Musing on craft theory (because my camera cord is missing again)

by Sayraphim on June 6, 2009

So I’ve been running around all week working on a film, I cooked an ace thing and photographed a bunch of cool stuff but can’t find my blasted camera cord, AGAIN, so all those ace images are still trapped in my camera.

So instead I figured I’d talk about the other thing that’s been on my mind.

Craft theory, craft and feminism.

The other day I bought two books in my ever growing Craft library (through which I’ve noticed that I appear to be interested in 3 rough categories: Theory, History and Sociology). One of the new books is Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch by Betsy Greer, and the other is Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl. I know, I know, if I’m looking at craft and theory, really, I should have started with Handmade Nation, the bible of the indy craft, but the road I took was interesting none the less.

There seems to be two types of craft books. One is the How To, Tutorial or Practical type which shows a certain number different projects to do on some kind of theme. The awesome Meet Me At Mikes book is an excellent example of this. Pip called together a number of crafty bloggers to submit projects to publish in a book. The other type is the more theoretical or academic craft book. Why people craft, the history of them doing it, that kind of thing. No Idle Hands is one of these kinds of theoretical craft books, it’s a social history of knitting in America.

Something that I’ve noticed is that all of the more academic craft books are often written with a feminist bent, and it’s taken me a little bit to work out why. My current theory is that people involved in feminism and politics are used to sitting around having a bit of a think about things, and it’s those people who are motivated to writing books about their theories. People who use craft as a way to make gifts and show love often do it with much less theorising in mind.

In Knitting for Good, our very own Rayna Fahey of Radical Cross Stitch is interviewed, and her opening sentence is “I’m one of those people who totally believe that everything you do is political.“(p116) Coming at crafting from such an angle, it’s not surprising that Rayna has thought a lot about crafting and the political side of crafting. She did a degree in women’s studies and tunes a lot of that into her work. Clearly someone like Rayna would abound with theories and thinking about craft itself, and want to share that with the world. On the other end of the scale is someone like Martha Stweart, who has been teaching people How To for years, but doesn’t really delve into the Why.

An interesting concept that I’ve only jsut come across is that women who identify themselves as feminist sometimes have trouble fitting their desire to craft into their world view. Greer mentions that she struggled for a while to feel comfortable doing an activity that women have done for so long. She writes thatonce she figured it out, that “we can choose to re-enter the kitchen without feeling like we’re bending to cultural sterotypes” (p18). I thought this was fascinating, that some feminists have backed themselves into a corner and find themselves unable to do things they want because they feel it’s catering to a sterotype that they’ve worked so hard to reject.

Greer’s book is a good one for the beginner craft-thinker, it has questions at the end of each chapter such as “How did you come to craft? What paths crossed in your life to bring you toward knitting and/or the handmade?…”(p21) which was a strange thing to read for someone who’s already answered those questions for herself and has moved on. But I don’t think this book is aimed at me, it’s really aimed at those people who craft, but are casting around for their craft to mean more to themselves.

Having said that, it’s a great book for the little interviews showcasing crafty type people you might not come across otherwise. For instance, I was delighted to read about Cinnamon Cooper of The DIY Trunk Show, who crafts for a similar reason to myself. She writes “(as she sat at her mothers sewing machine) I had a revelation. My great grandmother did this. My grandmother did this. My mother does this. I’m doing this. I’m a link. It’s my responsibility to learn these ‘womens things’ and pass them on.

I was so happy to read that. One of the reasons I’ve been researching craft is that I want to know WHY people craft. I am well aware that this is in part because I want to know why my grandmother crafted for her entire life. She died around a year ago, and so I’ve missed my chance to ask her. So instead I research craft theory, and there’s a tiny idea that maybe one day someone will give me an answer and suddenyl I’ll know in my heart that it was the reason she crafted. But in reality, it’s probably not going to happen, and anyway, that’s not the only reason or indeed my main reason for the research. I’m also curious because I want to know why people craft themselves. And I’m curious about myself, and why crafting is so important to me. Reading Cinnamon’s words, something resonated inside me, and I could nod and say – yes. That’s one of the reasons I do it!

I’m also interested in every apect of craft theory, whe whys, wherefores, the history and everything else. And that’s the main reason with all this reading, I want to know More!!!

So all in all, I’m happy I bought the book, there’s loads of interesting ideas in it, even if some of her revelations arn’t so new to me.

When I finish it, I’ll head straight onto Handmade Nation. And I’m quite looking forward to that.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

pen June 8, 2009 at 2:25 am

Whilst I'm totally into the theory I sometimes think we over analyse why we do things on a political and social level and really should just accept that making is incredibly good for our inner lives/soul. It is a physical manifestation of problem solving/imagination/dreams/etc. In this day of instant gratification it is good to be aware of how long something takes to be made and to be part of the process from start to finish.

Sayraphim June 10, 2009 at 1:18 am

Hey Pen
I do think that it's a danger, to over intellectualise everything. I was thinking about it the other night, and thinking that I should really apply these questions to myself – why is it that _I_ craft? And watching the smile on my partner's face as I crochet him a blanket, or watching my niece play with something I've made her is enough for me. While there are times that many reasons and layers are in play, I think that you're right in saying sometimes it's just for the making.
Thank you!

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