My courses in Women’s Studies have given me the voice and tools to go out in the world and create change to better our society.
The third wave of feminism has raised knitting, sewing, needlework, and all of the crafts traditionally performed by women to a high status by respecting the work of women who have come before and by changing these crafts to suit the needs of their modern day advocates. Crafting is infinitely important to feminism and women’s studies for a number of reasons. It is a large part of women’s history, it has played a role in women’s political activism, and it has provided women with an outlet for creativity in both the past and the present.
The recent history of women’s crafts is complicated and turbulent. Sewing and knitting were essential skills for clothing one’s family, and so all girls were taught at a young age that they might contribute to the household as well as learn what they needed to know to keep their own families warm someday (Stoller 2003). Since they had little choice in the matter, and because these activities were so gendered, there is some bitterness associated with knitting and sewing. Debbie Stoller, author of the best-selling Stitch ‘n Bitch books and editor of the third-wave feminist magazine Bust, writes that her grandmother told her that “in the evening, the boys were free to do anything they liked, but all the girls had to sit and knit” (2003). This forced production and the denouncing of crafts by second-wave feminism added to the devaluation and negative views of women’s work (Railla 2004). Third-wave feminism helped to renew the interest in and respect for these crafts, thanks in part to magazines such as Bust and books like Stitch ‘n Bitch and Jean Railla’s Get Crafty. By not only supporting knitting and sewing but reconditioning them to fit the needs and wants of modern crafters, these and other books make the crafts not only acceptable but desirable and practical. Beyond that, merely respecting the work of women who came before is vital to a true understanding of women’s history and to feminism. Railla puts it best when she writes “our culture views women’s work as stupid, simple, suffocating—things that can easily be replaced by mechanization, crappy fast food, hiring poor women, and neglect—precisely because women have always done them…I am not suggesting that every women should enjoy knitting and cooking and embroidery. But I am suggesting that we give women’s work its props as something valuable, interesting, and important…It’s not stupid and it’s not easy; it’s damn hard work that we need to respect. Moreover, it is our history, and dismissing it only doubles the injustice already done to women who didn’t have any choice but to be domestic in the first place.” (O’Connor 2005: 18)
Through the history of women’s crafts to the modern day reincarnations, they have provided women with an outlet for their creativity. Even when they did not have a choice as to what they knit or sewed, they came up with interesting techniques and details to make their work more interesting and unique—adding new stitch patterns to a plain sweater, sewing a dress in a different way, and generally changing the crafts to keep them interesting. Crafts are still a way for women to express themselves and they continue to change them to suit their needs and styles.
In terms of political activism, crafting was used by women in Chile to tell the rest of the world the inhumanity they faced at the hands of ruthless dictator General Pinochet during the 1970s and 1980s (Argosin 1996). The women embroidered scraps of fabric with pictures telling the stories of their missing or dead family members, sewed them into large tapestries known as arpilleras, and smuggled them out of the country (Argosin 1996). Activism in this form is still alive and well; Cat Mazza, a New York-based knitter, has started microRevolt.org, a website devoted to raising awareness and protesting sweatshops and corporate-logo apparel (Gschwandtner 2006). She does so by encouraging knitters to take corporate logos as their own, and even developed software to help them turn pictures into graphed knitting patterns (Gschwandtner 2006). The main projects have been to knit corporate logos into blankets and to present them to the corporations in protest of their sweatshop practices (Gschwandtner 2006).
The importance of crafting to women and feminism in the future is the maintenance of the history of women’s crafts, as well as the personal benefits it provides, such as relaxation, creativity, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. Knitting has been dubbed “the new yoga” for its ability to relax the knitter, and many people cite the tactile experience of knitting and other crafts as a break from the world of mechanization and technology (Railla 2004). The main benefit, asserts Railla, is that today women have a choice—women can choose to knit or sew, or they can choose to do other crafts, or they can choose not do any crafts at all (2004). Because women today do not have to churn out a pair of socks a day and instead are free to make whatever they want, the crafts become much more enjoyable. Finally, by maintaining the history and keeping these crafts alive, an increased sense of respect for women’s work is developed, both for the crafter and those who observe her crafting or see the finished products. Remembering that other women did have to churn out a pair of socks a day adds to the value of projects today because it makes women appreciative and respectful of what others have accomplished and grateful for the choices and opportunities that exist now.
Argosin, Marjorie. Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love: The Arpillera Movement in Chile, 1974-1994. New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
Gschwandtner, Sabrina. “MicroRevolt: Knitting as Resistance to Sweatshop Labor.” Interweave Knits, Winter 2006, Volume XI, No. 4. p. 6 (1 page).
O’Connor, Jennifer. “Riot Prrrls: Cast Off Your Stereotypes.” Herizons, Summer 2005, Vol. 19, Issue 1. pp. 16-44 (5 pages).
Railla, Jean. Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.
Stoller, Debbie. Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook. New York: Workman Publishing, 2003.