Today I’ve heard two comments that have lit a raging fire in my belly. A fire that has inspired a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for an eon. A fire for all of us who have ever had the craft that we do diminished, either in person or online. And this my friends, is probably all of us, because one of the narratives that is strong and persistent within our culture is that craft is trivial.
Just this morning my darling son walked into my study to find me on my computer with knitting in my hands. I had just read a comment on the interweb that stated that discussions about craft were privileged, and essentially indulgent, in a world where so many people were struggling to survive, people who didn’t have the choice, time or money to make. I was mulling over the comment – when my darling son said “look at you sitting there knitting like some old granny”. Two flaming arrows in five minutes. Talk about light me up.
To my son I said – “My love, how many grannies do you actually know who knit?”
Him: “Well there’s grandma.”
Me: “Yes, but nearly every woman you know knits, and none of them are grandmas, so why are you perpetuating a stereotype that is not true in your world. For that matter, where did you even get that stereotype from? You are surrounded by people who knit who are in their 30s and 40s. And for that matter, why would knitting like a grandma be a bad thing, you crazy kid? Why are you dissing the grandmas?”
Him (with a smile as big as his head): “Well, your hair is grey”.
Me: “Off you go, you ridiculous wind-up merchant”.
My first question is – how strong does a stereotype need to be that a child in my home – the home of a woman who crafts all the time and is surrounded by a vibrant craft community - that my child, is pedaling this narrative? A narrative that suggests craft is ridiculous, and trivial, as it is only done by old ladies, who obviously have no value to us as a society due to their age, and therefore their chosen activity should be a thing of scorn and derision due to it’s worthlessness.
My second question is - how is it that when we talk about our craft practice – around how to make with more thought and intention - that we are reduced to a bunch of people who aren’t acknowledging their privilege? That we become people who don’t care about the real issues in the world as we are obviously thinking too much about this trivial hobby. This thinking is prevalent more widely too, in discussions about slow fashion, and food choices, and environmental stewardship. If we care about any of those things we are simply not acknowledging our privilege. I don’t think this is true.
We can acknowledge our privilege, work towards change, and also spend time talking about, and doing, a thing that brings us pleasure and joy and purpose and meaning. And well-being.
Thinking about craft, how we can use it to make our lives better, is important because craft can change our lives for the better, and it can change the lives of people who aren’t in positions of privilege, especially if we are thoughtful about it and conscious. It can change things because we are all connected.
You see, I am trying to change my corner of the world through my craft. I am trying to name our shared experience so that we can share it with others who might benefit from it. And I’m trying to see if we can figure out how to think about making things in a way that sustains us more beautifully.
We can improve the experience of our lives by changing the quality of our thoughts and minds. I’m trying to promote the idea that making is an innate part of our humanness, and engaging with making elevates our lives.
Craft is not trivial.
Culturally we seem to have a special distain reserved for craft that it seems is not given to other activities. People who make art aren’t trivialized in the same way as crafters. They are celebrated for trying to change culture. People who spend to much time thinking about sport aren’t chastised or trivialized for it. Instead sport is celebrated for it’s health benefits. Or take people who are obsessed with their dogs. Well, they are looking after their well-being through the connection that comes from pet ownership.
There are a few shitty narratives about craft that get a run over and over again in the mainstream media. The two main ones that bug me are “it’s not your grandma’s knitting” and the second one that I hate equally is “stitch and bitch”. The “bitch” part because that is how petty and awful women really are while they sit around and do their trivial stitching. Superficial, frivolous and mean.
There is this notion that to spend time on craft – especially now that it is not a necessity but a privilege undertaken by women with time and/or money on their hands – that to do so is indulgent. The value of what we do when we engage in craft has diminished even further now that it is optional. Obviously this thinking has history; a throwback to time when the men were seen to do the important work of hunting, gathering and fighting the wars, while the women just piddled around knitting socks. Maybe the trivialisation of craft is part of the lack of acknowledgement of the place the domestic plays in all of our lives.
I know in my own life that my partner could not have had the career he had, and had children we had, had it not been for the work I did to care for those aforementioned children. And yet his career is what is celebrated by others, whereas my contribution to his success is unseen and unacknowledged largely because it was in the realm of the domestic*. A woman I once met at a round table discussion stated that she couldn’t do what I had done (be the full time carer for three kids under 5), and that the reason she had gone back to work was so that her daughter didn’t think that she was lazy. That she wanted her daughter to see her as hardworking and productive and doing something meaningful in the world. I understand that this wasn’t a personal attack – that it was just the lens she saw the world through – and yet I think it speaks to the idea that to engage with anything domestic is to be choosing something that is less than. And craft is still often seen to be of the domestic sphere.
We need to change the cultural narratives we have around craft. I often hear people saying statements like "Oh, so, I know it sounds trivial but I've found real meaning and satisfaction in sewing". The narrative is so strong that even we makers, even those of us that make and understand what it does for us, feel the need to preface our statements about it with an apology, an acknowledgement that to speak of craft in a meaningful way sounds trivial. Even though we know it isn’t.
Craft is not trivial. It isn’t what we see in the mainstream media. It isn’t playing around with needles and yarn and little bags of thread. It isn’t ugly useless objects that clutter up houses. It isn’t time wasting, it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, and it isn’t something that just privileged women do that have too much time on their hands.
So what is it?
Practically speaking, craft is engaging with the practice and process of making a thing with our hands. Emotionally speaking, taking time to craft is us being goddamn kick-arse grown-ups who know that in order to be the best we can be, we need to prioritise our well-being.
It is our responsibility as adult humans to chase down our well-being with all we have, because how we show up in the world matters. It matters to those that we share our lives with. It matters in our workplaces – workplaces where, I might add, many of us are solely focused on the well-being of others. It matters to those people we interact with for a second at the supermarket, to the person we sit next to on a train, or to the person we are responsible for serving at the school canteen.
It matters because as part of a community, we have a responsibility not just for our own well-being, but for the well-being of the people we interact with, live with and love. We are in this together.
Little things matter – small interactions with others, eye contact, smiles, our tone of voice. All of these things, my ability to be present, and centered, and loving, and responsive to other people, are made infinitely better through me taking the time to make things with my hands.
To butcher and paraphrase an idea from the beautiful poet David Whyte – we must drink from a deep well, the deepest well we can possibly dig for ourselves, if we are to live our best lives.
Yes, the commenter I mentioned at the start of this post, was right. We are privileged because we aren’t talking about the base level of survival – water, shelter, food – but we are talking about things that affect our next level up. We are talking about our ability to connect with others. We humans are social animals who need connection, but it’s impossible for us to connect, to support, to love and to give if we have nothing left inside. We can’t give when we have nothing to give. We need to go to the well.
Our privilege – and most people who read this blog are immensely privileged as they have the head space to read my wordy posts x – allows us to think about, and talk about, how to better our wellbeing. Making choices about how to think about and navigate our craft are part of that, because the more nurturing our craft practice, the better our well-being.
We need new language, better language, and a new narrative about what craft gives us; how it supports us, connects us and changes us.
This thinking about craft, talking about craft, and the act of making itself, is not trivial. It is life sustaining for so many of us. And by life sustaining, I’m not just talking about the big stuff. Yes – craft has sustained me and supported me through grief and shock and babies and cold, still, lonely winters. And so many of you lovely people have shared stories with me over the years, of craft sustaining you through cancer and divorce and loss of children and elderly parents and mental health stuff. But craft’s main purpose in my life, and I suspect in yours, is much more mundane and much more beautiful.
My craft is part of my domestic life, my everyday. It is something I look forward to even if it is something I get to spend two minutes on, or no minutes on. It is what I do in the gaps instead of scrolling through my phone, cleaning out my cupboards, or watching TV. Craft is a big part of what allows me to live my domestic life with grace, because it allows me to retain 3% of me no matter what is going on; the 3% that has it’s own dreams and ideas and desires. Craft is there when I want it, when I need it, when I desire it. It provides connection and ritual and beauty to my family life, to my children and to my partner. It allows me, without much money at all, to show them in an ongoing way, my love for them.
For us – those of us that come to this place seeking to think more deeply about how craft impacts us - craft is sustenance for our thinking minds and our beating hearts.
It is what allows us to show up in the world in the best way we can on any given day. It allows us to see ourselves more fully – to see who we are and what matters to us – by reminding us, through the objects we have made, of our capacity, our values, our priorities and our joy. I know that when I look around at the things I have made I am grateful. Grateful that I have made the time and spent the energy (even on days when I don’t have it) making a thing, because the act of making is what gives my life beauty and connection. And because we need beauty and connection in our everyday to be buoyant. For how can we continue to show up for those who need us, if not for moments of beauty and connection?
Craft is not trivial – it is life giving. For us, but also for all those we serve.
*Not by my fella btw. He is very loving and aware.