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Domesticity and the Modern Gal

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?

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Amy

9 replies

  1. During my many years of research into my Scottish History, and the living history reenactment that I did.. I can say that Yes! Men would knit to pass the time while in the fields. Specifically, the sheep farmers. Cause when you’ve got your herd out to graze, it gets awfully boring. Both stick knitting, and peg frame knitting were used, but they generally always had something.

    And aww man… all the patterns that I’ve had queued are now becoming No longer free patterns. That is frustrating.

    1. Ah! That’s excellent! Thanks for that tidbit of information.

      Don’t get to discouraged about the Owls sweater, it’s only £1.50, so maybe $3. It is frustrating, but what’s more frustrating for me is that other people behaved in such a way that Kate felt she needed to charge in order to protect her work. That’s not how we knitters behave!

      1. Oh I completely agree that the most frustrating part is the sneakthieves who are doing naughty things with peoples hard designed patterns.
        Oh, only £1.50. That’s really not bad. Especially if I wait till after my move.
        (When I was saying it was frustrating, I was thinking more the socks for 5$ when it was supposed to stay a free pattern the entire time… -.- )
        Perhaps the owls will be my first sweater of next year.

  2. On the updated version of the pattern, I’ve changed the c/o to b/o for clarity. There are also a couple of changes (grafting the underarms, better fitting neck for larger sizes, etc) The reason its now got a nominal charge on it is because I’ve had problems with the pattern being translated and sold in Denmark and Germany, and because (after this) knitters in other countries weren’t respecting my request not to translate it. Also, I wondered if you had seen my review of Brocket’s book? I don’t think you should be feeling like a bad feminist . . .

    http://needled.wordpress.com/2007/10/17/the-domestic-in-drag/

    1. I felt like an incredible dunce when I realized that c/o was for cast-off. I’d been puzzling over why I’d gotten different stitch counts, and then earlier this week I was thinking about it as I was driving home and had one of those “aha!” moments. Which was promptly followed by the realization that you’d said that at the beginning of the pattern. 😉

      I’m so sorry to hear about the translation and selling problems. I understand times are tough everywhere, but we knitters need to have some dignity!

      I haven’t read your review, but I’m off to do so now! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  3. Ooh, you should bring that book to Knit night tonight! I am all for the domestic goddess feminist stance. I just have a little work to do myself on the “domestic” part. Particularly the “dishes” part of domestic. But I always feel like a queen with a feather duster in my hand, though I’d beat any man ’round the head with it if he said I *had* to dust.
    Very excited to see some Owls emerging tonight! And would also be very happy to pay a few bucks for that pattern when I decide to do it (when, not if).
    Have a good day and see ya later! 😀

    1. I probably won’t be bringing the book tonight, as I’m going straight from work to knitting group (with a small detour for foods). But I can bring it into work tomorrow.

      I don’t mind dishes so much, but I HATE mopping and sweeping floors. We’ve probably had this discussion at knit night before.

  4. Great post darlin’. I am a proud feminist. While it was much easier to proclaim this when I was working 24/7 in a business environment, independent and reading feminist literature (old and new) on a regular basis, I don’t feel I am any less so because I now stay home, cook, clean, spin and knit.
    I feel it’s about having the choice to do what makes you happy without about barriers in the way. Work as a CEO or stay at home and take care of your kids. No boundaries. I had a male friend once challenge my feminist leanings when he heard I stayed home, enjoyed cooking, cleaning and knitting. Apparently it was anti feminist of me. I needed to be working 24/7 in order to prove that I believe women have the right to do whatever makes them happy? Silliness.

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