Elena Solomon wrote a paper titled “Homemade and Hell Raising Through Craft, Activism, and Do-It-Yourself Culture”. This paper, published in the Journal of PsychNology (that is not a typo), begins with the interesting claim that while crafters and DIY-ers tend to take pride in the self-sufficiency demonstrated by their crafts and projects, this stands in seeming contradiction to their common dependence on DIY gathering spaces (real or virtual). In most cases, we learn to craft from others (in person, from tutorials, from examples, from books, from videos…), and even after gaining skill, we seek to share the results with other people, or sell them to other people, or get feedback from other people… Witness etsy.com, ravelry.com, etc. Do It Yourself might in some cases be better phrased as Do It Yourself With Others.
Or at least that’s the argument I think the author wanted to make. While this was the teaser, and that’s what the article claimed to be focusing on, the paper then veers off into an analysis of “craftivism,” which I gather is when you use crafts to make political statements.
My first thought was, of course, of Madame Defarge.
Solomon first describes existing craft websites as “jarringly apolitical” (I am not sure what she expected to find), a phenomenon she attributes to “the DIY movement’s highly political ties with consumerism.” I think this is trying to say that craft sites are not political because they are created? controlled? motivated by? businesses selling craft supplies. It’s not quite clear.
The same sentence then asserts that
“the apolitical masquerade reveals, upon closer analysis, neoliberal ties to a more conservative capitalist agenda.”
I read that excerpt at least five times before admitting defeat. I have no idea what this is saying.
The paper then meanders into “retrograde postfeminism” and makes some actually plausible statements that a lot of crafting and DIY projects are marketed toward white, middle-class folk, who may participate without even seeing it as so. It guess that group of people would include me, but I don’t think I’d go as far as ascribing it to “the underlying political force that actively works to maintain a racialized and middle class market of consumerist individuals.”
Much more entertaining is the list of “craftivist” activities in this article. While Defarge doesn’t make an appearance, Chilean women who were imprisoned and oppressed do. These women sewed arpilleras to tell their stories and ask about missing loved ones, while living in fear of punishment.
Barb Hunt knitted a series of anti-personnel land mines to protest their use worldwide.
Kirsty Robertson designed a knitting pattern that encodes the Code Red Virus and made it freely available. Anyone can knit this computer virus (purl = 0, knit = 1) and transport it anywhere in the world… or encode their own favorite program into a new scarf. (Of course, the scarf-code is only meaningful if associated with an interpreter, compiler, or a computer that can run it.)
I can’t claim to have performed any acts of craftivism myself. What’s your favorite example?