I was reading the Guardian this morning because I live in Cambridge and it is compulsory, and there was an article about how everyone at the Labour Conference was grumpy that Ed Miliband has been elected as the new Labour leader. There were quotes from people about how this would mean a return to the wilderness, and how now they were out of power the stuff at the conference was no longer dynamic and exciting but was back to things like ‘one-legged knitting circles’. (This is a bit of a confusing image. I think the person meant knitting circles comprised of one-legged people or, let’s be honest, women. If that person could knit they’d probably have developed enough discipline of thought to formulate a more convincing metaphor). Anyway, this got me thinking. I know some people still think crafts in general are a bit sad, although it is crafts which are traditionally associated with women which mostly attract this kind of casual contempt. I don’t encounter these people often because I don’t go round googling ‘is knitting a bit sad lolz’, and people I meet in real life are normally quite polite about my creations, indeed often they are whipping them out of my hands and spiriting them away (waves to mum).
When I was growing up, though (I am nearly 36, God how did that happen, so I was a teenager in the eighties), you Did Not Do Crafts. It was not fashionable. You only made things if you couldn’t afford to buy them, and if you couldn’t afford to buy things, well, this was not admired. The eighties did not do thrift where I was born, the eighties did consumption. From proper shops. It was my misfortune that somehow I had needlecraft right in my bones from birth. Oh, the difficulties I faced. Hoarding old copies of The People’s Friend in my wardrobe in secret, like pornography, and drooling over the sewing pages. Hanging surreptitiously around the one craft shop in Chesterfield hoping not to bump into anyone I knew and suffer social death. Quivering in embarrassment behind the embroidery flosses. Doing needlepoint in secret. It is a tragic tale of a double life. I went to a very traditional university – twice! Because I don’t learn from my mistakes! - and I suspect my tutors would have rather I sold ecstasy to supplement my grant and wandered the streets drunk and naked apart from my sub fusc than knit a scarf, because I think any kind of craft work would have been seen as a retrograde, unintellectual, silly thing to do. I don’t think I bought a craft book without embarrassment until I was quite a good way into my twenties.
So I am obviously pleased that crafting has been so wonderfully reclaimed and I can now go into a shop and buy Yarn Forward without having to look shiftily at the man behind the till, but also I think crafting is a hugely political act in itself. Because I think being involved in the creation of anything, no matter how small or wonky or odd, stops you being a stupid consumer. It is a cliché but it is true. Step one, learn to knit/ sew/ crochet, step 2, walk through every shop on the high street muttering to your increasingly despairing companion, I could make this myself and it would look better. Since I started making my own stuff and buying handmade I have made permanent changes to the way I buy, live, and think about things, and I suspect many other crafters have done the same. E.g. I now question much more how things are produced, and have altered my buying habits: I feel a sense of connection with crafters before me: I question the nature of productive work which has made me more political: I value cumulative effort, learned skill etc more than I did before. So what I am (finally) getting to is that if the Labour conference had actually had a knitting circle, that might have been one of the more effective political workshops taking place there, because not only do I think craft can be transformative but also someone might have got a pair of socks out of it. And they could have given them to David to make him feel better. (Possibly there wouldn’t have been long enough for an actual pair of socks. Let’s say a chunky cowl).
That was a party political broadcast from the Craft Is Not For Sad People party. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow!
11 hours ago