when cultural production becomes counter-productive.

The other day I received an email: “I feel left out of the craft community and I know that it’s part of my insecurity…Also, I am also seeing a kind of heirarchy in relation to crafters. It feels a bit like high school where there are the cool kids and everyone else. ”


The email brought up some very very important points that often go ignored, even though as the craft boom continues, they grow larger and larger.

Lately I have been getting more and more frustrated with issues surrounding cultural production. With issues regarding the cultural production of crafts in particular. What started out as a way to nurture creativity and circumvent materialist culture has lately inverted itself. A few years ago as hipsters everywhere were beginning to knit and craft it seemed like heaven, as all of a sudden people were embracing skills that many of us had never been allowed to fully enjoy.

After a few half-assed attempts in Girl Scouts to macrame or bead, I was urged to play sports. It really didn’t matter what sport, as long as sweat or lycra were involved. It also didn’t matter whether or not I was very good. I remember one horrific soccer game (in high school, no less!) where I played against someone I had babysat for the week prior. My grandmother taught me to cross-stitch, but one slightly awry bookmark of a cow later, and I had lost my enthusiasm.

I still don’t know why I had the sudden urge to knit in 2000, other than it seemed like a good way to volunteer my time at convalescent homes and learn something new at once. So I learned and tapped into a vein of creativity that I hadn’t been united with since sometime in the early 80s. I was overjoyed to discover Get Crafty months later, where I ravenously learned about how to make marble magnets and record bowls and lip balm.

A part of me was awakened that had been dormant since the early 90s when I discovered Riot Grrrl and was for the first time ever allowed to express my anger safely and honestly about being assaulted and abused. I created zines in my bedroom that never saw the light of day, I listened to 7″s and screamed along with Christina Billotte, but I never fully felt part of the action because my rage, while seething, didn’t subside or heal.

All that anger was trapped inside of me, and wasn’t until I picked up knitting needles and yarn and saw something positive coming from the work of my own two hands that I began to rechannel all that energy into something good and restorative. Like I did with being alternative (remember that?) and then grunge and then Riot Grrrl, I knew that one day the craft bubble was going to burst and that negativity would leach into my happy little world where I not only came to peace with myself, but with my past.

And as I hear more and more stories of companies and individuals blatantly stealing the ideas of my friends and peers, I can’t help but think of how we’ve come full circle. From the onset where we were trying to escape the mainstream and delve into uniquity and cheering each other on, to 2005 where individuals are stealing others ideas in hopes of a quick and easy profit. Instead of co-opting ideas from the megamarts and making them our own, we’re robbing from our own microculture and microeconomy.

As has happened before, I am watching intently as the craft world slowly begins to implode into itself. And I am sad for all the people being copied and disheartened and for all the negative energy that is being created. But I am happy that no matter what occurs, I will have emerged from this craft resurgence with a wealth of friends and colleagues larger than I ever would have imagined as a 17 year old poring over the K Records catalog and crushing on Calvin or as an unhappy benchwarmer for a basketball team I could have cared less about.

It is for those of you who continue to touch my life with your kindness and creativity who make all my creations that much more dear. Your wisdom, your honesty and your joy has not only reunited me with my craft tools of the early 80s, it has allowed me to turn that anger into beauty, for which I shall always be indebted. I just hope that you continue to connect with that creativity once the hip factor has come and gone, because you help make the world more beautiful.

5 Responses to when cultural production becomes counter-productive.

  1. dixie September 15, 2005 at 12:05 pm #

    I read your post before I headed to work and I think your K Records reference is what prompted me to grab my Calvin CD as I walked out the door. You know, he has a new record coming out next month? Did you see the funny picture of him in Venus?

    Elitism makes me sad. I don’t know all the details prompting this, but… I am sometimes saddened by the crafty elitism within my own town. I mean, it’s super cool that so many crafty ladies have had success but it would be cool if they could still come play with the lower crafty ladies and not make their whole lives about promoting their business. maybe I am being too harsh and general with that statement…

    my crafty group sometimes discusses what makes you craft now and it seems most everyone had a somewhat crafty mom and also crafted when crafting wasn’t cool. maybe that is a distinction – did you craft when crafting wasn’t cool? I used to do totally cheesy cross-stitching… it wasn’t cool.

    I remember a girl in high school who was completely cool and dare I use the word?, alternative, and she cross-stitched in our math class and I thought, “wow, that’s so bold.” she is now on a fairly decent record label and doesn’t seem bold or cool at all now.

    I think I’m babbling, but I like your musings.

  2. dixie September 15, 2005 at 12:08 pm #

    p.s. I took a picture last night after I made my october sampler contributions and I thought that maybe I could use it for CDP. so I downloaded the photos this a.m. and checked to delete after importing. right after they imported, I kicked the reset button on the computer (I have been doing this a lot and apparently need to build a protective barrier around the reset button) and not only did it not keep the photos on the hard drive but it nicely deleted them off the camera. poo.

  3. Giao September 15, 2005 at 3:18 pm #

    The whole crafting world right now is on the cusp of something interesting. The implosion might be imminent, but I think there are some great long-term creatives (I think Dixie is right about having always been crafty and/or having a crafty mom) who will ride out this weird phenomenon of swiping and categorizing by popularity.

  4. Shannon September 15, 2005 at 9:03 pm #

    ooh, I hate the popularity thing. I have been feeling it my entire life, and I feel it now in the crafty world. And I think, well, what about this “movement” did I think was going to make me feel like I am on the inside for once?
    It comes down to this: I KNOW I am creative, creative in a way that has nothing to do with trendiness. I get a little sad sometimes when I watch the club from the sidelines, but it doesn’t shake me deeply anymore. Cause I think if you get a backstage pass, it’s really not all that much more exciting back there. If at all.
    A while back, I saw someone (who I didn’t know) post somewhere about how when she started crafting she was DIY, but she is a businesswoman now, and taking herself more seriously (which is good, right?) and therefore not relating to the DIY ethic anymore. Maybe this is happening on a bigger scale? Capitalism and ownership. They cause problems, man.

    P.S. I met Calvin at a party once and he was a really raging asshole in a totally uncalled for elitist way. FWIW. I need to get over my problem with Olympia, though, so…I have issues. Maybe it’s cause my in-laws live there? Or maybe it’s cause I am sad that I lived there in riotgrrl days rather than Tropicana days…

  5. Steph September 16, 2005 at 7:59 pm #

    Yeah, I can relate to the whole feeling left out thing. I definately feel like I’m not really in the “in” crafty crowd or the “in” zine crowd, but in the long run it really doesn’t matter. I just do what I do.

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