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Craft and Privilege, Part 2: Redefining What Crafty and Creative Mean

So to follow up to last week’s 5 Ways Crafters are Privileged… And What To Do About It post… Earlier today this lovely post by Pip Lincolne came up on my radar about prioritizing creativity. And truth be told, I was actually disheartened by the comments.

Because I started wondering, “How many people commenting are the sole breadwinners for their families?” And I felt like a jackass. And an effin’ giant pit grew in my stomach that literally made me nauseous. Because I do believe in creativity and beautiful things and that they’re important.

I also started wondering how many of the commenters have worked minimum-wage jobs. Then I checked out this survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which put things in perspective and made that argument kind of moot, for the most part.

And talking about this sort of thing is so difficult in the creative (especially the craft) world because it is heavily divisive. Or maybe we just don’t want to check the weight of our own safety nets. Because many (I won’t go as far as saying “most”) of us have options. And like I said last week, we will never have to choose between the electricity bill and food.

Part of ingesting this means understanding that this is not about feeling (or being made to feel) guilty. We were all born into our unique circumstances with our own unique struggles. It’s not as if we orchestrated our own births, so there’s nothing to feel guilty over if we utilize what we have. If we give back. If we understand that not everyone has time to prioritize creativity. They might want to do so, but may not have the same resources or support network that we have.

We need to realize that that reality exists and then we need to give back where we can. Donate handmade (and bought, yet no longer worn) clothes of good quality to shelters and organizations so that others can wear something and shine and feel special. Donate your time to volunteering so that others (two-legged and four-legged alike) can benefit. Yarnbomb that abandoned lot so that it turns into less of an eyesore for neighbors. Make a basketball net for those empty hoops and hang it up. Speak up where others are afraid to. Share stories of how to help others within your networks.

The point here is to not demonize the craft community for having access to resources, but to realize that not everyone is in the same position. That through your/our enthusiasm to handmade things, you can show others how they can be more easily attainable by teaching them, donating supplies, and showing how being creative doesn’t necessarily meaning taking hours out of your day, but can take minutes.

Because many crafters and creatives have access to resources, those terms have become ones that some people believe they can’t otherwise embody. And as some people think, “being creative” doesn’t equal “wasting time,” because it is invaluable. We just need to help reframe it. You can just have an online masters degree, be skilled and Voila – the perfect concoction of getting famous with recognition.

We are creative when we take a different walk home from work each day or make tidying up a fun game or heck, find a new way to lace up our shoes. We are “creative” when we bring ourselves into what we are doing, which can cost nothing and take up no extra time. We are “crafty” when we do something fun with the empty toilet paper roll or weave pine needles into something or make a daisy chain out of flowers.

Therefore, it’s time to make “creative” and “crafty” more accessible again by remembering their roots. And in doing so, we can remind people that it’s not about having your own craft room or website, it’s about taking the time to make your day more enjoyable. But first, we need to realize our own circumstances, own that not everyone’s may be the same, and come up with ways to lessen that gap.

P.S. And, ha! Be sure that when typing in frustration/bewilderment, you ALWAYS check your titles! There was some rearranging, hemming, and hawing on this, but alas, “means” even though edited to be the correct “mean” in the title, remains forevs in the actual link!

P.P.S. I decided to write a third (and final) post about craft and privilege, which you can read here.

5 Ways Most Crafters are Privileged… And What to Do About It

The other week I spent $80 on yarn. True, it was to make an absolutely amazing vest called Goodale by Cecily Glowik MacDonald. (Go check it out here.) A vest that I saw a friend wearing and immediately asked who designed it. I am making it with Tangier by Cascade in Seascape. It is my jam.

However, I’m not exactly rolling in the dough seeing that I just started freelancing. More like skipping among the crumbs as I get the word out… But I bought it. I bought the damn yarn, the damn beautiful yarn. Given my strong support network, I will most likely never be in a situation where I have to choose between food and the electricity bill. And I am forever grateful to be in this position. As in humbled daily by it, because it allows me to sleep better at night as I have a solid place to call home.

But, still, I bought $80 yarn. It is pretty and soft and is doing that really cool stripey thing which non-knitters may think I engineered myself. (Yes!) And, I would expect that most of the people I know in the craft world could also buy $80 of yarn (more on that below). I also think that most of us will never have to make the decision between food and the electricity bill. Or at least not for our whole lives. By this standard, we are all privileged.

So what do we do with this privilege? Act like we don’t have it? Act like we’re a super diverse group of people and just ignore the fact that the majority of us are privileged?

1. First of all, given what the Industrial Revolution started, that we knit or otherwise craft for pleasure is an example of our privilege. Because those without are too busy working to put food on the table to monogram a pillow. (Yes, there are exceptions, but not everyone has an evening free for some crochet and a Netflix binge.)

What we can do about it: We can accept our privilege fully, and in doing so, we may start thinking about doing things for others who are less fortunate. By not trying to ignore it, we can make a difference by the fact that we’re admitting it to ourselves.

2. Secondly, that we have the income (or the credit card limit) that allows us to buy craft supplies at all makes us privileged. Not everyone has the extra money to spend on organic beets and nice yarn. To many, those things are luxuries, well, maybe not the beets so much.

What we can do about it: We can donate what we’re not using to worthy places, because there schools and shelters (along with other groups and organizations) out there where those supplies would be used and loved, instead of taking up space in your attic. Start with this Google search and reclaim your space by allowing your unused supplies to have a brand new adventure!

3. That we have the power to either ignore or kvetch about our privilege means we’re privileged. I know it may sound crazy, but dude, millions of people do not have internet access. And some of those people may live just down the street. In fact, check this out, according to Slate, “less than 40 percent of people worldwide have connected to the internet.” While the reality of this may be lost on your kids, it should be very clear to us adults.

What we can do about it: Stop complaining about our old laptop or shitty internet provider, expecting to get honest sympathy from real grown ups. Donate our old technology (that still works) to charitable organizations who really don’t care if it takes that YouTube video 30 extra seconds to open. Have a look here for where to donate if you don’t know where to start.

4. That we have the option to hoard all those craft supplies means that we’re privileged. It’s not just that we hoard them, but that we don’t have to always use what we bought right away.

What we can do about it: We can make sure that what we have, we use or donate (see above). We can make smarter decisions about what we buy and not just buy something because it’s a good deal. We can use the privilege to make better choices.

5. That we have so many options around us all the time makes us privileged. We’re not making things by hand because we have no other choice.

What we can do about it: We have a learning opportunity in front of us to see how clothes are made as we learn how to construct them. By seeing how much time goes into the process, we can start to question how that top with all the hand beading at Forever 21 is $10. Then, we can learn more about where our clothes are from and support brands that are paying their workers well and caring for their wellbeing when we do buy readymade clothes. We can educate others on the dangers of fast fashion by sharing how long it took to make that top. Opening this dialogue can really make for some interesting conversations.

This is just a short list of the many ways our community holds privilege.

And as crafters and creatives, I think it’s important to also be mindful of what we’re consuming while making things by hand. And therefore we should use the lessons that we learn from crafting and creating to help others become more aware of so very many things we take for granted. And there are ways to do so that aren’t annoying, just like in #5, talking to someone about how you made that scarf or skirt. Doing so creates dialogue, which can change minds, which can change behaviors.

ETA: I decided to write more about this issue; therefore, you can see Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

CAFAM, Male Quilters, and the Death of Ironic Craft.

First of all, I want to say that I think all the quilters participating in CAFAM’s Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters are both amazing and amazingly talented. It’s a show I’d like to see; however, its title is one that I think needs some unpacking, so it and its ilk can be vanquished to the past once the show is over.

Every time gender orientation is used to denote a separateness in craft, it’s just one skip and jump away from exploiting difference as a moneymaker vs. celebration of that difference. When the craft resurgence began at the start of this century, the supposed irony of it was a continued topic of note. When I was talking about writing my uni dissertation on knitting and community development, one of my advisors was literally gobsmacked and said something to the effect of, “I would expect you to be researching punk rock tattoo parlors instead of knitting!” He couldn’t wrap his head around it.

This kind of reaction quickly led to a reframing of feminism, in that now we could use a drill and knitting needles and pay our own way, there was no need to shy away from work in the domestic sphere. I was one of many who wrote essays and columns about this, about the transitions that feminism had taken to get where we could knit our own items and not feel guilty (as some of the women I knew did). Given that being young and knitting was seen as such a cultural juxtaposition, it was ripe for the intrusion of irony.

Therefore, all the needlework done by our grandmothers was seen as uncool and of times gone by, because we, the tattooed, pierced, thrift store-clad ones, knew what was hip. But what we forgot to see was that one day, our work will also be seen as uncool and of times gone by. We will become our grandmothers. And instead of taking our grandmothers’ work and praising it for skill (because it’s still skill even if you don’t like the aesthetic choices, right?), it was mocked at large, as something done of a different, less-hip era. And we should be ashamed of ourselves, because irony is not cool, it’s a tearing down of someone else’s vision in order to elevate yourself, nothing more.

So, in this light, when I saw posts about this show at CAFAM, I was astounded that this was still an angle with which to reach people. That this was still something that is deemed necessary. That the best curatorial solution here was “Look! It’s dudes who quilt?! Isn’t that hilarious/awesome/a novelty? This is so creative!” vs. let’s show some quilts made by people that are inspiring/working with different materials/whathaveyou. Because choosing irony, choosing gender vs. method or skills, as a marker of things to display is a cheap shot in the light of all the other amazing things people are creating.

And while I wish for this show to be successful and for all the artists within it to gain useful contacts from their being showcased, I also wish that we could put irony to bed. Forever. That we could start looking at craft objects that were created with different aesthetics and see them as valuable for their skill. That we stop putting our grandmothers down in the name of success, because it sounds hip or funny. That we start taking from history in a way that celebrates it vs. mocks its outdated fashions.

Because I don’t find irony funny anymore, especially when it comes to craft. I want to share skills with my relatives, not make fun of their aesthetic choices. I want to stop seeing places, businesses, and museums try to make a quick buck off of irony and show us some badass historical skills instead. Or what people are doing now that needs to be celebrated despite what their gender orientation is. I know that people that look like me may not be expected to knit or make things by hand, even now, 15 years on, but we do, and it’s awesome. We should be turning the “What? You knit?” questions around and asking, “Do you make anything by hand?” and share knowledge instead.

But first, we need to work on our relationship with the past a bit, vs. trying so hard to forget about it. We need to stop using the past’s aesthetic choices against them, because all those felted cozies will look just as out-of-date as those shell-art lanterns in a few years. We need to be okay with the fact that people of all orientations like to craft and that’s not weird or particularly even worth celebrating. So down with irony and its celebration, up with celebrating those that make at all in 2015, because it’s still a beautiful choice. And just by the act of making crafty things, we are all united, no matter what gender or age. To me, that’s what’s worth holding on to and celebrating, our connectedness, not what may appear as different to some.

Why Craft = Punk Rock (A Revisit from 2004)

This is repost from March 23, 2004. You can see the entirety of that post here. I still think that the “grandmother” issues is as important today as it was then. What do you think? Also, aren’t you glad I use “regular” punctuation now?

there is a press frenzy surrounding [knitting] and i’ve been dealing with people who are calling knitting a ‘trend,’ a ‘fad,’ a ‘craze’ and i can’t help but get a little but frustrated by it all yet continually finding it all naive. both my reaction to the press interest as well as their wanting to just find a creative angle to fit their byline.

i don’t do my various crafts because it’s ‘trendy,’ although i do sometimes have crafty dreams that include everyone turning off their televisions and making stuff, whether it’s knitting a sweater or making macaroni necklaces or screenprinting fliers for a local demo. anything as long as you are letting your passion be your guide rather than what’s seen a ‘popular for the moment.’

i’m fascinated by the emails i get from people in regards to their pure love of various crafts. some of them are confused about what i’m trying to do here with this blog or in various work i do. i want to be a resource for people that want to help other people with their various crafty endeavours. maybe i’m helping to fill that void, or maybe i’m just taking up more space on the interweb, i’m not sure most days.

no, everything i make doesn’t go to charity. but some of it does.

the other part of my crafty dream is that everyone becomes conscious of all of their actions.by asking things like: do i need this? do i want to support this company? how can i help? where does my passion lie?

it is all quite emo and i’m sure my parents would conclude that i’m now a hippie.

but it’s about more than that.

my background is firmly entrenched in punk rock. i was always cutting and pasting my own little zines (and then hiding them under my bed because i felt they were crap) or daydreaming about playing drums in the next bikini kill.

but i never felt like i was good enough at anything really to make my mark. it was only when i started learning to knit, crochet, embroider, screenprint, make books, felt, etc etc that i regained my own sense of self and that fire that punk rock put in my belly when i was 16.

craft to me is very punk rock and it’s hard to read article after article about how craft is just for ‘grannies.’ i love my grandmother who knits, she is kickass, but i’m also inspired daily by the way that punk rock influences my own brand of activism and craft. craftivism, if you will.

who knows, maybe you feel the same way, maybe not. but i can never ignore how punk rock shaped my crafting. i owe my creativity to it, and it’s so not just a trend. and some days i get homesick for people who understand that.


A Little Bit of Prisoner Knitting: Pre-1920

Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a large collection of craftivist, activist, and therapeutic craft photos, essays, and resources from various searches online. Many of them I’ve shared here, but not all by a long shot. It’s photos like this that truly pique my interest in what we can do with craft. The links below need more research, but nonetheless, I wanted to share them, as they are definitely exciting!

On the Library of Congress>website, this is filed under “Prison education.” And I wonder, what was the greater plan here?

Don’t get me wrong, I highly value knitting and the skills it brings. However, were they planning on doing custom work like the incredibly talented inmates who work with Fine Cell Work? Or was this mislabeled under “education?”

The photo above is the twine plant at Wisconsin State Prison in Waupun, Wisconsin. As you can see below, this was clearly dedicated as a source of revenue, and, it an incredibly different type of activity than knitting by hand. However, a “knitting industry” is mentioned below, too.

“1862 – A cabinet shop is opened in the prison. In the next ten years, the prison will add a shoe shop, a tailor shop, a wagon factory, and an expansion to the cabinet shop for other furniture and chairs. By 1878, the revenues will be sufficient to allow the prison to run without drawing appropriations from the state’s treasury. A knitting industry is added in 1893, a twine plant in 1912, a cannery in 1915, a license plate operation in 1917, a print shop in the early 1920s, and a laundry in 1940. The laundry, license plate, wood and metal furniture, printing and signage, silk-screening, and tailoring operations survive to this day at the prison.”

Going further back in history, check out this, which needs further research for sure:

“The First Poor-House Erected: In 1734, the first poor-house was erected on the site of the present county court-house. It was forty-six feet long, twenty-four feet wide, and two stories high, with a cellar, all of gray stone. It was furnished with spinning-wheels, leather and tools for shoemaking, knitting needles, flax, etc., for the employment of the inmates. All paupers were required to work under penalty of mild punishments, and parish children were taught the three “R’s” and employed at useful labor. The house was also used for the correction of unruly slaves. A vegetable garden was laid out near the house, and the inmates cultivated it for the use of the institution.”

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