Stitch ‘n’ Bitch
Third-wave feminist and Bust Magazine editor Debbie Stoller led this subversive knitting trend, with the publication of her Stitch ‘n’ Bitch knitting manual, calling for a new generation of knitters to “take back the knit”.
There has been considerable scholarly attention to this type of contemporary knitting with feminist authors exploring knitting’s “craftivism” through practices like yarn bombing, knitting prosthetic breasts for mastectomy patients, and knitathons. These activities can build crafting communities which can function as sites of resistance to injustice and inequality. It is here that the PussyHat Project arguably connects.
Craft is also a slow process, and in submitting to this temporality and engaging in intentional processes of making as in the PussyHat Project, we give ourselves space to consider our position on big social or political questions, and to consider how we might each contribute to creating more resilient communities. Crafts like knitting offer the opportunity to engage with questions of global political significance in a tangible way. As Betsy Greer who coined the term “craftivism” said, “the creation of things by hand leads to a better understanding of democracy, because it reminds us that we have power”.
It’s also important to note how powerful and transformative its effects can be at the individual level. There’s a growing body of research which highlights the ways in which craft can be a powerful tool for individual mental and physical health. The WellMaking project at Falmouth University, for example, focused on the ways that craft can help people connect and reflect in therapeutic ways. A recent study by the Women’s Institute in the UK found that craft has a positive benefit on mental health. And my own research into what I call the “digital dressmaking community” has found that for many “digital dressmakers”, sewing offers an important space for being kind to ourselves and practising self-care.
But craftivism also enables us to reflect on broader questions about the very place and power of craft itself. Fiona Hackney’s work, for example, and my own research on the revival of home dressmaking, have both explored the ways in which acts of craftivism may allow for a feminist reclaiming of traditionally feminine skills. This exemplifies craftivism’s power: it offers the space to advocate for social change in a gentle way, while presenting a radical opportunity to question the meanings we associate with certain practices.
A common criticism of these revived craft practices is that they distract from supposedly “real” political issues, and that they are simply a form of “cupcake feminism”. This is arguably why the sight of pussyhats in the Women’s March was so powerful: that traditionally “feminine” crafts, which have been viewed as antithetical to radical/feminist action, are being deployed precisely for such aims. In these times of dark political shifts and considerable global anxiety, that the Women’s March participants would choose to turn to craft to send a message to Trump and his allies seems to be entirely appropriate.
Jessica Bain receives funding from the British Academy for her research project entitled: “Digital Dressmaking: Gender, Technology and Craft in Britain’s Contemporary Sewing Communities”