a 7th grader for a few seconds. Suddenly, I’m thinking that they are thinking that I’m too big to run, too slow or both.

Cut to when I’m back to walking. Someone jogging passes me. I think, “Yay! They’re jogging!,” not “OMG, look at her butt.” Because I am happy to see other people exercising and I don’t care. (And also, I may be still focusing on trying to breathe!) However, they could be fully convinced I’m doing the latter, even though I’m cheering them on in my head. And this waste of psychic energy bemuses and bewilders me, because we all do it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try and combat it. Or maybe I should put my energy into doing a cool head nod instead of a two-fingered wave.

Because those buses that pass me? Where I’m thinking some kid is going to yell something crappy at me? I realized the other day they’re actually empty. There are no kids. I was getting worried/pissed/annoyed for no reason. I (literally in this case!) made it up. Which is just what we do when we think that someone thinks they’re better than us. We don’t know. We’re assigning our insecurities (poor, slow, not at the weight they want to be, old, the list goes on) to them. We’re -ahem- projecting.

So the next time you think that person pulling out the organic lip balm out of her upcycled purse thinks she’s better than you? They’re enjoying themselves while you’re getting yourself in a snit because you think they think they’re superior. They are happy, you are bitching about something that doesn’t exist. How about going and making something that makes you happy instead of finding things to complain about that only exist in your own head?

Just remember that making is about connecting*. Connecting ourselves to others, connecting our hands to the things we make, connecting our brains to our hearts, connecting, connecting, connecting. By thinking that this connecting is about superiority, you’re missing the whole point. It’s about being fully human and following your curiosities instead of what anyone else tells you to do. Or what you think you should do. In diving in to crafts and handmade, we become better versions of ourselves, not superior versions, but fuller versions of who we really are.

*For more on that, see David Gauntlet’s brilliant book, Making is Connecting.


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Yes, Craft Can Save the World. Slowly. (Or, 7 Times Emily Matchar Was Wrong. And 2 Times She Was Right.)

woman knitting loc 1941 copy

So Emily Matchar’s article in the New York Times, Sorry, Etsy. That Handmade Scarf Won’t Save the World., last week was, in a word, flawed. It came up on my radar 3x in 1 week, actually, from radically different individuals.

Here’s the thing, though, she has valid points. Here’s the other thing, I think they’re the wrong points.

1. “Once a mark of poverty, handmade is hot these days.”

Um, really? For everyone? First of all, when making things by hand started, it was necessity, not poverty, that made it a reality. Secondly, this is not an objective truth. It’s a subjective statement, meaning, “in my world, [handmade was] once a mark of poverty.” Thirdly, this statement sucks all the joy out of making, suggesting that craft is solely about making ends meet post-Industrial Revolution, not about actually enjoying said act of craft. This is not a hot note to start on, but I digress.

2. “Our hunger for handmade has gone beyond aesthetics, uniqueness and quality. In progressive circles, buying handmade has come to connote moral virtue, signifying an interest in sustainability and a commitment to social justice.”

Nope nopity nope nope. Just because I care about sustainability and social justice doesn’t mean I get high on “moral virtue.” It means that I give a crap about how things are made and how the people that make them are treated. I make and buy handmade solely because of “aesthetics, uniqueness and quality.” And know scores of people who do, too. The fact that the Times has printed this as from a person who speaks for crafters is two things: a) sad and b) possibly delusional. I’ve read her writing and agree she has her points. However, her points are not the points of many of us.

3. “While buying homemade gifts is a lovely thing to do, thinking of it as a social good is problematic.”

According to Emily it is problematic. Because actually, here’s how and why craft can save the world. Learning to sew and knit and make garments teaches us how they are constructed. Those hours that we spend making garments are not to make ourselves socially superior. We make things because we like to make things. (Or maybe Matchar just hates making things and wants to prove a point?) And in learning how to make things, we begin to understand that the $10 shirt we buy at the store with the handbeading takes 10 hours (or more!) to make. Making things allows us to put this together, which then changes our buying practices. Since we’re a friendly bunch, our friends sometimes want to learn how to make things too, thus, they end up changing their own buying practices. We’re like a cult of slow-moving awesome.

4. “Very few of us will order a $50 handmade scarf on Etsy when one is available for $5 at Target.”

What if the $5 one is horrible and the $50 is just what we want? Once we learn how to construct garments, the game changes. Plus, nylon won’t do wool’s job, amiright? Once we start to make things, we see that if we make (or buy) something that we truly want, we will want to keep it for 10 years (and if we’re choosy about materials, it can even last that long!), not 10 weeks. Making things wisens us up to the fast-fashion problem. And once we begin to put things in our wardrobes that we actually want, they stay. Items that we kind of-sort of like end up being discarded soon.

5. “Is it better for my dollar to go to the likable, just-like-me Brooklyn mom selling handmade headbands on Etsy or to a company that uses garment factories like Alta Gracia?”

Ah, Alta Gracia. This one sounds pretty good, right? Well, not until you realize that there is only ONE Alta Gracia. In fact, it is such a special unicorn there was that whole book written about it. Yes, it is better to put your money towards factories like Alta Gracia. But, in the fast fashion world, Alta Gracia’s are not the norm. Your average factory is doing things like locking doors on workers and not providing toilet paper and not conducting safety checks on fire escapes. Additionally, according to their website, Alta Gracia “sells “collegiate branded products” to the bookstore retail channel.” Now I sure as heck love my hoodies, but wearing sweatpants 24/7 is not my jam. If it is your jam, I apologize, as you were, you elastic-loving shapeless charmer! You are safe in the knowledge that your money is well spent! Yeah!

6. “These same economies of scale most likely make a toothbrush factory less wasteful, in terms of materials, than 100 individual toothbrush makers each handcrafting 10 toothbrushes a day.”

Wait a minute. How did we get to dental products? I am so confused. I do love an argument that is predicated with the words “most likely,” however, don’t you? In other words, there is nothing to see here, she’s just guessing at something to make an argument. Emily dear, I’ve seen your writing, you are worth more than guessing about toothbrushes in an article about scarves.

7. “A potentially positive effect of the handmade movement has been the creation of a new income stream for parents (mostly mothers) and others who need flexible work.”

Yes. This is a truism. The handmade movement has provided a lot of people flexibility to try new ventures. To some that ups the number of crochet dilettantes, but to me, it just means more people trying different ideas on for size… which is pretty dang rad.

8. “It’s important to support artisans who retain knowledge of traditional art forms. Many handmade items are also higher quality than their mass-produced counterparts.”

Yes. This is also true. However, where do they fit in terms of Alta Gracia-level quality? Because if they are better than mass-produced goods, which you clearly state here, your strongest argument so far (#5), is further falling to pieces.

9. “But will buying handmade change the economy or save the world? Not likely.”

According to you it won’t, that is. However, for people off making garments (and shocker, they are even enjoying it!) and realizing the sham of fast fashion, things are changing. Their decisions are making dents in how our future will roll. Small dents, but they are making dents.

Now, when I started my career writing about crafts, I told myself I would never ever be negative about someone’s work. And look, here I am. Am I a hypocrite? Perhaps. However, I’d like to think that I’m speaking up for all the people making changes in their clothes-buying habits. The ones slowly changing how they think about materialism and fast fashion. The ones creating positive dialogue about handmade things, instead of trying to tear down something they don’t even particularly seem to like.

Handmade was here before the resurgence that began around the turn of this century. And it will stay. And people will learn lessons from it and continue to make items they want for their wardrobes. And these choices will be freeing and amazing and ultimately help change the conversation away from needing to hit the latest sale at The Gap. No, it will not be a fast change, but making garments isn’t a fast process, either. And we like it that way.

And no, my tiny blog is not the New York Times. But maybe, just maybe, someone will read this and remember that handmade can save the world in its own way. And feel proud about wanting to learn new things, instead of dissed at doing it for “moral virtue.”

Yes, there is room for all sorts of voices regarding craft, even for this article I’m railing against. And because there’s room for it, there’s also room for a piece that is a reminder of how good craft can be. How good makers can be. How good for us (on a global level) it is to learn how to make things. How making things gives us an education about how unfair things are in this world. And, yes, a piece about how our skills can change the world, by the items that we create, by the purchases we don’t make, and the resulting conversations we have in that wake.

Craft and Privilege, Part 3: Looking at our Legacy.

If you haven’t already read them, I suggest reading Craft and Privilege Part 1 and Part 2 before reading this post.

Funnily enough, I didn’t intend on making this a 3-part blog post when I first wrote about Craft and Privilege last week. However, it opened so many cans of worms, that I felt like there was more to add.

First off, as asked in a comment to the first post, I want to talk a little bit about class privilege. The type of privilege I am addressing here. Of course, not every crafter in the whole world is privileged; however, those most represented and known on the crafternet are. We’re the type of crafter that can afford to buy $80 a sweater for yarn and not have to worry about how we’re going to eat and/or pay the electricity bill that month. And because of that reality, we have a privilege that a lot of people don’t have. And since people tend to have friends that are similar to themselves, it’s entirely possible you don’t even think you’re privileged because everyone in your world is just like you. Does that mean that this is applicable to everyone? Heck no. But it’s applicable to many people.

If you’ve ever heard me speak or read any of my essays, it won’t come as a surprise that I think that Riot Grrrl had a lot to do with setting the stage for the craft resurgence to happen. It allowed many of us to realize that we could do anything we wanted, and was incredibly important for many women, as it allowed us to hear, see, and understand, some of us for the first time, the power of our own voices. (For more about my position on Riot Grrrl, go look over here (2005) and here (2015), two posts about RG written a decade apart.

However, Riot Grrrl’s importance and legacy was tainted by the fact that people viewed it as something only applicable to privileged white girls. I mean, it’s such a negative part of it that people have written papers on it. According to that last link, even Corin Tucker criticized Riot Grrrl, a movement that she was earlier involved with:

Corin Tucker’s song “White Girl” addresses her own privilege and disgust with the Riot Grrrl movement but envisions a solution: one that suggests change will only occur once criticism could be directed inward at the movement’s inherent lack of inclusion.

And with all the blog posts about making all the pretty things and $80-yarn sweaters and items that in 2001 would have been DIYed and been imperfectly perfect are done professionally by teams hired to churn out blog content, we are heading down that road. Meaning that the craft movement will not be seen as helpful and exciting and freeing and post-third wave (feminism), it will be seen as privileged and boring and perfectly milquetoast.

By buying into the idea that we have to be perfect, we are becoming a microcosm of what the Industrial Revolution brought us. We are becoming enemies of our imperfections in order to get more likes and shares and blog hits. And yes, some of our handcrafted goods have had all the “good” sucked out of them because we’re reaching for a perfected conflation of our very selves.

And that the craft resurgence could be seen as anything less amazing and powerful and strong breaks my fucking heart. In two. Because in the beginning (2000-2002), it was about curiosity and being proud of yourself because you could make things and about reclaiming something that a lot of us were taught to avoid given what the second wave taught us. It was about reclaiming our power, not about privilege. The more we go astray from that sense of power and wonder that the craft resurgence was fucking founded on, the more we teeter on the edge of possible whitewashing the whole thing.

Because craft, true honest craft, was about utilitarianism and learning new things and providing yourself (and loved ones) with things that were made just how you wanted. It was not about money or competition or likes. It wasn’t about stress or working yourself into the ground. It was about everyone (every color, gender, age, income) making things.

And around the beginning of this century, craft was fun. And reclaiming it meant we were at a point where we could make things and pay our own bills. But now, everyone has professionalized things to a point where there is no room for play. Or making a mistake. Or deep, honest, fucking visceral authenticity. And I’m beginning to feel like Corin Tucker, you guys. And my heart is in pieces. So here, to the handful of you that read this on my newly-resurrected blog, I ask you, to making craft fun again for you. For us. For our legacy.

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