I’m a feminist and....... I craft?
What have you been doing, so far, on this International Women’s Day? I’ve dressed children, vacuumed the floors, mopped, done two loads of washing, changed beds and called the high school to make an appointment with the year 12 co-ordinator. And now I can finish some sewing. Yes – that is my life; lots of housework and crafting. And no, it’s not 1965 – it’s 2012! And here I am, a modern educated feminist, who has a life right now that very much resembles my own mother’s life in the sixties. Has anything changed?
Being at home with small children can be a lot like a bad acid trip. And for those of you fortunate enough never to have endured a bad acid trip, it’s like floundering around in a world that is in a state of flux where achieving anything, even the most mundane and ordinary, is virtually impossible. See the connection? I could do housework until the cows come home and still have handprints on the t.v. and food smears on the furniture. It’s like a sad predictable pantomime where I’m the butt of the joke - cleaning in one room while the kids are messing stuff up just behind my back but I can’t hear the audience shouting, “Look behind you!” The lack of achievement or completion of anything, despite such hard work, can be demoralising and frankly a bit depressing. I can’t have my days being only about child rearing and housework. I’m simply not someone who can be at home with kids and find fulfilment in the nurturing and domesticity – I have to have something more; something creative.
I remember being pregnant with my first child. I was just 20 years old and studying at a fine arts degree, majoring in sculpture. With a big belly and wearing overalls, I welded and cut metal and, gee, was I tired as that belly got heavy! The realisation dawned on me that sculpture like this and being a mother to a baby were two mutually exclusive activities. In the end I welded some metal rods to little bases and made some old bricks into flowers on those stalks; a twee sculpted garden. It was raising the white flag - a declaration of capitulation to domesticity. As a mother, my art was going to have to be home based.
|Great Granny's Crochet Quilt|
I come from a long line of crafters. My great grandmotherwas known for her fine crochet work, my granny and her sisters were all good craftswomen and my mum could make just about anything and tackle any craft she came across. Through their crafting, these women were ingenious and resourceful and, through common sense and poverty, they were also environmentally sustainable. There was a need to darn and mend and recycle and stitch and make do. No idle hands! Spare time was used up in useful creative pursuits. And is this a bad thing? There seems to have been a pendulum swing back to crafting. Influenced by retro fashion and environmentally sustainable sensibilities (and with a dash of whimsical sentimentality), recent generations have embraced craft. In doing so, we honour our mothers and grandmothers and give recognition and validation to their skills and talents. But do we also confine our creativity to a domestic sphere and add to our household workload?
I’m not an artist – I make art and craft while at home with kids, just as my mother did. Mum would always say she wasn’t creative because she couldn’t draw and yet she could do any craft you can imagine and make most things, all while remaining serene and raising eight children. But it was all house or children focused craft - dolls, clothes, wall hangings, quilts, cushions and doilies. Just like female painters of old were confined to painting domestic scenes. This element to crafting raises the feminist shackles in me and makes me want to, if not burn my bra, at least re-fashion it into a macramé pot plant holder! Because I have become, for want of a better term, a “stay at home mother”, in charge of all things domestic, does that mean all my creative energies must be focused toward the family as well?
It’s a practical fact that craft is a creative pursuit that fits in well with the housekeeping and child rearing. But sometimes I find the domestic focus of craft dispiriting. It’s not like I can be welding a huge sculptural folly in the back yard is it? No. I’m crocheting a funny looking but useful pinafore in left over wool using up minimal space and making minimal mess. I’m not painting a mural for public work or even a fairly naive wonky painting for some exhibition. No, I’m stitching a felt robot hot water bottle cover for the children – recycled, environmentally sustainable and fun for the kids. Sometimes the creative frustration still bubbles away and the home themed and practical focus of craft is just another confinement.
While a return to craft has been a big trend for many people, I question how it fits with our feminist ideals. Crafting is time consuming and could my time be better employed? Does crafting distract me from other achievements? While I love that craft skills, like those my mother and grandmother and great grandmother had, are recognised for the skill and cleverness, it is still essentially a domestic pursuit. And then there is the crafting with irony - we can be subversive with our sewing, dogmatic with our doilies, strident with our stitching – but in doing this are we invalidating the traditional crafts of our mothers by making fun of them? Or are we saying, “I can craft with irony and still be a feminist even though I’ve just spent at least 18 hours cross stitching rude words to a wall hanging?”
Craft is also popular for the sustainability of the practices and recycling opportunities it presents. But while we’re darning, turning doilies into collars, recycling frocks into children’s skirts and jumpers into legwarmers, what are we getting? Besides a pair of legwarmers we don’t really want or need and the satisfaction of not having added the hole-ridden jumper to landfill? Because we can recycle it, does it mean we should? (see denim light shade!)
And what of the hours and creative energy spent doing it? Would I have been better off seeking more education? Reading a book? Writing a book? Creating art? Getting out of the house? Improving employment opportunities? Doing voluntary work? By doing craft, are we, as stay at home mothers, just keeping our head above the drowning pull of housework or burying our creative heads in the sand of domestic life? Are we enhancing our lives in line with a Ruskin philosophy or simply adding to our domestic load? Are we avoiding homogenised-globalised-consumerism by making individual different household items? Or simply surviving creatively while our children are little?
So! I craft because it fits in with my lifestyle at the moment and if I didn’t, my creativity would be severely frustrated and that frustration may bubble and explode in any manner of strangeness. But sometimes I wonder if, like some sort of “Stockholm” syndrome, I have begun to love my domestic imprisonment without even realising it and my creative ideas have now become all contained and homey? Have I forgotten the big picture of what I want to do with my life? Do I avoid thinking about my life while I numb my thoughts with a meditative chant, “knit two, purl two”? Is it a kind of therapy for the shell shocked repercussions of child birth? Or do I realise that, for now, to have individual, idiosyncratic, handmade items grace our everyday life is a privilege that enriches our home? I don’t know! Why do you craft?
Now, where’s that bra? I have just the pot plant for it....