Thursday, October 18, 2007

political point

Erqsome's recent post pointed me to this wonderfully thoughtful review of 'the domestic in drag' (i.e. much of the knit, sewing and baking blogosphere, Nigella...). I think Ashley, in her comment there, has it spot on - its not that craft is a feminist issue, its that celebrations of 'the gentle art of domesticity' raise questions of class.

I stopped reading Yarnstorm a while back because her celebration of a particular form of upper-middle-class life bugged me a bit. Similarly, I start screaming at the telly when Nigella says things like 'If you only have the one oven'. I'm not necessarily judging them, class can largely be a cultural thing - they happened to choose a slightly different life from mine. I do have my personal opinions on recycling, state education and (ahem) use of the British Library which at times various 'domestics in drag' have inflamed. But I tend to choose to keep them relatively personal. This is partly because I tend to think direct confrontation isn't always the best form of political action, but also because I know my craft blog is a heavily filtered version of my life, only really showing parts of me as they mix with knitting (and occasionally baking and sewing, the knitblogosphere having intersected with other domestic crafts). This is a window into my life, as it is to others. But it is just a single perspective. I assume the same is true of Yarnstorm et al, and wouldn't think it fair to criticise directly.

Still, the economics of craft is something we should think about more. Just as Nigella preaches that a little of what you fancy does you good, yet has taken it to a rather sickening degree in her latest series (I don't think compulsive eating is healthy - for you, society and the planet), piles and piles of yarn stash are to me, a symbol of over-consumption. Just because its handmade doesn't mean it isn't capitalism. That doesn't necessarily make it wrong, I'm not preaching anti- or pro- any particular ideology. I just want to emphasise that craft is economic, and therefore political in more ways than one.

I don't think I know the right or true way on any of this though - this post is a mix of things I happen to be thinking and ideas that are at the front of my mind. I'd be interested to know what others think.

25 comments:

Lisa said...

I think you make a really good point... so often we tend to buy (eat, drink, do) so much more than we need. It certainly makes capitalism thrive, but doesn't usually make for any sort of sustainable system of industry.

Carol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
emmms said...

'I just want to emphasise that craft is economic, and therefore political in more ways than one.'

I might have to borrow that.

Regardless, thanks for the mention.

Agatq said...

You've got the point. I am often thinking about the abundance in our everyday life activities, and in particular knitting, as we blog and read other blogs on this subject. I do not want to judge anybody, but for me personally a huge stash is something of an excess. I can only sleep in one bed at a time, eat with one spoon at a time, and likewise, knit, well, more than one, but less than ten garments. Only recently I've realized how huge is the industry that's behind the "innocent" craft hobbies. And it's disturbing, in a way.

Ashley said...

That was good stuff over at Needled, right? I think the degree to which I have to try not to think about the excessive consumerism that crafting--but more particularly, maybe, craft blogging, Flickring, and Ravelry-ing--inspires me speaks volumes. I've got more stuff I want to say about this, but I need to find five free minutes of thinking time to let it come together sensibly first.

Veronique said...

I never thought of it that way! Your post is very thought-provoking (in the best way possible). My point of view is that, in this sterile, shrink-wrapped world, some people have chosen to go back to more organic pursuits, to be in touch with their surroundings. Instead of buying a microwavable meal, you cook it yourself; instead of buying an acrylic sweater, you knit a wool one. Even if making it yourself is more expensive (veggies from the farmer's market, Habu yarn...), the *process* of making it makes me happy. Is it worth it to buy happiness?
I think so.

ms bias said...

Oh, A-flippin'-men! I agree very whole-heartedly. There's a particular kind of acquisitiveness which is valorised as a kind of (morally pure) a-economical activity, which bugs the hell out of me. Why is it that there are people who look down on anyone who buys five pairs of shoes a month and doesn't wear them all, but boast about their addiction to buying more books or yarn than they will ever use?

I do read Yarnstorm, and I love her images and sense of colour, but there are moments of apparent class unconsciousness there that do jolt me into, "But - wait!". As you say, there's a single-sidedness to craft blogs, but ... the author is selling an aspirational lifestyle, just as much as a £5.50 style magazine is, and it's disingenuous to act as if this isn't the case.

I also think there's a weird US/UK thing going on: reading the comments, I often get the impression that there is a significant North America-based audience who don't get the class cues that are blatantly obvious to me, so there's a Richard-Curtis-esque element of advertising and idealising a lifestyle which costs approximately four times the national average wage as the epitome of Englishness, and I'm very uncomfortable about that as well.

I don't blame the author for that, or think that she's a terrible person, but I respect her less than I would if she were more aware of the contradictions inherent in criticising mainstream culture and sometimes adopting an anti-consumerist stance from a economically privileged position. (And whether you were born into money or became wealthy by being born into a generation in which educational opportunities were available to a few is comparatively irrelevant, as far as I'm concerned.)

But hey, I'm educated to PhD level and a professional myself, so I don't claim any Great Proletariat Authenticity TM: these reactions are very much the results of my own background and class position too!

Lola and Ava said...

Ms. Bias is correct regarding the US/UK perception of class. It isn't as apparent to me since I live in the US, but it becomes more clear on my visits to England. Things that might not get a second glance here are viewed askew on holiday when they are perfectly innocent. I've stopped buying certain magazines here in the States because the image being pushed isn't attainable without a huge influx of either cash or surgery or both.

Since the book currently isn't available here, I'll have to either wait patiently, order it from Amazon UK, or pick it up on the next trip to London. Quite frankly, I am hoping for a chapter titled, "How to clean your house and keep it that way, dammit" but I don't think it will be in this book.

Ava, who has one oven that she barely uses

Webbo said...

This is a great post, with great comments. "Just because it's handmade doesn't mean it isn't capitalism" sounds like the beginning of a manifesto to me.

KGLO said...

I think you're right on. Well done.

Specs said...

Right on.


There needs to be a reconciliation between the feminist, economic, and even post-colonial aspects of crafting and our love of making things, and it will take many blogs, books, articles, and debates to sort it out. You saying your bit has helped -- it's all about productive dialogue.

startare said...

Well, there goes one more thing that can no longer be indulged in blissful and unthinking innocence, another cause for guilty feelings. Can you name one thing we needn't feel bad about now in this post-everything age? I'm not saying it's right to waste money and resources on yarn, or shoes, or whatever, I just feel so nostalgic for the time when one could really feel self-righteous about something.

Fucknits said...

I'm with you on the stash. Before Ravelry, I thought stash meant all those leftover half-balls. I have to bite my lip when people have 'who's got the biggest stash' conversations, and at the same time proclaim they're keeping a craft alive that was passed down from their impoverished grandparents.

That's like saying you're paying due to Rosa Parks by driving a SUV instead of taking the bus.

rubbishknitter said...

Great post! I wholeheartedly agree, I don't understand the idea of buying yarn to put on the shelf and look at.

I would love to post something intelligent and incisive about the nature of consumerism here but i'm too busy laughing at 'If you only have the one oven'. Genius.

The_Add_Knitter said...

Yes, I feel that at times my yarn enthusiasm is just really yarn gluttony, and that makes me feel horrid. But such is desire, right? There's always a little shame in there, that's how and why it functions the way it does. Not an excuse, just an observation.

Lolly said...

A powerful and thought-provoking post, Alice, and I thank you for sharing it. I have been thinking along the same lines - yarn gluttony as over-consumption, etc. - and I am glad to hear that others have those same thoughts.

This is a great starting point, and a very important discussion.

Clare & Simon said...

Yes! As an Australian who now lives in the UK, I felt untouched by class for many months - but now I am becoming more sensitive to the class cues around us, it is becoming disturbingly apparent. I had never thought of my unease with some of the knit/craft/food media as being related to class, but you have opened my eyes here. Thanks - good to hear folks actually talking about this.

Penny said...

There has always been a dstinction between those who craft out of necessity, and those who chose to do it from a position of wealth. The Bayeaux tapistry was not made out of necessity!

As to excessive consumption: I grew up surrounded by stashes made up of leftovers, and I feel comfortable when I have 'enough' surrounding me. But the idea of trying to get into a situation of SABLE (Stash Acquired Beyond Lifetime Expectancy) seems not only greedy but also thoughtless of those who will be left to deal with your excess.

Jenny said...

Have you seen this?

Stepho said...

What I find more interesting is not that the domestic arts (and how we respond or present them) are a representation of class, but the change in said arts and how closely they are now tied to technology and popular culture (home carpentry and decorating shows, anyone?) I would not be the knitter I am today without the internet community of knitters, and I think the same can be said for many foodies and other do-it-yourselfers.

Christy said...

Great link, thanks for sharing it. The title of that book has been bugging me for awhile, but I felt like part of me had to accept because of my involvement in the craft world. That post and Ashley's comment completely put into words that unsettling, gross feeling that grew in me about this book.

Jox said...

My Mum has always knitted, mostly baby cardigans, she would find a pattern she liked, then go and buy the wool, maybe buying another pattern. This was 20-25 years ago, slowly the shops closed and she could only get wool in a few places so she stopped knitting. Then I started to knit a few years ago, my mum got into it again and the shop she works in started to sell wool and she know has a wardrobe full of the stuff! In fact she had to buy the wardrobe to put it in. It has become yet another thing to buy, there is no way she can get through it all, it has definatly become SABLE and of course she can afford it now, when I was little my mum wouldn't have been able to afford to spend £20 on yarn she will never use.

I'm not saying that I am any better than my mum, I'm just using her as an example.x

Philippa said...

Thank you for this. It articulated perfectly many of the dichotomies I tread on my knitterly way.

I heard someone on the tube the other day, looking at my knitting, say wistfully to a friend of hers, 'I wish I could knit. I'd save so much money on clothes'. Having just spent £35 on yarn for a scarf I chuckled, and thought of the clothes I had not bought in order to knit that scarf. I am inexpressibly privileged to be able to make that choice, to choose to spend my disposable income on yarn for a scarf my boyfriend does not need, instead of wondering which cuts I will make in order to be able to clothe my children this winter. I do not pretend that knitting is anything other than a luxury hobby; thank you for reminding me how far from the moral high-ground I can stand just because I made something when someone else didn't.

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