Rebellious Doilies and Subversive Stitches: Writing a ‘Craftivist’ History
Focusing on knitting, this essay briefly examines what might be gained and what is lost through the erasure of a historical trajectory of radical practice. To get at this question I briefly discuss the latest, phoenix-like emergence of craft across a number of seemingly disconnected scenes and scenarios, including the global art world and the front lines of protest, to suggest some possible, though not encyclopedic, reasons for their simultaneous emergence and disconnect from previous histories of resistance. Is it possible that the political effectiveness of radical craft practice relies inherently on the gendering of textile work? Is it possible, in other words, that the way that knitting, embroidery and quilting are used to make political change in some spheres requires their subjugation in others? This uncomfortable suggestion explains the paucity of attention paid to activist crafting practice during the late 1980s and early 1990s as debates over issues of identity and representation made the use of craft as a weapon difficult at best precisely because of the way that it made use of the essentializing stereotypes of womanhood and domesticity. It also offers a possible explanation for the resurgence of “craftivism” as debates over identity politics have in turn been eclipsed by analyses of global capitalism, neoliberalism and the attendant shift of (some) scholarly attention away from difference and towards analysis of connection, flows and networks.