Getting Hooked: The Craft Revival in Aotearoa

Muse Logo

This is an article originally published in Muse, a feminist zine/mag from Wellington. It’s got some interesting bits about the perception of crafts. Which is going to remind me to do a post about the origins of the word any day now… In the meantime, enjoy, and get stitching!

Getting Hooked: The Craft Revival in Aotearoa

Jenn Jones

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, craft seems to be making a revival among the women of Aotearoa. Everywhere I look I see little photocopied flyers for Bitchcraft, notices for stitch’n’bitch groups, and packets alternative cross stitch patters popping up in craft and design stores around Wellington. But is craft really going through a revival, or is there more of a mainstream interest in alt craft?

Personally, it all started when I was looking for something to get my grandma for Christmas a few years back. Knowing she was a bit of a knitter, I decided she would appreciate something handmade. I was able to resist the consumer drive of the holiday season and get DIY at the same time. I made a beautiful (and tricky) Victorian pansy bookmark for her… and was converted. It made my grandma like me – and my boyfriend’s mum – but I couldn’t help getting the feeling it was a little un-cool among women my own age. So I searched the net for other patterns or ideas, and lo-and-behold, subversive cross stitch came up. I was inspired to make my own designs, and have used cross-stitch as a form of release, political statement, and creative feminine expression.

Since then however, I’ve realised that there’s more to cross-stitch than one woman and her needle. Feminist art and the use of craft as an expression of feminism have been around for at least thirty years – and women expressing themselves through craft for even longer. And, while many women are individually getting hooked (crochet pun intended), they are also getting into it in (and as) a collective fashion. Historically women’s art was traditional craft like knitting, sewing, cross-stitch, crochet and patch-working. Women weren’t accepted into the competitive and individualistic world of fine art, and neither was their artwork. It was marginalised and devalued; denied the title “proper” art.

The women’s movement in Aotearoa brought with it the rise of feminist artists such as Jaqueline Fahey, L.Budd et al, and Allie Eagle, whose work challenged the patriarchal paradigm surrounding the art world, and who sought to break down barriers for all forms of women’s art. They created an alternative space for women artists, where craft was intentionally used as an expression of feminist art, and where traditional female art was celebrated. They worked collaboratively, organised alternative exhibition spaces (installations, interactive sculptures) and bypassed the “art market” by creative non-saleable pieces such as performances. One particular example is Carole Shepeard’s Amazon Shield II, (1984), whereby she combines lacing and binding wooden lattices with strips of painted canvas to form a circular shield. Her aim was to blur the boundaries of traditional female art with the “fine” arts.

The legacy these women have collectively left is that craft is no longer sidelined, and in fact I’ve heard that Creative NZ has tagged approximately $3.25 million for craft grants this year. Despite the fact they label it “object art” (and thus removing its historical context) and despite its blatant northern bias (the majority of the grants only available for north island projects), this could be seen as a step in the right direction particularly for the feminist alt craft movement in gaining institutional recognition. However, in an interview with National Radio, a Creative NZ spokesperson admitted that craft doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and still isn’t celebrated as much as the fine arts. Does this mean back to square one?

Creative NZ are following a gender neutral grants process, but my guess would be that male artists will dominate regardless of whether “craft object art” is mainly a female genre. The herstory of women’s art shows women tend to use less formal means of exhibition and the grants available are mainly for gallery and exhibition funding. However, the nature of the craft movement will be what sustains it. The joy in producing craft art comes from working with other women, learning from them and sharing experiences, whether in a craft group or at a craft market. Craft empowers women, it brings them together. It allows them to bypass consumer culture and reclaim traditional women’s skills devalued by society. It is essentially a collective act, and a consciousness raising one at that.

The reality is that alt craft and women’s art has the potential to be huge, and the masses of women flocking to make Julie Jackson’s Subversive Cross Stitch, Jenny Hart’s Sublime Stitching, and attending Bitch Craft religiously are testament to that. These are all examples of women getting together to create feminine (and feminist) art, to express themselves, and to talk – this is the key to alt craft and the power in its revival.

Sources:

* National Radio Art Segment, 1.30-2pm, 23/4/06, compiled by Justin Gregory
* Chamberlain, Claire, Art History: Aspects of Modern New Zealand Art, (Pearson Education New Zealand Limited, Malaysia, 2000)
* http://www.subversivecrossstitch.com
* http://www.sublimestitching.com – officially available in NZ only at Juniper Gallery, 114 Riddiford Street in Newtown, Wellington

Wanna try it? Wellington craft fun…

CLANDESTINE REVOLUTIONARY SEWING CIRCLE
Sundays 3pm, in the art room upstairs at 128 Abel Smith St. So come along and bring your sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, friendship bracelets etc. The clandestine revolutionary sewing circle is a space for sewers to socialise and skill share. If you can’t sew, this is a chance to learn, and if you’re an experienced sewer it’s a chance to share some of your knowledge. Bring along projects if you like. We also have fabric and materials available, and one sewing machine. Other craft-isans are also welcome!

KNITTING

Adult learn to knit classes at Knitworld (62 Queens Drive Lower Hutt)

Free knitting lessons at their shop too – http://www.knitting.co.nz/

SUBLIME STITCHING CLASS

Monthly embroidery classes, $10 at Juniper using your choice of Jenny Hart’s awesome Sublime Stitching patterns. Call 04 389 4058 to book.

SECRET CRAFT FUN

Also at Juniper… sshhh secret squirrel. A poster will go up at Juniper with what you need to bring with you, but the actual project is a secret until you get there! Same number as above.

CRAFTWERK

Wellington’s cutting edge craft fair launches July 13th at The Paramount Theatre from 5.30pm to 8.30pm. There will be one in October and December. The organisers are hoping it will become a bi-monthly event though. http://www.craftwerk.co.nz. (from the people that brought you Bitchcraft)

Other Craft Tidbits

* Craft web forum – share projects tips and designs:
http://www.craftster.org
* Craft blogs and craft activism sites:
o http://knitting.activist.ca/
o http://www.craftivism.com/blog.html
* Guardian article about the UK craft scene
* Craft funding information:
o http://www.craftinfo.org.nz/
o http://www.creativenz.govt.nz/funding/board/craft.html
* Interviews with Jenny Hart:
o Crown Dozen
o The Modernist
o Crafty Gal
o Jenny Hart official website – http://www.jennyhart.net
* Interviews with Julie Jackson:
o Venus Zine
o Leah Peah blog

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