Like many crafters, I am constantly scanning the craft sections of bookstores for tomes to enlighten and inspire me in the ways of craftiness. I had been scoping out this book—The Gentle Art of Domesticity—for a while and I finally bought it with some money I’d received for Christmas.
This book elicits some ambivalent reactions in me. On the one hand, I am obviously a crafty gal, and the “arts of domesticity”—baking, knitting, crocheting, sewing, etc.—are art forms I enjoy and engage in on a regular basis. On the other hand, having grown up in a time when Grrrl Power is prevalent, this book and it’s pretty pink cover, “gentleness,” and “domesticness” kind of makes me feel like a Bad Feminist.
I consider myself a feminist in that I think all people, regardless of gender, race, age, ethnicity, etc, should be treated with equal respect and dignity. Along with simply playing nice with everyone, I also think that feminism is about doing what makes us happy, so long as we’re not hurting others in the process. For centuries, women (and men) fulfilled particular roles within the household. Not necessarily because someone decided “you are female, you must do this,” but because the process of surviving dictated that certain things be accomplished and that females were, generally speaking, more adept at certain chores. For instance, women, in general, have better dexterity with their fingers, which is why we, in general, are better able to manipulate small objects (like size 0 needles), whereas men, in general, have more upper arm musculature and therefore are good at opening jars. (In case I didn’t throw enough “in generals” in that last sentence, I do know that there are exceptions to every “rule” and I meant in no way to disparage men or women.)
I know that some crafters have been on the receiving end of comments about how knitting/crocheting is “anti-feminist,” comments which I think are baloney. What can be more empowering than reclaiming an act that was historically a chore, something that women* were expected to do, and repurposing it as a form of art? (I define art as “making stuff” be it with paint and canvas or peanut butter and jelly; yes I am a sandwich artist to boot.) And not just art, but it’s also fun. Even when I’m struggling with crazy mohair and beads or seem to have forgotten how to turn a blasted heel, I’m still usually having fun.
I’m only a handful of pages into The Gentle Arts…, but Jane Brocket’s book, along with her lovely website yarnstorm, so far focuses more on “domesticity” versus “domestication,” being creative versus completing chores. If you’ve ever seen my house, you know that I firmly fall into the former category and despise the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I do clean my house, just perhaps not with the regularity that my mother would prefer (not that my mother is a clean freak, but she is much more tidy than I; also, my mother, not being a routine crafter, does not allow her house to become overrun by yarn). The book so far is more about the sources of Brocket’s inspiration—movies, Victorian “domestic” novels (think Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell), her children—than anything else (of course, I think the first chapter is called “Inspiration”). I love the way that Brocket discusses what it is about these various sources of inspiration that leads to productivity in her creative life.
Still, I occasionally have trouble separating the inspiration of domestic arts from the idea that someone (not Brocket, just an amorphous “someone”) is telling me that I should be “domesticated” and clean my room. I shut up that little niggling voice by sitting down with my book and my knitting and reading a few pages.
Speaking of knitting, I now have two (TWO) sleeves for the Owls sweater, and as soon as I fix an error on the body, I will be joining said sleeves to the body and then, finally, starting on the owls themselves. Apparently in British knitting speak, “c/o” means “cast off,” not cast ON, which is what I did. Don’t worry, the abbreviations are included in the pattern (the proceeds of which, if you purchase through Ravelry or Kate Davies’ website, go entirely to the Help for Haiti fund; and yes, this used to be free, but Davies is now asking a minimal fee to help combat apparently copyright infringement). I’m just a moron who didn’t think about the British-American Knitting translations.
* I did read in a (fiction) novel set in the late 1700s that apparently some men also learned to knit, to help pass the time while they were out in the fields tending to herds. Anyone know if this is accurate?