Book Review: Crafting with Feminism
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?