I’m angry, really angry, and it’s all Alex Clark’s fault. Prior to today, I had not heard of Alex Clark, and all was well. Then I read this article in the Guardian (usually a friend to craft, thanks to the ever-readable Perri Lewis and other sound contributors) and the red mist began to descend.
Admittedly, what did I expect with its title ‘The hell of handicrafts’? And usually I’m okay with these sort of things – the craft-bashing article is not exactly a novel journalistic phenomenon. But Ms Clark takes it to a whole new level of insult and misinformation.
Admittedly, the first line doesn’t auger well;
I have a person in my life who does “crafts” so that I don’t have to.
First, why is crafts in inverted commas? Because it’s a new word we don’t know? Because she’s using it to mean something else? Or because she finds the whole concept of craft so distasteful that she has to mark it out as such. And the meaning behind this sentence is unclear – why does anyone ‘have’ to do crafts in the first place? Bad beginning, Alex.
She goes on to praise her partner’s sister’s amazing craft skills (sewing, knitting, crochet) with what seems genuine enthusiasm. And then we come to the first problem:
Yet Maggie looks distinctly unimpressed when I suggest that her stuff is so good she’s wasting it on us: she could surely make a killing.
Aargh! It’s the old lie, the oft-repeated misinformation, that to make an item is cheaper than buying it, that making stuff to sell is a good way to make a living. I can clear that one up for you right here – it’s absolutely not. The wool for, say, a jumper could well cost you £50, then calculate the hours spent making it… well, I’m an unfeasibly slow knitter (which is why I prefer to sew) but I reckon a good pace could be two hours a night for a month? With weekends off? Let’s say that’s 4 weeks x 5 days x 2 hours = 40 hours. And a reasonable hourly rate of pay is – well, minimum wage wouldn’t take into account the skill levels here, so why don’t we say £7 an hour, roughly what you get as a cleaner or waitress, perhaps a little less. So you’ve got £280 for the time spent knitting it. That makes a grand total of £330 – without actually calculating any profit.
Makes those Sarah Lund jumpers look a snip at 280 euros, doesn’t it?
Maggie (the partner’s sister) is also apparently unimpressed by the idea that she’s ‘surfing the zeitgeist’. We’re then told of a cake-baking friend who’s
…irked beyond endurance by the current fad for home baking.
Oh, boo hoo. Were the nasty new bakers using up all the flour? WFT? That’s just mean and small-minded. The vast majority of crafters, bakers, jewellery makers etc that I know delight in sharing their skills and knowledge and take the time to encourage others. I have baked since I was at least nine years old, and can honestly say that I don’t feel in the slightest bit threatened, put out or irked by other people baking.
But clearly I have been wasting my time, sewing, baking, knitting…
Why do women want to embroider when they could be reading Hegel? Why are we so determined to relive the years of austerity when we have our own hard times on the horizon? Why do people insist on bedecking their houses with homemade candles and old mirrors adorned by an inept mosaic frame, when all these things are clearly both hideous and slightly creepy?
Again we have a rehashing of some dodgy old rhetoric… and this kind of sums up much of what I find so offensive about this article. I really don’t mind the hapless attempts at making stuff, I can stand having someone take potshots at what I enjoy doing and find pleasing to the eye. What I don’t like is the pseudo-intellectual justification of it all, that craft and feminism are mutually exclusive, that only sad cases make stuff and that it’s ugly and poorly executed when they do. Why do women want to embroider (or sew or knit or do carpentry or whatever)? I can only answer for myself; I make the things I like, for myself, my home, my family. I can sew clothes that fit me, rather than try to make my body fit into shop-bought clothes. I find it satisfying to have a creative endeavour, to make something with my hands that didn’t exist before. To have a vision and fulfil it. There are political aspects too – I don’t like buying cheap clothes with dodgy manufacturing practices – but they are secondary to the primal drive to create.
As an aside – I was in Malta some years ago, and in a small museum saw the sleeping lady – a small sculpture that was found in Europe’s oldest prehistoric buildings, dating to around 3000BC. I was transfixed by her. Partly because she’s an amazing shape – lush, zaftig, call it what you will, but she is simply beautiful. But, more than that, I was awestruck by the ancient creative impulses that caused the craftsman to make her. Five thousand years ago, someone took clay and moulded it into this little figure.
Anyway, back to the annoying article. Alex notices that there are lots of books about craft. Clever Alex.
putting paid to my fears that all this craftiness is but another ruse by The Man to engage women in trivial pursuits so that they won’t remember to found their own companies, and become sidetracked instead into making a tablecloth for the boardroom and frosting the glass ceiling. Clearly, crafting is big business.
Ack. Making a tablecloth for the boardroom? I think I threw up in my mouth a little. And I do wish she’d give womankind a little more credit. What entrepreneur is going to be thrown off track by a little handiwork? Maybe, just maybe, it’s the kind of thing that allows women to relax and unwind after a hard day running their own companies. I wouldn’t know, though, cos I’m just a little housewife.
Alex goes on to start to knit a scarf. She does a few rows, gets bored and goes back to watching TV. (to be fair, at this point she is watching The Killing, which is television of the highest calibre) But Alex doesn’t mind giving up because – wait for it, folks –
Luckily, I already have a scarf. I bought it with money I had earned by going to work instead of staying at home and making things.
I think I might explode at this point. (and it’s not because of the unnecessary ‘had’ in that second sentence) For fuck’s sake, Alex. Nobody knits a scarf because it’s the only way they can get their hands on one. And even though you have a job and earn money, you still don’t get to sneer at people who’ve made a different life choice. Or who’d like a job but can’t find one.
Alex goes on to make bunting, felt slippers and then talks about cake. None of which is particularly successful, but neither does she resort to parading her moral superiority and her description of trying to sew some children’s shoes is quite funny. She acknowledges that some of this stuff is pretty hard. Surprisingly, for someone with a job and aspirations that we should all be reading Hegel, she isn’t very good at thinking things through, but then it’s clear she doesn’t want to do it well. She’s too good for this sort of thing.
Alex finishes with ten rules for happier handicrafts. I’ll name that tune in three.
1. Do it if it makes you happy. If not, find something else that does.
2. Craft is something men and women do. It’s perfectly compatible with running a business or a household, reading books or lecturing in literature. It doesn’t make you a better or worse person – just a person with some hand skills.
3. Play nice. Share your knowledge, encourage those starting out and honour those who’ve gone before. Don’t slag off people who practice a different craft or, gasp, none at all. Or, in the words of Bill and Ted…Be excellent to one another.