Crafting with Feminism is a new title from Quirk Books in the US, subtitled 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy. It is by crafter Bonnie Burton whose previous work The Star Wars Craft Book is in our public library and has been borrowed a fair few times by our family. I was sent this book by Quirk Books for review. The opinions and prejudices which follow are all my own.
The first thing that struck me about Crafting with Feminism is that, whilst being freshly styled, the politics and projects have a curiously back-in-time quality to them. This is not a criticism, it just intrigues me as the book feels like it has come directly out of the third wave, feminist, DIY scene of the late nineties and early noughties, chock full of post-modern irony and pastiche. Projects such as Girl Band Cassette Business Card Holder are unequivocally retro and the loose, inclusive aesthetic of wonky cutting and uneven stitches works to further evoke that early DIY scene. Interesting this democratic aesthetic feels incredibly refreshing and innovative amidst the uber-schmick professionalism of the craft scene now.
Within that US-centric, third wave scene of the early noughties, crafting was often framed as a way to recapture the domestic from patriarchy and envalue traditionally feminine crafts within a youthful, alternative aesthetic. This style of feminism was young, playful, focused on body politics and breaking down the gender rules between the public and private spheres. It was raunchy, sassy and cyber savvy. Critics have also argued, the scene was overly white, privileged and ageist, firmly situating cool crafting as the antithesis of grandma’s crafting.
As soon as I began to feel that Crafting with Feminism was situated in that third wave scene, there was a part of me that wanted to dismiss it as trivial and flippant. I am a wee bit older than that wave, and my feminist awakening occurred at a very different time in the late eighties and early nineties in university when the prevailing concerns were about power and gender in language, and racism and privilege within the feminist movement. This was a time of rising corporate power and growing urgency in environmental activism and food politics. I can still remember the books we were reading: Woman Native Other: Writing Postcoloniality (1989) by Trihn T. Minh Hah, Cynthia Enloe’s, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (1989) and Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India (1988). Feminism was earnest, serious business, but as a young, white, middle class woman, I didn’t feel particularly empowered, just guilty and overwhelmed.
So whilst I wanted to dismiss it, as I read on and engaged with the projects and the effusive joy of feminist making in Crafting with Feminism, I found myself embracing its energy and intention. The projects in Crafting with Feminism ARE playful and funny, ironic and extroverted, but they also form a very solid, engaged education in modern feminism, body acceptance and body sovereignty. The craft projects encourage free, unrestrained participation, joyful making, education and change through play. They marry powerful expressions with glitter and lace. In many ways, Crafting with Feminism acts like a primer for a youthful feminist awakening for the twenty somethings. There are even crafternoon menus exploring specific themes such as women’s history with project suggestions of such as Heroes of Feminism Finger Puppets, Queen Ring Bling and Grrrl Coat of Arms Banner. The book includes lists of feminist films to watch, significant feminist and feminist-craft books and a guide to using craft for change.
You won’t find any of that ‘this is not your grandma’s knitting’ rubbish in Crafting with Feminism, it is positive and celebratory. However, the book is very US focused without ever articulating that it is has a US focus. So whilst projects such as Strong Female Character Prayer Candles and Heroes of Feminism Finger Puppets are wonderfully witty yet educative projects, the women celebrated are almost all American and exclusively Western. Of course, the book suggestions are just a starting point and we are invited to make our own list of pop culture/historical heroines but I would have loved to have seen women from a broader range of cultures represented in the book. Similarly, I would have liked to see some international political issues represented in the projects, particularly around fashion, garment production and labour rights. This would have promoted a broader notion of sisterhood beyond the circle of friends you might craft with.
It is a cracker of a craft book, clear instructions, doable projects, non-specialist materials or skills. And despite my earnest baggage from an earlier time, I found that I really enjoyed this book. I wish I could have had a Feminist Killjoy Sash or Superheroine Wrist Cuffs in my twenties. I would have had a lot more fun and might have felt more able to be part of radical change. Crafting with Feminism is a beginning place, a place to get empowered, get educated and get connected with other women in readiness for transforming the wider world. Whilst I cannot see myself organising a craft party with my friends to stencil Pussy Power in glitter on my undies, I can certainly see myself crafting with my son and daughter in some age-appropriate versions of these projects. I see us demystifying periods and laughing over goggly eyes on Tampon Buddies, locating women in history in finger puppets and maybe even making the huggable uterus to celebrate puberty. And I really, really want to make the Vagina Tree Ornaments for Christmas. I think they are beautiful.
Who knew fun stuff could be radical and energising?
I explored a new knitting strategy in a previous Postcards at Sea post. This new practice of multiple (but not too many cast-ons is working well for me. Here is something that is finished!
This is Montbretia, the cover design for Kate Davies recent publication The Book of Haps (2016). It is designed by Carol Feller. As you can see, it as asymmetrical shape with quite a wide wingspan. It is extraordinarily comfortable, sitting on the shoulders securely as a shawl or wrapped around as a scarf.
Funnily enough, I didn’t buy this book for the shawls, I bought it for the historical essays by Kate Davies. They didn’t disappoint me. I fell in love with some of the shawls afterwards.
I used stashed yarns for my version. The grey is Australian Merino by Pear Tree Yarns, a 4 ply in soft grey that I picked up as a kilo bulk buy of discontinued yarn at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show at least 7 years ago. It is not a particularly well spun yarn, full of slubs and just not really sturdy enough but it was perfect for this project. The ultra marine blue is a discontined colour from Harris Tweed yarns that I got as a souvenir when we were in the UK a while ago. The other colours are all Jamieson and Smith oddments from stash.
My shawl doesn’t look quite the same as Carol Feller’s. There are two rather significant knitting-in-fog moments that shall now remain as an artifact of my long sea journey. The first is the split from the ultramarine blue to another shade dissected by the grey. When I got all my yarn together, I thought the 50 gram ball of Harris Tweed was actually 100 grams and set off confidently, only to run out, realise my error and resolve with another shade. It is a very forgiving design for accidents like this.
The second foggy moment occurs in the pink stripes at the edge. Between the slipped stitches section and the stripes, I put my pink yarn somewhere and couldn’t find it anywhere. I had to substitute with another shade. Several weeks after bind off I found the correct pink yarn in a random bag where it had no business being but I still can’t remember having put it there.
No matter, it is a lovely shawl, almost because of these moments rather than in spite of them!
Ravelry details are here.
Magazines are my new quiet companions. I didn’t really appreciate magazines before I became sick. There seemed little time to read them and mostly I would just read the headlines and quickly scan the pics whilst gulping down tea and call that relaxing. Tick, done!
Now I savour them. I read just one article at a time, every word. And then I just stop, stare out of the window and actually finish my tea. One magazine lasts me a long time now and I return to its pages again and again. I favour the printed ones over the e-versions, particularly those printed on matt paper. There is something about the material artefactness of paper and ink that appeals to me separately from the layout, images and information. Magazines seem to enhance the experience of reading for pleasure.
I especially like the ones that have only one or two projects inside. Too many patterns or tutorials just overwhelm me. Quilting magazines require a lie down afterwards. A single project, seems doable and I recently made the Rosemary and Olive Oil Gardeners Scrub from the PIP Australian Permaculture magazine.
I was a little doubtful about the scrub. You make it from salt, rosemary, lemon juice and zest and olive oil. It felt like it was cauterising my hands with acid when I was making it, every little cut and nick stung. But then, as a finished unguent, it is surprising mild and effective…magic. It took all of five minutes to make it as we had all the ingredients in the cupboard or the garden. Thrilled by such wizardry, I felt ready to finally get my Kimchi going with a recipe in Slow Living and may even make the extra strong shopping bags from pillow cases featured in an old issue of New Zealand crafty journal Extra Curricula.
I also got read my latest article on Gotland sheep in the fleshly version of Spin Off. It finally reached our fair shores packed with excitement.
How do magazines fit in with your life? Do you have any favourites to recommend?
I had thought knitting was like breathing for me, something I didn’t really think about and that didn’t require much effort. However, after the chronic fatigue was triggered, everything including knitting became arduous. Even once I had the energy to knit stitches again, the brain part of knitting, the reading of patterns or thinking out my own project was immensely challenging. It felt like I was trying to work out a language that was not my own. It was exhausting and often impossible.
Chronic fatigue affects many cognitive functions including concentration, memory, ability to find words and to synthesise multiple pieces of information. It is called mental fog. This fog is the last thing to resolve itself when recovering from fatigue conditions. Sometimes the mist clears a little and sometimes it comes down in a thick blanket to squat on your mind.
I have discovered that you can’t knit through fog but you can knit with it. After abandoning a number of knitting projects that had become incomprehensible to me, I think I have developed some insights into knitting when the forecast is for fog.
- Choose straight forward but interesting knits that have significant sections of garter or stockinette with minimal shaping or stitch patterns. Carol Feller’s hap shawl Montbretier from The Book of Haps (2016) has been perfect for me.
- Have multiple projects on the go. I am normally a monogamous knitter, pushing through the hard bits to completion. Now there is nothing left to push through with, I need to have a variety of options open to me. I save the simple knitting for when I am really tired and need to rest. Anything that requires reading instructions, I save for when I am feeling rested. With a few projects on the go, there is always something I can knit according to how thick that sea fog is.
- Knit other folks designs. Knitting freestyle was my favourite thing but the calculations and multiple bits of information are too much for me at the moment so I am embracing the whipsmarts and clarity of other brains right now.
- Choose clear, tech edited, step by step instructions, where the knitting doesn’t require holding multiple instructions in your head at once. I have been able to complete a pair of Whisky Bay Woollens‘ Low Tide anklet socks which married clear steps with simple lace whilst I had to abandon a pair of Cat Bordhi socks with innovative shaping that moved at a different rate to the stitch pattern.
- Knit whatever the stash brings forth. The stash is so much closer than a shop and so much simpler that ordering online. Yarns I have been meaning to use for a long time are finally seeing the light of day.
What I can manage improves slightly every week. Sea fog is tricksy and persistent but now I have a map to keep me knitting when the forecast is for fog.
It is here! It is spring in the Southern Hemisphere. And just because Our Dear Girl and I have been reading Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City, I like to say it like Speke the otter, Spwing!
It feels it has been very long, dark winter in Melbourne (as far as long dark winters go in Australia!). The sunshine and the blossom hold great promise.
May the turning of the seasons be good to you.
In March this year, I had the very great privilege of visiting Granite Haven, a Gotland sheep and Llama farm in Central Victoria. Cheryl Crosbie shared her story of introducing Gotland sheep to Australia, improving the quality of their fleece over many years and her approach to promoting the health and wellbeing of her sheep and the land they graze on.
Her story and my experiences of spinning this delightful fibre have just been published in the Fall 2016 issue of Spin-Off.
It is available electronically now. Whilst print copies are on sale in the US, they take about a month to get to Australia so I haven’t seen the flesh and blood version yet.
If you enjoy a farm story, you are curious about long wools or Gotland sheep in particular, I hope you will give it a read.
Part of the reason I have not been back to this space for such a long time is that I kept wanting to post like I used to, big juicy posts with lots of research and progress and completion. Since, I am not actually doing those kinds of things at the moment, I thought I might try small postcards about how things actually are. I am calling these wee posts Postcards at Sea as I like my ocean metaphor for this fatigue condition a lot more than an acronym like CFS/ME. It holds a promise of land and a journey back to a home port. It also conveys the limbo and bewilderment of ‘being all at sea’, a little lost, a little dazed, a little out of my depth.
When a crafty friend heard I was having difficulty following knitting patterns at the moment, she sent me a little packet of kindness and insight. Look, little squares of the prettiest Liberty fabrics you ever did see.
Not enough to be overwhelming, just enough to make something lovely, step by step.
They are nestling comfortably in a zip purse with cotton and scissors. The purse was hand made by friend of mine and is perfect for a small project. A white Japanese crane is poised for flight right next to the zip and that can only bring a sense of optimism to all crafty endeavours contained inside.
How could anyone fail to be uplifted by such pretty squares?
I am still working towards recovery from this fatigue condition. Things are stable but life has had to be pared right back to basics. From this new beginning, I can very slowly build towards recovery. Everything takes so long now and I am still finding my voice and my sea legs, everything I felt I knew has shifted.
So I thought I would break the silence by sharing something I finished way back in April.
This is the Yoke of Endurance. The sweater is the culmination of my participation in the Shackleton Craft Along hosted by Sarah from Fiber Trek. This was a rather special craft along, taking place over eighteen months or so, mirroring the Ernest Shackleton expedition to Antarctica in 1914 on the ship, Endurance.
It was a rather ill-fated expedition. The Endurance was trapped in pack ice and crushed. The expedition of exploration and discovery became a rescue operation of many months for Shackleton, trying to get all the stranded crew back to safety. The wonderful thing is, nobody died, everyone came home. The idea of using this expedition as the inspiration for a knitting and spinning adventure was really novel, it captivated me instantly.
We were encouraged to pick a project that really challenged us and to see it through to the end. I chose to spin up my remaining stashes of coloured fleece using woollen long draw, a new spinning technique for me. My journey began during Spinzilla in October last year and the following months I finished yarns in Finn, Romney and Polwarth. I discovered I loved the woollen long draw.
It felt like a magical spell when I drew the fibre backwards and watched twist transform wool into yarn without snarling or lumping. It is certainly not brilliant woollen spun yarn by any means but it really pushed my spinning out of the comfortable.
I had finished the body and arms of my sweater and had just begun the yoke when I got that oh so pivotal chest infection that turned to pneumonia in April. The yoke was finished sitting up in bed between naps. I knew where I needed my decreasing rounds and I would just pick a pattern from Mary Jane Mucklestone’s book of Fair Isle Motifs and wing it. It all flowed and was a rather dreamy and wonderful experience. A few weeks later, I was too tired to even lift the needles and it is only now, five months later than I gather myself to link photographs and write stuff to share this one with you.
Yoke of Endurance is a bottom up, seamless sweater with waist and bust shaping at four points. The yarn a woollen 2ply sports weight knitted up on 3.75mm needles. The yoke patterning was placed low, just after joining arms and body together to cut horizontally across the bust line, minimising the opera-singer-chest-affect yokes can have on a full bust. I am very pleased with the way this worked. One set of short rows was added just prior to yoke patterning and the other set and the neckline. The main body is Polwarth, the white is Finn, the silver is Romney and the black is from an alpaca called Rosie.
All is not as I would have it be, here at Needle and Spindle.
As many of you know, I had pneumonia in April. It is normal to have a six to eight week recuperation period after such an illness before being able to resume a relatively normal life. This has not been the case for me and after a slew of doctors’ visits and medical tests, it looks like the fatigue and other symptoms I am experiencing are going to take a much longer time to resolve. For a reason unknown to western medicine, some bugs produce an extended fatigue in some otherwise completely healthy people. A dice roll of sorts. Under medical advice, I have had to take leave from my studies until early next year.
It feels like there is an ocean of tiredness inside me. It fills up my legs and arms with watery weakness and laps around the edges of my brain. The smallest walks become arduous trudges and it is hard to think, plan or remember where I put my keys, my phone, my hat. Standing for long is tricky, hanging out the washing is a major achievement and vacuuming, a bridge too far.
Fortunately, it seems that my good Man can carry even the ocean on his strong shoulders and our children lug buckets of seawater much heavier than I could have thought possible. I am buoyed up by an excellent public healthcare system, a flotilla of practical and generous friends and by the kind thoughts and wishes of readers. There are much, much worse things to have, than the inconvenience of being really tired all the time. Nevertheless, this blog space will remain a rather simple space for the foreseeable future, I may not always manage to reply to comments and there may sometimes be longish gaps between posts.
So please, continue to bear with me gentle readers while I find the Magellan for this ocean and celebrate with me, my first sustained metaphor since April!
The photographs are of Port Philip Bay just inside The Heads at Point Lonsdale, the entrance to the Port of Melbourne from the Bass Strait which lies between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. A special place.
I have not done much knitting lately. This shocks me a bit but I just haven’t been up to it. Not the knitting part but the holding of multiple instructions in my head, things like following a chart and shaping at the same time or centering a pattern by dividing pattern repeats, even working out sizing has just been too challenging.
After multiple attempts at a sock, I just gave up and went back to basics. I cast on for a hat that I could just knit round and round till some simple shaping. I needed a hat, my old faithful had disappeared, I shrank one, another had been appropriated by Our Dear Boy and it is unexpectedly cold here.
This was knit from the free pattern by Hanna Leväniemi called Siksak. It is knit in DK with a deep folded brim to keep the ears warm.
Whilst I had to buy two balls of Zealana Rimu in natural (a possum and merino blend from New Zealand) all the other yarns came from stash. The hot pink is my own handspun, a laceweight from handpainted merino top that was left over from a shawl project and cabled into a light DK. The blue is from left overs from Oakenshield Armoured, an ultrafine merino by Cleckheaton. The white is a gorgeous plump undyed Corriedale from Jarob Farm in Victoria and the green is from Nundle, a small mill in NSW. Ravelry details are here.
Our Dear Girl asked for a hat after I finished the Siksak. She has called it Colourful Day and it has been improvised with motifs from Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 150 Scandinavian Knitting Motifs. The main yarn is undyed gray Gotland from Granite Haven and the contrasts are the white Corriedale, blue Ultrafine Merino and hot pink handspun described above.
Both of us are living in our new beanies. They are not too matchy-matchy but rather comfortably related. And we both have a hot pink pom-pom which lifts the spirits immediately.