When I decided to go freelance last year, the first thing I got excited about was the business cards. I instantly knew what I wanted my tagline to be:
writer – editor – feminist knitting designer
“Are you sure?” asked my father, looking at the design. “Don’t you want it to be a bit more… professional?”
“It’s memorable,” was my reply. “People will see it and they’ll just have to ask me about it. And then when they actually need a writer or an editor, they’ll remember me!”
So… what does it mean to be a feminist knitting designer?
Well, it’s simple, really. It means that I’m a feminist and I’m a knitting designer, and that I sometimes try to combine the two.
Outside of the crafts world, there can sometimes be a bit of a tendency to look down on knitters and stitchers and cupcake bakers as being un-feminist. Germaine Greer famously said that “women have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand.” After all, didn’t we leave that kind of thing behind in the 1950s? Aren’t we just perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes of essential femininity? And so on.
Well… no. For me, there’s something very feminist about making things with your own hands and reconnecting with your creativity and your past. It doesn’t have to be expensive – you can pick up balls of yarn for little more than a quid – and it’s a skill that has been passed down through mothers and daughters for generations. My own mother taught me to knit when I was about 13, and my great-grandmother was a professional knitter; I still use her old needles from time to time. When my family traced back our family tree a few years ago, we also found at least one male ancestor who was a framework knitter in Leicester, my hometown.
And while that personal connection is not always the case for many people nowadays, all it takes is a quick google search to find hundreds of workshops, blogs and YouTube videos – predominantly by women – which are passing on that knowledge too.*
Knitting is not a closely guarded secret. It’s a thing that makes people happy, that they love to share with others. There’s no snobbery or nastiness – your first wobbly scarf will be celebrated with as much enthusiasm as your second bit of proper Fair Isle, or your twelfth patchwork blanket.
For me, feminism has always been about celebrating women’s achievements as well as fighting gender inequality – because part of that inequality is that women are conditioned not to celebrate their own achievements. We’re not supposed to boast when we’re good at something or agree when we’re complimented – just to sit quietly, humbly waving away any praise bestowed on us.
Not so in the world of knitting. When I’ve gone to craft shows I have found them full of women and men praising each other’s work without jealousy or bitterness, excited to show off their latest designs and ideas, encouraging each other to try something new. There’s a release and a satisfaction in an environment which is about supporting each other. It’s peaceful. It’s often environmentally friendly. It’s the kind of safe, warm, creative world that, as a feminist, I would love to become more universal.
And, on the flip side, knitting and other crafts can be thrillingly subversive when they’re used politically. Let’s not forget the many feminist crafters who are doing incredible, important work around the world: the brilliant Wool Against Weapons activists protested Trident last year by knitting a seven-mile long scarf to stretch between two atomic weapons sites in Berkshire, then repurposed the scarf into blankets for people in need; charities like Knit for Peace distribute handknitted items to those who need them most; Stitch n Bitch groups are bringing women together; projects like Significant Seams support vulnerable people in the community. And you know the suffragettes LOVED a hand-stitched banner back in the day.
It was these women, and more, of whom I was thinking when I designed my first official feminist knitting pattern. Stay tuned, guys, it won’t be long now.
*Before you start, of course there is room for men too, and of course eradicating the gender stereotypes around knitting is a thing that would benefit everyone. But at the same time, I get fuzzy feelings about an industry that is full of women working together in relative harmony. What can I say? It’s a paradox that I’m willing to live with for now.