But it’s true! Nights are getting cooler, leaves are getting drier, and those Country Time Lemonade commercials with the squeaky, empty porch swing are airing on network TV. Fall is in the air, and all I wanna do is make big, squishy sweaters.
Luckily, I spent a good part of my spring and summer designing a whole bunch of them, in cahoots with Caroline Fryar. Together, we made 14 colorwork designs for the new Juniper Moon Farm yarn, Herriot (100% alpaca sport weight; comes in 10 awesome undyed, natural colors — for more info about the yarn, see Caroline’s post).
And then, with the help of a whole lot of people, including test knitters, models, a brilliant graphic designer, an angelically patient tech editor, and the always-amazing photographer Caro Sheridan, we put them into a book.*
The book is organized in order, from simple to more challenging colorwork — from basic stripes to Caroline’s insane double-knit coat masterpiece. Caroline’s post does a thorough job of describing all the pieces and crediting all the contributors, and the whole thing is available to be ogled on Ravelry, but I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites.
Let’s start with some of the pullovers:
This is definitely my favorite photo, and my favorite design, in the whole book. Caroline created this badass ombre striped dress, which we named Hattie. Caro photographed it in a beautiful, creepy old graveyard in Virginia, and then we borrowed most of the book’s garment names from the hundred-year-old gravestones there.
Edie, a trompe l’oeil intarsia pullover, with little short-rowed cuffs and a keyhole back.
Bessie, a comfy, slouchy, stripey sweater that Caroline designed, and that I want to wear all winter long.
And Maeby, a stranded, seamless pullover with turned hems, a kangaroo pocket, and a drawstring funnel neck.
Oh, and also there are elbow patches!
Truly, that’s just the beginning! Check out all the rest on Ravelry.
You can find the book, and Herriot, wherever Juniper Moon Farm yarn is sold.
More exciting announcements in the next few days — in the meantime, I’ll be sitting on the porch swing whipping up an Edie.**
* If you want your own knitwear or other craft photography to look half as amazing as Caro’s, check out her Craftsy class on product photography, “Shoot It!“
** Not true. I do not have a porch swing. But I AM sitting on the porch, and the chair I’m using is not entirely stable, so it is somewhat swing-LIKE. So.]]>
I would love to leave a legacy for all those little boys who are teased, who are afraid, who don’t know how to express themselves creatively yet. And they don’t even know that they’re allowed to go against the grain … It’s okay to say “fuck you.” Do what you love to do, and express yourself thoroughly. I want to be an example of someone who is proud, someone who is accomplished, and someone who loves, loves what they do.
I might have some ambivalence about Raja, about Drag Race in general, and about Season 3 in particular, but OH MY GOD I sobbed like a tiny little baby when she made that speech. It’s far too rare that kids–and especially queer kids–get the message that being different might not be a bad thing. For me, that glimmer of hope came in 1993 when I saw RuPaul on television for the first time. I’m not exaggerating when I say that punk rock and RuPaul saved my life.
Cut to one cold February weekend, almost twenty years later, and I’m mainlining Season 2 of Drag Race while working on a handmade gift for my badass squirrel friend Heather. As I laughed, cried, and shouted at the screen (PANDOOORAAAA!!!), all of the glamour and all of the fame were lovingly, fiercely stitched into …
RuDoll posed for some glamour shots with noted fashion photographer Caro Sheridan,
giving us a glimpse at the Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent
it takes to be America’s Favorite Drag Superdoll.
We blasted Glamazon and Champion out Heather’s iphone, and RuDoll soon had us all boogying and gagging, as she served up Bratz-doll Realness and Barbie Eleganza.
RuDoll is crocheted with some super-shitty KnitPicks Palette yarn (seriously, that stuff is the worst),
shaped with armature wire and stuffed with polyester fiberfill.
I beat her beautiful mug with pearl cotton embroidery floss and a chenille needle.
RuDoll comes with two outfits and three wigs, all fully interchangeable.
With these tools, you can create such unique RuDoll looks as
(Pink Lemonade inspired by this look from the Season 2 Drag Race episode “Country Queens.”)
And, if you’re lucky, you just might catch a peek at RuDoll untucking in the Interior Illusions Lounge!
But don’t be jealous of her boogie.
RuDoll has a plenty of love to go around.
For crafters and other interested parties, materials and construction details
are on my Ravelry project page.
crochet rupaul doll]]>
We loafed around, we drank tequila, we ate cheese, and we swapped hats.
Photo by Minty. Also pictured: Christy, Caro, Nova, Julia, Ashley, Diana, & Sarah.
So many hats!
I used the occasion of the Hat Swap to design a jaunty chapeau for Ms. Frick Knits, otherwise known as JulieFrick.
I give you, in keeping with the FlintKnits tradition of silly pattern names …
*** Frick Frick BERET! ***
(This and all subsequent FrickFrickBeret! photos were taken by the amazing Caro Sheridan.)
I loved knitting this hat so much that I immediately made a second one for a swap with Chawne (she, like Julie, looks smashing in red). The second version is slightly less slouchy – un soupçon de slouch, more of a classic tam shape.
Sarah was kind enough to model it before I blocked it and sent it off to Chawne.
The angular leaf lace ends in star-shaped crown decreases.
A closer look at the two sizes, side by side.
Skills needed: Knitting and purling in the round, increases and decreases, yarn-overs.
Brim circumference for both sizes measures 17″ unstretched, and up to 24″ stretched.
Gauge: 8 sts and 8 rows per inch in main lace pattern
Cost: $5 US
Let’s hear it — Frick, Frick, BERET!
Along with her skein of Manos Wool Clasica (in Citric, a colorway close to my own heart), Lisa asked me to knit a cap to donate to a cancer treatment center. She probably didn’t know it at the time, but that’s a cause that’s also close to me. I’m a two-time leukemia survivor, and I swear to kittens sometimes during the Chemo Years the only thing I could stand to put on my naked, sensitive head was one of my mom’s handknit hats. My own treatment center here in Flint is usually pretty flush with hats, but Lisa introduced me to headhuggers.org, which distributes hats to cancer treatment centers that need them. Win!
(So what hat pattern should use to knit or crochet a chemo cap? Do you have a favorite? Share!)
And then I realized that I have at least five unblogged finished hats sitting on my Ravelry projects page. Let’s knock a few of them out right now! I knit all three of these hats in 2009, gave them away, and completely forgot to blog about them.
First, Rose Red by Ysolda Teague. (Remember January 2009 when I still bothered trying to look serious? Good times.)
I love this pattern. It’s quick and pretty, and has just the right amount of slouch. Love. I gave this one away to a pink-loving friend, but I obviously need to make another for myself.
Second, the Wood Hollow hat, by Kirsten Kapur. A perfect cabley cap that also has a matching mitten pattern.
And third, another of Kirsten’s patterns that I changed up a bit. Her super-popular Thorpe is a simple earflap hat knit in chunky yarn. I just switched out the colorwork chart and skipped the garter stitch trim.
Aaaand the end of 2009, when I’d given up on pretending to be a Serious Model.]]>
We are, according to many pundits, policymakers, observers, and critics from across the political spectrum, witnessing one such resurgence alongside new forms of right-wing activism and policymaking in the US. I’m an unapologetic leftist (certainly this is wildly shocking for my regular readers, yes?), but I don’t think you have to be particularly radical to take issue with Ayn Rand’s brand of philosophy, or the US federal and state policies that are increasingly inspired by its vision of the world.
As one recent article summed it up:
During her lifetime, Rand advocated “the virtue of selfishness,” declared altruism to be “evil,” opposed Medicare and all forms of government support for the middle-class and the poor, and condemned Christianity for advocating love and compassion for the less fortunate. Rand also dismissed the feminist movement as a “false” and “phony” issue, said a female commander in chief would be “unspeakable,” characterized Arabs as “almost totally primitive savages,” and called government efforts to aid the handicapped and educate “subnormal children” an attempt to “bring everybody to the level of the handicapped.”
Which brings me to a particularly … surprising example of this most recent wave of Randianism: The ATLAS SHRUG.
Image (c) yarnmarket.com
The pattern blurb reads:
Who is John Galt? Inspired by the blockbuster book by Ayn Rand, the Atlas Shrug is more than a fashion statement. It’s a statement about modern society. The construction is reminiscent of railway lines, in the color of the metal created by the brilliant industrialist. Knit your own Atlas Shrug in Caledon Hills yarn and tell the world that you value your independence.
Let me be clear: I don’t know a thing about the shrug’s talented designer, Sandi Prosser, who has given the world some really beautiful patterns in the past, or about YarnMarket’s business philosophy (though I do know from personal experience that they offer excellent customer service, and speedy shipping at a reasonable cost). I have no interest in badmouthing a hardworking designer or an independent yarn shop. And I have no idea why this pattern exists. Maybe it’s truly intended to inspire some kind of Objectivist fashion movement. Or maybe it’s just meant to be an apolitical literary reference, like a Doctor Who scarf or a Gryffindor tie.
What I do know is that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this damn shrug since I first saw it. So I’ve been asking myself, WHY does it bother me so much? It’s just a knitting pattern, after all. And I’ve realized that part of my problem (other than what I’ll freely admit is a fierce mistrust of all things Randian) is the use of knitting in particular to celebrate Rand’s “virtue of selfishness,” and to promote individual self-interest as the key to social, political, and economic good.
Knitting can be a solitary or individual activity, of course, particularly within the consumer cultures that have recently emerged around fiber crafts. But the history of knitting in many parts of the world is, as Anne Macdonald and Joanne Turney tell us, also the history of knitting circles, of stitch-and-bitch nights, of women-friendly social spaces and of radical collective action.
Baby blanket that a bigass group of us made, collectively, for a dear friend.
And the history of knitting is also, very clearly, a history of charity — a legacy of, in Christian language, “caring for the least among us.”
While Rand and her followers celebrate the “virtue of selfishness,” the history and current practice of knitting is actively contrary to that philosophy. Many knitters give away more handmade goods than they keep, and many of those knitted items are unselfishly given not to friends or loved ones, but to strangers in need.
Where Rand saw “subnormal children,” for instance, knitters see the loving parents of premature infants, or people living meaningful lives with disabilities, all of whom could perhaps use (as could we all) a bit of comfort, encouragement, humor, or warmth. Dozens of charities deliver hand-knitted toys, clothing, and blankets to those families and individuals.
In fact, read any list of knitting charities, and you’ll find a testament not simply to our generosity, but to our humanity — to our common desire to reach out to one another at our most vulnerable moments. We devote countless hours to crafting gifts of love and support for the sick and injured, for the displaced, for the dying, for the bereaved. We knit for people we will never know or meet — caps for cancer patients, shawls for hospice residents, burial clothing for those mourning a miscarriage or infant death.
Like knitting, charity has, in many cultural traditions, been a feminine pursuit, and having leisure time to devote to recreational crafts or charitable works is a sign of class privilege. In modern European and US history, benevolent charity toward the “lower” classes and races has been central to the definition of white middle-class women as morally superior. In some later post, we’ll talk more about how craft-based charitable endeavors have been and still can be totally fucked-up, imperialist projects (for instance, when white American missionaries taught Native women to knit in an attempt to forcibly assimilate them into Euro/American heteronormative gendered behaviors and family arrangements). Charity is always political, and it’s always about power. But for the moment, let’s look at what charitable knitting gets right.
For one thing, charitable knitting has the potential to make the personal political, to create spaces not only for sharing, compassion, and cross-class solidarity, but also for critical consciousness and social support in a world where women’s lives are too often marked by violence, victimization, and isolation.Those lists of charities tell us something about ourselves. We knit for the women and children who have survived family and relationship violence, but whose continued survival depends on underfunded shelters and volunteers. We knit for pregnant teens, and young women caring for their new infants. We knit to celebrate new life, to commemorate the dead, and as a testament to the possibility of survival. One charity gives comfort shawls to the mothers and sisters of women murdered by their husbands, boyfriends, or intimate partners. Through another organization, survivors of sexual violence make scarves that are given to victims of sexual violence when they enter the hospital for emergency treatment.
We knit when we encounter the violence, poverty, and loss that are endemic to modern, white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist societies. And, as they brandish Atlas Shrugged in one hand and the federal budget in the other, US policymakers bank on it. They know that women’s charitable and unpaid labors the world over are the only way to make up, however inadequately, for the injustices of global capitalism, and for the disappearing safety nets of a steadily-dismantled welfare state. When Medicare and Social Security are successfully gutted and the old folks’ homes don’t have money to pay the heating bills, Grandma is going to need those handknit shawls.
In other words, knitting actually has a long history of ameliorating the suffering caused by the individual selfishness — and the corporate and state greed — that Rand and her followers find “virtuous.”
Where the profit motives of the pharmaceutical industry make millions of mothers and fathers in sub-Saharan Africa vulnerable to early death from HIV/AIDS, knitters send handmade bears and dolls to their surviving partners and children.
Where the arrogance of militarized war and empire-building wreaks violence and havoc, knitters send blankets, sweaters, socks, and hats.
When women in the US are brutalized by their intimate partners and the state is unable or unwilling to support them, knitters send afghans to make life in the shelter a little more livable.
When the selfish greed of global capitalism and imperial power create surplus populations and impoverished classes of wage workers, knitters literally clothe the poor, sending warm handknits to homeless shelters in New Jersey, tribal reservations in North America, and people living in poverty all over the world.
And when those surplus people in the US — the poor, marginalized, addicted, and mentally ill — are disproportionately funneled into a profit-driven prison system, knitters send yarn, needles, and supplies. And then they volunteer to teach inmates to knit.
Clearly, no charity is a solution to any real social or economic problem. None of these gifts or organizations can touch the structural causes of poverty, injustice, violence, or war. A crocheted teddy bear does not cure AIDS; a handknit sweater does nothing to combat homelessness; knitting lessons don’t move us any closer to abolishing the prison industrial complex. If your neighborhood is studded with deadly landmines, maybe a pair of socks sent from the country that helped put them there is actually an insult. Those are problems that we need to confront in direct, collective, big-picture ways.
In the meantime, though, what our charitable practices might do is make the individual hardship, suffering, and violence wrought by those problems a little easier to survive. And yeah, I’ll take these small, hopeful acts and gifts of love over the cynical “virtue” of selfishness any day.
Listen, shit just got real earnest in here. Clearly we need to tell some jokes before this becomes a blog about my Feelings. You know what we need? A CONTEST.
Okay! There are two ways to enter this contest:
(1) SATIRE! Write some alternative instructions for a Randian knitting pattern! Like “bind off all stitches. Block your finished shrug in the sweat and tears of the workers.” Or, “continue knitting until sleeve measures 17 inches, or until John Galt finishes his interminable monologue, whichever comes first.” Or…
(2) SINCERITY! Post a comment telling us about your favorite knitting or craft-based charity.
I’ll pick a comment at random, and the winner will receive the fabulous prize of: one skein of Manos del Uruguay Wool Clasica or Manos Lace in the colorway of their choice, AND … my charitable labor! I’ll make and send one handmade hat, shawl, or toy to the charity of their choice.
ETA: And let’s say the contest ends May 1 when I wake up in the morning.
ETA: For all us so-called “selfish” knitters who knit mainly or only for ourselves: This post is by no means meant to be a prescription for charitable knitting, or an indictment against knitting for oneself. Just a comment on how the feminine, middle-class history of recreational knitting is inseparable from the feminine, middle-class history of charitable works. And I think there’s something to celebrate there, even if it’s not a 100% awesome thing.
And surely, in a world that depends so much on women “selflessly” caring for others — on an exploitative sexual and global division of labor and on the wide range of unpaid and underpaid domestic work done by women all over the world — some forms of selfishness might be badass forms of resistance (e.g. the refusal to care for others at the expense of one’s own wellbeing). Rand’s “rational self-interest,” though? Doesn’t get us there.
Case in point: Goodale.
pattern: Goodale, by Cecily Glowik MacDonald
yarn: Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, in “vibrant lime green”
needles: 4.5mm circular
On one hand, it’s your basic top-down raglan cardigan (because, yes, what I really needed was another green cardigan).
On the other hand, lifted increases! I-cord edging! AND CHECK OUT THOSE POCKETS!
Er, except I didn’t adjust the pattern for my long, long torso like I usually do, so I ended up with a lovely cropped length, which is perfect (perfect!) for spring and summer dresses and whatnot, but which means that these little pockets are awfully close to boob-level.Clearly, the only answer is to wear this Goodale all summer, and then make another one — this time with three-quarter sleeves and a longer body — and wear it every single day of Winter 2012.
I also made fabric-covered buttons for this one, an idea I shamelessly stole from Cirilia’s Double Decker Cardigan (in Knitting it Old School).
I used some fabric scraps I had lying around, and this kit. And people, it could not have been easier! I WANT TO COVER ALL OF THE BUTTONS ALL OF THE TIME.
To sum up: Cecily rules! details are awesome! pockets! buttons!
And now, on the subject of pockets, I give you my best (and yet? still not that convincing) Stern Professorial Face when I tell you to spend some time with the amaaaazing “Pockets of History” collection at VADS.
Pockets of History includes photographs of and information about hundreds of surviving examples of women’s tie-on pockets from the 18th and 19th centuries (pockets weren’t always attached to clothes, you know). Check out the embroidered pockets in particular — they’re pretty freaking incredible. Pockets!
ETA: Oh! Oh! And please check out Kate’s wonderful, wonderful post about pockets from a few days ago! (h/t to Katie for the link — the post was still languishing in my blogreader.)]]>
Puppy Cape! Constructed on the fly, with undyed muslin and a fabric marker.
Crush joined about 6,000 other demonstrators (mostly human, some dogs) at the Rally for Working Families at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.
Her sign (”Snyder is a wiener”) refers to Michigan’s new governor, Rick Snyder, who, well, is a wiener. And also to her status as a wienerdog (GET IT? Wiener! Hooray, political punning!)
Related: One hundred years ago today, in New York City, a fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 146 workers, mostly women aged 16-24.
One year ago this month in Gazipur, Bangladesh, a fire at a factory that produces knitwear for H&M killed 21 workers and injured 50 more.
Today, garment and textile workers continue to be some of the most vulnerable, super-exploited women in the world.
As U.S. and state policymakers like Snyder bust unions, empower corporations, and continue to chip away at workers’ rights, historians Nan Enstad and Joshua Freeman, and journalist Jeff Weinstein all explain how looking back at the Triangle Shirtwaist fire can help us understand our current political climate. Specifically, understanding the history of the fire gives us insight into the stakes of this ongoing debate about what Enstad calls “the relationship between the power of the corporation and the safety, welfare and dignity of people.”
Some anti-sweatshop “craftivists” believe that making one’s own clothing in this context is a political act, a material (no pun intended) disengagement from and protest against the global garment industry. In the future, we’re definitely going to have some discussion here about this idea, and also about the politics and economics of “ethical consumption” when it comes to yarn, fiber, and textiles.
For now, I’d just like to propose that, if we want yarn and clothing and textiles that are not made in deadly, near-slavery sweatshop conditions, it’s not enough to “vote with our dollars,” or to buy the right stuff from the right stores, or even to not buy anything at all. We also need to come at it from the other side, not as consumers, but as direct, outspoken advocates for workers’ rights and fair, safe, just labor practices.
Thinking, learning, and teaching about politics is my job and my passion, so I’m overloading on all the news exploding out of struggles in places like Wisconsin, Libya, Washington, Michigan, Egypt, and my local Planned Parenthood clinic. It’s a lot.
My Theory? Is that, in the 21st century. when shit in the world goes especially crazy, pageloads at places like Cute Overload and ZooBorns go through the roof.
I don’t know if that’s actually true. The theory is 100% untested, and 100% based on my friends’ Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter streams, which are a steady back-and-forth between hard political news, smart progressive punditry, and precious baby animals snuggling and riding skateboards and stuff.
I would like to step up and do my part to keep that balance, to maintain our collective sanity, to restore our energy and refresh us to go out into the struggle once more.
Friends, I give you: CRUSHMOUSE.
pattern: “To Humiliate the Dog,” by Amoena Di
yarn: Plymouth Suri Merino
Mods: My gauge was smaller than recommended, so I cast on 56 stitches instead of 48. To keep it on Crush’s wee head, I used a 3mm needle for the ribbing, and a 4mm needle for the stockinette. I also added a row of single crochet stitches to the ears (SC, SCincrease across — this will give you 22 stitches at the end instead of 15). I attached pieces of felt to the inside of the ears using embroidery floss and a blanket stitch.
I hope The Crushinator helps to brighten your day and feed your weary soul! If not, I strongly recommend checking out ZooBorns. That shit is irresistible.]]>
But I do want to re-visit our conversations about Heather Ross’s public statements about race and her fabrics, in order to re-frame those conversations in ways that I think are productive for moving forward. (I get to do that, because it’s my blog. So I’m not going to spend time in this post defining what is/is not “censorship,” or explaining the trouble with colorblindness. If you want a detailed look at the entire conversation, definitely read the comments and trackbacks on the original post. I’ve closed comments on that post, and I’d appreciate if comments here can focus on the content of this post, rather than re-hashing things already said. Thanks!)
As you may have seen, there was a lot of excellent, thoughtful conversation generated by Ashley’s (IMO) excellent, thoughtful guest-post. Several folks commented that they found Ashley’s approach to be off-the-mark, because it focused on the words and works of one designer, rather than on broader problems.
As you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of examining Little Things in order to get insight into Big Things (uh, see, for instance, my most recent post, on the sociopolitical meanings of Hot Pants). As a literary scholar, Ashley works in this mode too, spending lots of time doing close readings of texts in order to make sense of the social and political worlds in which they were written. Lots of folks in the comment thread on her post were interested in connecting Ashley’s thoughts to a Bigger Picture, but there was a range of perspectives on what that picture is or should be.
What I want to do here is highlight some of the sociopolitical contexts surrounding something like a contemporary fabric print by charting out what I think are the most productive, interesting directions that conversation took. I see each of the big-picture questions that y’all raised as overlapping and interlocking, part of the giant matrix of power and privilege and pleasure that our crafty lives are all built upon.
So! Some of those bigger pictures are, in no particular order:
(1) The whiteness of “whimsy.”
As some commenters mentioned, the current fashion in mainstream/online crafting circles for “retro,” “whimsy,” and “nostalgia” is one that is white-normative. (White normativity is the set of [often unconscious and invisible] ideas and practices that make whiteness appear natural, neutral, “regular,” and right.) The whiteness of childlike whimsy in particular says something about how whiteness is attached to ideas about purity and innocence.
I’d also argue that our retro fantasies are so white-normative partly because the mythical ’simpler’ times we seem to long for (like the American 1950s, or a steampunk-pretty Victorian Britain, or the My-Little-Pony 80s) were (1) defining moments for middle class whiteness and for white womanhood in particular, and (2) periods when non-white people were experiencing some things that aren’t particularly easy to romanticize in a piece of fabric or a Halloween costume — like, say, the Jim Crow south, British imperial conquest, or the violent oppressions of the Reagan era.
What does it mean, for instance, that so many crafting cultures today romanticize happy 50s housewife imagery, or the social worlds of Jane Austen novels? We’re going to keep asking these kinds of questions here, because I think they’re crucial for making political sense of the crafting communities that we’re all a part of.
(2) Racial/ethnic stereotyping and cultural appropriation.
Several commenters had super-legit concerns about the awfulness that can happen when those with racial privilege and economic power represent those without it. (This is especially relevant in discussing toy, doll, and other children’s product industries, where racial “otherness” has, over and over again, been appropriated, commodified, exploited, and represented in fucked-up ways.)
As other commenters noted, though, there are a number of problems with the suggestion that white people should only represent white people, and POC should only represent themselves. For one thing, there’s the risk of idealizing “separate but equal” crafting markets (when, as we all know, the equal in “separate but equal” is never quite what it’s cracked up to be).
And let’s not pretend that there’s some limitless range of products out there, a wide world of equal and positive representation, and we just have to “vote with our dollars” by purchasing the products we like. One reader sent me a some pretty revealing mosaics featuring the kinds of fabrics that are “out there”:
First, there’s the gazillion fabric prints that tell stories of childlike whimsy and innocence, featuring light-skinned bodies.
Aaand second, there’s the kinds of fabric prints that feature “other” children and bodies.
So no, white artists, do not go out there and represent people of color if this is the kind of shit you’re going to produce — if you can’t be arsed to do your homework and make every possible effort do it well. Do your homework and, while you’re at it, try to be an ally. Maybe use some of your privilege to create spaces where the work and voices of POC can be promoted and heard. And when white folks try, we might well, after all that homework, still fail. But, as Ashley said so clearly, that’s when we have the chance to listen, learn, and try again.
(3) The racialized, segregated, white-normative worlds of toys and play.
Kristen said it better than I ever could. (See also the reading list at the end of this post.)
(4) The crafting cultures we live in and love are embedded in, and reproduce, the structural problems of racism, hetero-patriarchy, and economic inequality on a global scale.
The crafting world is, in many ways, a racially segregated and hierarchical one.
Dominant crafting cultures and communities — and especially the elite consumer cultures around luxury and designer yarn, fiber, textiles, etc. — are also white-normative and racially exclusive. Chawne, for instance, has spoken compellingly about her experiences negotiating those worlds, and asked that we focus our attention on changing those communities, rather than critiquing specific representational practices.
Crafting communities are also pretty clearly divided by hierarchies of class and “taste” (which are, of course, also about race). As one commenter pointed out, Heather Ross fabrics are only accessible to people who are able and willing to pay $17 for a yard of cotton.
And, to zoom out even further, another commenter asked us to consider the global markets and inequalities that make these luxury products available to crafters in wealthy countries. Textile manufacturing for US markets has been moved almost entirely overseas — in fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the three occupations that will lose jobs the fastest in the US between 2008 to 2018 are all in textiles.
So quilting cottons are part of a global textile and garment industry dominated by multinational corporations that subcontract factories in Asia, Africa, and Central America. Today, quilting cottons, like other crafting supplies and fabrics we use and wear, are typically manufactured under exploitative conditions, in factories located in the global south, by women of color who will never be able to purchase the products they make. The globalization of textile and yarn industries means that almost all of the the craft supplies we buy in wealthy countries are produced in this way.
For me, #4 is an especially compelling area for more research and discussion. Where do our huge — and growing — crafting communities and markets fit in to that bigger picture? What critical perspectives can help us make sense of those political structures? How should we attend to our own privilege and complicity in those systems of power and inequality? And how can we intervene in ways that might, in some small way, affect those systems?
So yes, this is a re-framing of the Heather Ross conversation in ways that I think are productive for future discussions. But it’s also a roadmap for the kinds of things I’m interested in continuing to explore here on FlintKnits (along with, of course, regular old posts about stuff I make).
Oh, and a note on swears, because a handful of people have over-performed a lot of scandalized offense at the swears in Ashley’s guest post: If you read a post on FlintKnits and are offended by the swears in it, I don’t fucking care. Keep it to yourself. Heather Ross herself publicly called this blog “The HBO of Crafting,” and that, friends, is some heavy shit to live up to. In the future, I’m going to ignore all emails and delete all comments that are just complaints about swearing. Because, again, I don’t fucking care. If you can’t handle the creative and expressive use of “adult” language, this is not the blog for you, and it never has been.
WHITE NORMATIVITY & PRIVILEGE:
TOYS, DOLLS AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF RACIAL/ETHNIC DIFFERENCE
DOMESTICITY, CRAFTING, & INEQUALITY
I made me some hot pants!
photo (c) Caro Sheridan
pattern: Cheeky Hot Pants, by Marnie MacLean, from Knitting It Old School
yarn: worsted wool scraps
In the winter of 1971, hot pants (in the words of the B-52s) exploded. They covered the catwalks in Paris and Rome, and were snatched off the racks by shoppers throughout Europe and North America. The term “hot pants” was added to several English language dictionaries, James Brown wrote a musical homage to the garment, and bartenders around the U.S. mixed Hot Pants cocktails (recipe below). The hot pants explosion was so huge, so widespread, that it was, for a brief few months in early 1971, socially acceptable for middle-class women to wear them to the office, to weddings, and basically every other damn place you can think of. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore them yachting.
Hot pants have become an iconic Seventies garment in American popular memory and, in many ways, they do represent a particular convergence of social, cultural, and technological developments specific to the early 1970s U.S. Here are a few of the stars that aligned to make the hot pants explosion possible:
First, polyester changed the world. New fabric and textile technologies produced more flexible materials that could be made into form-fitting clothing that didn’t restrict mobility the way woven cotton or wool did. You could DANCE in hot pants. (Although, as many of us can attest from personal experience, polyester doesn’t necessarily provide a great climate of, er, “breathability” down there.) Polyester also provided new options for fiber crafters in the form of acrylic yarns, and countless yards of acrylic yarn were knitted and crocheted into beloved hot pants (the inspiration for Marnie’s Cheeky pattern).
Second, hot pants catered to and promoted new standards for what women’s bodies should look like. White aspirational figures like models and actresses and Miss America (who was a way more significant part of American culture then than she is now) became increasingly thin throughout the 1960s and 70s, even as the average American woman got larger. In the late 60s and early 70s, women in the U.S. started “dieting” in new ways (in fact, widespread use of the verb “to diet” and the phrase “on a diet” can be traced back to this era). Amphetamine diet pills wouldn’t be outlawed until 1979, and as they increased in popularity they were joined on the shelves by a wave of sugar-free sodas, as beverage companies developed low and no-calorie sweeteners that were less bitter than saccharine. Diet Rite (1958) was joined by Fresca (1967), sugar-free 7-Up (1970), and Tab (1963). Between 1970 and 1978, the number of articles about “dieting” in women’s magazines doubled those published in the 60s.
While the U.S. has a long history of affluent and middle-class women “watching their figures,” the dieting of the 1970s was something new — a new culture of starvation that led to a shocking number of diet-pill deaths, and that has continued to harm American girls and women in the years since. There’s no way to pin down this matrix of fashion/diet/culture in causal terms — it’s more like a confluence of mutually-reinforcing factors: celebrity women became thinner; the rest of us got bigger; body-revealing clothing like mini-skirts and hot pants came into fashion; and technological changes and new marketing strategies produced new diet cultures, in conjunction with an upsurge of diet-talk in advertisements, magazines, and “self-help” books. When hot pants fell out of favor in the summer of 71, only months after they first took the world by storm, some fashion writers speculated that their disappearance was due to the fact that their revealing shape “didn’t work” with “real” women’s bodies.
Third, and perhaps most importantly for the meanings that have continued to dog the hot pant, the so-called “sexual revolution” shifted certain norms for what kinds of sexual behavior were socially acceptable for white, middle-class women. For instance, young white women could display more of their bodies without (necessarily) being seen as sexually pathological, neurotic, “loose,” or in need of institutionalization or discipline. Women of color and many poor white women were always already seen as one or more of those things, so the “sexual revolution” affected women differently depending on their position within a system of sexualized racism — more on what this has to do with hot pants to follow.
Hot pants in 1971 were often a replacement for the mini skirt, which had been hugely popular in the mid-late 1960s. Compared to the mini, hot pants offered somewhat more coverage, and certainly more mobility — girls described how, for instance, hot pants allowed them to go up and down stairs at school without anyone seeing their undies. (Designer Mary Quant is often credited with inventing and/or popularizing both the mini skirt and hot pants, and she viewed both garments as offering increased mobility compared to earlier feminine fashions; women could, she explained, safely run for a bus in a mini skirt.)
As plenty of feminists pointed out at the time, however, the cultural and social changes that allowed a greater degree of heterosexual expression for some women were also a prescription that regulated and judged what kinds of heterosexual practices, behaviors, and desires were seen as healthy, sexy, and fashionable — so the same changes that said girls and women COULD expose more skin were accompanied by a demand that youthful feminine fashions MUST expose more skin, ushering in new norms for young women’s dress. So feminists, as you might imagine, had a complicated relationship to hot pants. On one hand, the suggestion that women should eschew body-revealing clothing, to avoid being accused of “sluttiness,” or to “protect” against rape, has long been a strategy for (1) regulating women’s sexual expression, and (2) blaming women for their own experiences of rape and sexual assault. On the other hand, feminists had — and continue to have — an investment in critiquing the ways in which women’s bodies have often been objectified and controlled through clothing and fashion.
Hot pants were a transnational phenomenon. They were first shown at fashion shows in Paris and Rome, then celebrated in the U.S. as a more revealing alternative to the new mid-calf-length “midi” skirt that had briefly come into fashion after the mini. LIFE and Newsweek magazines, for instance, saw the Midi skirt as an attack on American freedoms by French haute couture. They mourned the covering up of women’s bodies under the Midi skirt, and celebrated the hot pant as American women’s liberated response to its dowdiness (never mind that hot pants were also French). Beyond the U.S., hot pants were seen all over what fashion editors called “civilized urban centers” — large cities in wealthy countries in the global north.
Hot pants were also exported outside of the U.S. and Europe, through migration, global markets, and military occupation. U.S. soldiers in Southeast Asia during the American war in Vietnam wanted to see the new hot pants on strippers, cocktail waitresses, and other service and sex workers who provided services to American military. In Kenya and Malawi, hot pants were embraced by many urban young women, but seen by male political leaders as a sign of Western cultural imperialism that was causing moral decay; Kenya’s vice president Moi sounded a bit like American fashion writers when he described hot pants as an “undesirable and unbecoming kind of grotesque dress.”
By the summer of 71, hot pants had fallen out of couture favor, but they continued to have a life “on the street,” particularly within emerging cultures of Disco. Disco was terrifying for the burgeoning white Christian conservative movement in the U.S., which saw disco culture as a sinful site of queer sexual transgression, race-mixing, recreational drug use, and general anarchy (which, yep! it totally was, especially before it became a mainstream genre in the music industry). So the tight, skimpy hot pant was a good fit for the growing Disco scene, which kept it going until hot pants became a disco icon as well as a symbol of the 70s. Craft industries also continued to hang on to hot pants for a few years after they’d disappeared from couture runways: dozens of patterns for sewing, knitting, and crocheting hotpants were published well into the 70s.
After the early 1970s, hot pants continued to be associated with disco, but also with other non-normative sexual cultures and practices, especially prostitution. Hot pants’ association with disco and hookers meant that they became a racialized sign of deviant feminine sexuality, no longer considered proper within the terms of respectable white middle class heterofemininity. In 1975, a New York Times article about teen prostitution described runaway girls on street corners wearing hot pants. The following year gave us Jodie Foster’s Iris in Taxi Driver — a child prostitute who famously wears hot pants as a sign of her loss of girlish innocence. Some fashion historians have speculated that it’s this association with sex work — and not deference to the sartorial desires of “real” women and their bodies — that accounts for the short life span of the hot pant. Meanwhile, longer skirts and pantsuits took over runways and department stores.
Today, I have a surprising number of friends who regularly wear hot pants. Some are strippers, one is a Hooters waitress, and several are roller derby athletes. These are women who work and play in arenas where their bodies are certainly objectified, but who also see their bodies and their hot pants as sites of empowerment and pleasure. And who am I to disagree?
I think of my hot pants as an homage to those friends, but also to that brief moment in late 1971 when hot pants fashion, no longer popular on the runways, continued to thrive among women who lived on the margins of mainstream fashion culture — a cross-cultural phenomenon that, for that moment, connected knitters, disco dancers, strippers, and streetwalkers.
hot pants at Rhinebeck - photo (c) Mary-Heather Cogar
HOT PANTS COCKTAIL:
2 oz tequila
3/4 oz peppermint schnapps
1 tsp grenadine
1 tsp simple syrup
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full with ice. Pour in tequila, peppermint schnapps, grenadine, simple syrup, and grapefruit juice. Give it a good shake, and strain into an old-fashioned glass 3/4 full of ice.