Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is Knitting Feminist?

(Sweater designed and made by me with lots of credit to Kaffe Fasset for the general style)

What do you think? If lots of women reclaim knitting, a traditionally female craft, will knitting be more esteemed? Will it improve women's lives or make men interested in taking up knitting?

Or is reclaiming knitting a bit like reclaiming the competition between 1950s housewives about who has the whitest laundry hanging on the line? After all, knitting is not something little girls reallyreally wanted to do, in most cases.

It was something girls were made to learn so that they could knit socks and mittens for their husbands and children. We have to go pretty far in the history to find women who could have supported themselves with just knitting. Or with crocheting or many other feminine crafts.

I am really writing about crafts here, and about very specific kinds of crafts, the pink-smelling ones. Oddly enough, many of the traditionally male crafts (carpentry and furniture-making) have a higher general reputation. Women wanting to take up those are usually admired. Men wanting to take up knitting... Are they admired?

How does reclaiming work? I'm not quite sure about the basic rules. Does it matter what the past generations thought or does it not matter? Does it matter if feminists now pick up only rudiments of knitting, for example?

And where is the line between art and craft? I have always felt angry about the dismissal of textile arts in general and women's textile arts in particular. All those anonymous women, stitching away, and what did they get for it? Not even their names written down anywhere. Yes, fabric preserves poorly, and, yes, it's difficult to exhibit. But it's still true that traditional women's arts have been allowed to molder down the memory hole.

But not all embroidery, knitting or crocheting is art. A small fraction qualifies, and it's not that small fraction the reclaiming is all about but something else altogether. What is that "else"?

I can knit, by the way, and I can also crochet, embroider and quilt. I like doing things with my hands. But I'm not an artist and my crafts are not feminist ones (except in the choice of topics).

Where the feminism enters is perhaps in my desire to cast more light on the art that women have created throughout the centuries: the embroideries of India, the carpets of the Middle east, the molas of South America, the altar clothes, the stuffed work, the blackwork, the Amish quilts, the lace and on and on.