geekiness and the reimaging of craft

I’ve recently gotten back in to cross stitching, after a twelve year break. The first thing I tried was this Firefox pattern from Radical Cross-stitch. It was not too difficult, and a good nerdy way to start.

firefox cross stitch

I have high aspirations, though. I’m really interested in gaming type cross stitches; in particular I love this cross stitch Zelda map.

My latest project is a stitching of the Melbourne tram map. I’m stitching it without a pattern, and hoping for the best, really. You may remember the London tube cross stitch. It’ll be like that, only more yellow.

There’s been a resurgence, or a growth I guess, of ‘radical’ or reinterpreted craft. No flowers and doggies and quotes from the bible, it’s all breasts and vulvas and expletives undeleted. This reimaging of craft as a feminist radical endeavour is fun and interesting, and lots of crafters talk about empowerment, but the majority of this radical craft is Western-based (I don’t have stats or references for this claim, just from what I see as I cruise around the crafting blogs, but if you’ve found a stash of non-Western-based craft blogs then hand them over), very knitting and cross-stitch focussed, and incredibly time consuming. It seems almost class-based, which I suppose is inevitable – it took me a month to do that Firefox, who has time for that, you know? So there are lots of questions for me about the feminist empowerment of this craft movement, and the appropriateness of talking about it in these terms.

I am new to the world of radical crafting, though, and am very interested to hear the thoughts of others in this area.

13 thoughts on “geekiness and the reimaging of craft

  1. Marie

    I’ve noticed the growing popularity of geeky crafts with glee – because it’s made me realise just how much fun it is to combine things like knitting, or jewellery-making, with my geeky pursuits. I find it a relaxing and fun way to enjoy my free time away from the computer or study books, and of course flailing over other people’s geeky crafts is always wonderful. My only community connection is through livejournal comms, but the people there are lovely and talented, so I don’t feel I’m missing out!

    GeekCrafts recently opened its scope to include non-fandom geekiness, I think – http://community.livejournal.com/geekcrafts/

    Check out the plushie Great A’Tuin in the top post!

  2. spice

    hi there! just started following your blog yesterday, but i’m a feminist, geek, and cross-stitcher, so today’s post really hit home!

    for some, part of the value of crossstitch is the time-intensive nature of the craft. personally i find it almost meditative, very centering. it’s definitely fun to take such an old craft and bring it into the modern age with things like embedded LED’s, electric glowing wire, etc (though personally i haven’t gotten to that point yet, focusing more on some old-school styles).

    i suspect that a lot of the research done on “women’s crafts” is often very western-focused. e.g. a great book, “the subversive stitch”, which claims to be about the history of embroidery, focuses almost entirely on great britain and europe, with some discussion of america, but very little about africa, asia, etc, which probably have rich histories of needlework.

    anyways. your firefox xstitch is lovely, your stitches all seem very even and neat! your melbourne subway map sounds like a great idea, but keep in mind that it’s not that hard to create a pattern, there are some free programs online and also one (not free) called ‘pcstitch’ which i’ve heard is great (but haven’t had personal experience with).

    1. Stephanie Post author

      @spice

      yeah, in my (admittedly limited) look at research on women’s crafts, there is often a lot of focus on Western-history and not so much into other cultural traditions of women’s crafts. In fact, I’ve started a long rambley follow-up post expanding on these issues!

      the point you make that there is probably a rich history of needlework in non-Western countries is a good one – my focus is often on non-Western traditions of craft taking second place to Western traditions of needlework, but it’s an excellent point that sometimes the traditions are the same (or similar), but considered traditionally Western.

  3. Ali

    Another passionate geeky, queer, feminist crafter. I think that you could imagine or suggest that the crafting resurgence has class connotations in the same way as a lot of the current DIY/back-to-basics movement has class connotations. I mean, here is an incomplete list of Surprisingly Trendy Things For Urban-Dwelling Young-ish Adults To Do:
    -Make jam & preserves
    -Knit, crochet & cross-stitch
    -Grow a vegetable garden
    -Bake (preferably vegan, somehow ironic cupcakes)
    -Bond with other people who like to do these things, possibly at a trendy urban bar while knitting.

    In the absence of a survival-necessity drive (I will be able to buy food from the supermarket if I don’t grow my own, I will be able to buy a warm hat to wear if I don’t crochet one), these are largely things that require time, money, space & the freedom to decide what you want to do with those things. In other words, privilege.

    But here’s the thing: somebody who spends 2 hours every day on the train to work is not necessarily the most privileged person in the world (although she might be), but she’s got plenty of time for your Firefox cross-stitch, or loads of other commuter-friendly projects. Craft isn’t necessarily a “oh hello, entire evening of free time!” activity- I’m often busiest crafting in the times-in-between that everybody has, in waiting rooms and on public transport and in queues at the bank. My first memories of craft are of my working-class grandmother and her knitting needles, clicking always when there was waiting to be done.

    And, there is an extremely feminist and empowering element for me in the way that craft and gardening become ways to connect with the older generations of women in my family (relationships that looked nearly over for some years after I came out, but which blossomed again with craft-talk and garden show tours).

    So I don’t see it all as a movement strictly of privilege. And even if it is in some of it’s parts, I think there are worse things for the privileged to be doing than reconnecting with DIY & hand-crafted ways of doing things.

  4. Catherine

    I just finished reading the book Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Daina Taimina, which is a fun mix of math and fiber art. The basic theme is using crochet to make mathematical models of hyperbolic planes, but there’s a lot of history thrown in. I got interested in these shapes after seeing the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project.

    Sometimes time-consuming crafts done for fun actually mean getting a long time’s worth of entertainment value out of a relatively small investment in supplies. And craft-type work done out of DIY necessity can be a good fit with the surplus of time and shortage of cash resulting from unemployment or underemployment. Knitting a gorgeous piece of lace can be done for under $10, but the result is having something that almost no one could afford on the market (because anyone who doesn’t DIY has to pay for someone else’s labor). I agree that the current “hip crafting” trend isn’t all-encompassing, but I think that time as a factor actually excludes more people who are higher on the income scale (because they have full-time jobs) than people who are lower on it.

  5. Nightsky

    I’ve been crafty and cross-stitchy for most of my life, and I’m starting to experiment with subversive crafts. I agree that it’s a fairly privileged activity, but it doesn’t demand uninterrupted evenings of free time–found time (on the bus to and from work, in line at conventions) works great for me to cross-stitch my Evil Sampler and piece my aperiodic quilt.

  6. Cat

    +1 to what Catherine brought up. If you haven’t poked around theiff.org to see the amazing intersection of math and “women’s handwork”, I invite you to hurry on over, get excited, and join an international volunteer community of people crafting the natural world!

  7. Laughingrat

    Well–there are low-income people who do crafts. Granted, supplies are expensive and leisure time may be more limited the fewer financial resources one has, but still. That’s not by way of contradicting you, but just pointing out, along the lines you already discussed, that these are really complicated questions.

    I like the new interpretations of craft right well, but am troubled by the “Not your grandma’s [craft]” attitude that I often encounter. Craft motifs can and should be as varied as the maker wants them to be, and materials and skills can and should be used and adapted in as many ways as the human imagination can contrive. Nevertheless, the need some have to actually denigrate the more traditional work done by more conservative contemporary crafters, or by crafters from a previous generation, really troubles me. It erases the humanity that should be central to how we perceive those endeavors; these (mostly) women were, or are, people like us, with a desire to create something beautiful. Their aesthetic may not be our aesthetic, but they are still people, with the same thoughts and feelings that lead us to create a cross-stitched expletive or a highly-decorated wall quilt.

    This kind of contempt also belittles these women for performing femininity–a survival skill–while at the same time, we’re selectively reclaiming that very femininity in the form of traditionally feminine crafts. Critiquing femininity, or rejecting it in our own creative work, is important, but that doesn’t mean we should disrespect other women in the process. In doing so, we’re just feeding into patriarchal notions of “feminine” work as having less value, and of craft as being less-than, or being intrinsically different from and subordinate to art.

    It’s all incredibly, overwhelmingly complicated–and we haven’t even touched on, say, the craft market and the low monetary value placed on women’s work, and how pressures from outside and inside the craft community drive prices down and ensure that women’s labor is undervalued–an old problem, but one given new life in these days of Etsy.

    That’s a darn cute Firefox cross-stitch, by the way.

  8. tristopher

    I love your Firefox so much! And imagine seeing you here! WHAT ARE THE ODDS

  9. Ali

    “I like the new interpretations of craft right well, but am troubled by the “Not your grandma’s [craft]” attitude that I often encounter.”

    Yes, me too, although I am grateful that not every crafter I meet in my demographic subscribes to that. I like to think of crafting as an explicit connection to my grandmother and her contemporaries, as well as an understanding of her particular brand of geekiness- yarn crafts (crochet & knitting) are physical maths- patterns, especially for old-fashioned laces, look more like equations- not to mention the entire concept, development and practise of hyperbolic crochet! I think you could do a whole lot of refuting of notions of women being bad at ‘abstract concepts/maths’ if you looked at the often abstract, highly detailed & creative works produced by women whose educations and opportunities were explicitly non-mathematical, but who work maths into yarn throughout their lives.

    I went to a beautiful art show a few months ago showing work by a Lebanese-Australian artist who uses handcraft to reference her relationships with the older women in her family- the program included the story of an extremely talented crocheter who was considered illiterate, but who produced incredibly intricate original lace patterns, one of which was reproduced in the program.

  10. Bianca

    Hey, that’s a great idea to cross-stitch the Firefox logo! Very well done. I started cross-stitching a Tux image about 10 years ago, but I never finished it. You inspired me to give it a go, though!

    A few weeks ago I crocheted the Android robot for my husband – see it here:

    http://meilow.de/data_droid.jpg

    We are both Android fans, so this was a mandatory project for me. :D

  11. Shana

    Have you seen the Subversive Cross Stitch stuff? http://www.subversivecrossstitch.com/

    I’ve been doing counted cross stitch since I was about 5 years old. I find it meditative and calming. The counting and repetition helps me to quiet my mind and focus, clearing the mental clutter and anxiety. I’ve also found it to be a way to bond with women of all generations as it crosses generational lines. Rather than divide us, it brings us together (in my experience).

    I also find it’s a way to connect with others that don’t craft. When I’m working on a project for a specific person, it brings me closer to them by making my relationship with them forefront on my mind as I stitch. It gives me an opportunity to not only show them they’re important to me by taking the time to make something for them, but allows me to reflect on their importance and role in my life while I’m stitching.

    That is a very cute little Firefox by the way. I may have to do a collage of various web-related images as my next project.

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