This week there has been a lot of chatter on social media about politicizing craft, specifically in the knitting community. In my own social feeds, I have seen the comments from other knitters criticizing the intersection of personal politics and craft, suggesting that the online knitting world should remain a reprieve from the angst and general What-the-Fuck-ery of current world events. "I didn't come here for politics, I came for the knitting," is a sentiment I have read far too often and it leaves me scratching my head every time because isn't the very act of crafting, of making something with your hands, a subversive and ultimately political action?
Don't get me wrong, knitting can provide a much needed outlet for self-care but that does not mean it is devoid of critical thought. In her essay, Rebellious Doilies and Subversive Stitches, Kirsty Robertson cites Rozsika Parker, suggesting "that although the position of the needleworker -- head bowed, shoulders hunched -- appears to be one of submission, it also contains within it a hint of autonomy and self-containment at odds with complete subjugation". In other words, knitting is anything but mindless.
So, in response to recent events I thought I would do the typical librarian thing and write a reading list of books, articles, and other stuff that investigate knitting and other traditional feminine crafts as social, subversive, and radical political activities. My hope is to provide some resources to inspire some critical discourse and self-reflection on how our knitting practices express much more than skilled craftsmanship--it reflects our values too.
For a longer read...
The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozsika Parker
Originally published in 1984, this comprehensive study traces the history of embroidery through a feminist lens. Considered by many to be a classic, Parker's examination of the relationship between embroidery and the feminine was pretty groundbreaking, and has helped inform the foundations of our radical crafting communities today. Re-published in 2010, it includes an updated introduction that helps contextualize Parker's work in light of fine art and craftivist practices.
No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne L. MacDonald
This is a must-read classic for any knitter looking to contextualize their practice in the history of knitting. Originally published in 1988, MacDonald guides the reader through a well-researched history of knitting in North America, and includes a spattering of visual documentation of vintage patterns and social commentary of the time. I read this book from cover-to-cover during my undergraduate degree and it completely changed the way I looked at knitting. For a while, this book was out of print but a quick search on Amazon shows that you can now purchase this book in a full spectrum of formats, including audiobook!
Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art, edited by Maria Elena Buszer
You cannot really talk about activism, politics, and craft without jumping into art theory. Some of the best essays I have come across talking about the subversive power of craft comes from the art world, and this collection edited by Maria Elena Buszer is a great introduction for those who may not necessarily spend all their time reading art theory. The contributors cover a huge range of craft discourse, including an entire section on Craftivism that looks not only at yarn bombing but how other types of craft can be used to subvert the status quo and fight for social justice. Oh, and this book also includes full-colour illustrations and is printed on that kind of glossy paper that makes writing in the margins with a ballpoint pen a definite guilty pleasure.
Craftivism: The Art and Craft of Activism by Betsy Greer
Now this book is amongst the newest titles on my list and is probably the most accessible read. Betsy Greer is the name most associated with the term "Craftivism", a deceptively quiet form of activism through craft. Greer pulled together experts, activists, artists, writers, and academics to survey different ways in which craft is being used for political activism throughout the world. I think that is probably the best part of this book, how it is much more inclusive of art, craft, and activist stories from around the world and not taking a purely Western viewpoint. There are tons of colour images and lots to be inspired by as contributors talk about craftivism from their own experiences.
For those who want a shorter read...
- Craft's Long History in Radical Protest Movements by Jessica Bateman
- Knitting is Soft and Crafty -- and Subversive, Chaotic, and Political by Haley Mlotek
- Stitch by stitch, a brief history of knitting and activism by Corine Segal
- Some of the Most Provocative Political Art is Made with Fibers by Leslie Camhi
- Sarah Corbett: Activism needs Introverts - TEDx Talk (13 mins)
- Swatch of the Month: The Politics of Knitting - A blog post and knitting pattern by Jess Schreibstein