Sewing, textiles, and craft (and gender and health!) links

Hi nice people! I had a really crazy December and January, dealing with a family emergency and then working on recovering from the terrible health flare that it set off...one of the worst bits of which is my hand/finger joint pain went through the roof making typing something I've been having to moderate even more than usual. But just the last few days I've been starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, something I always find uplifting after a long slog through flare-ville.

Lots more to catch up on, but for now I just wanted to share some neat stuff I've come across recently in the textile and sewing world...

Sewing and gender

I came across this great post on sewing and gender by Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps via Sandra Harris' Raincoast Creative Salon newsletter (one of the two newsletters I actually really look forward to getting - the other is Meighan O'Toole's, and I'm loving her podcast, What's Your Story, too). The conversation around how women's "crafts" are seen vs. men's "art" is something I've come across here and there, but it's not something that seems to get talked about a lot. The post itself isn't terribly long, but it brings up some good points and the conversation that ensued in the comments is well worth reading through.

The question that stuck out the most to me is "Are men more likely to describe their sewing as art?" The answer, as far as I'm concerned, is an emphatic yes. Calling it art certainly makes it feel more socially acceptable, and also presents it as more than a hobby. As a "serious" career. Many women don't even think of labeling the "craft" work that they do as art, and don't seem to feel the same drive to rationalize or excuse their textile and sewing work by calling it art. Then again, maybe men are more comfortable calling their work art and therefore asking for it to be taken seriously than women... I'm sure parts of it goes both ways.

As someone who has struggled with accepting that what I love doing the most (SEWING!!! I need to write a whole other post about that...) is considered a "craft" and therefore often seen as a hobby or something that isn't serious, I have definitely noticed that a lot of the male quilters and knitters that I've come across go above and beyond to make their work hyper-technical or even shocking in some fashion. I'm not sure if that's just their personalities and aesthetic, or some part of needing to prove themselves as "artists" and not mere hobbyists. (For examples, see: Ben Venom, Luke Haynes, Jimmy McBride, and this and this on a recent all-male quilt show at LA's Craft & Folk Art Museum. Or even one of the most well known male quilter/textile artists' work, Kaffe Fassett - more traditional but still very intricate/technical.) On the other hand, you don't see women who do very intricate or contemporary work getting the same acclaim, possibly because their topic matter is less in your face? Coming from having worked for many years in the web development industry, I can't help but notice that women in a male dominated industry never got the same special attention that men in this women dominated sphere do.

Jen from Grainline Studio (one of my favourite independent sewing pattern companies) wrote an interesting post a few months ago about the divide between "serious" art vs. craft, and how hard it was to come to grips with wanting to pursue a career in a "craft" after coming from more the "serious" art world. Again, the comments are really worth a read through, as the feminism and sewing conversation is something that struck a chord with a lot of people. Towards the end, Jen says:

As far as feminism and sewing, I don’t have that much to say about it really, except that sewing is what I like to do and I don’t think that ignoring that and choosing a less traditionally feminine job would make me more of one. I love my job and I think that what you do in that situation is keep doing what you love and be cognizant of what came before you and also of what lies ahead and know the reasons why you do what you do. 

I've pretty much come to the same place about my own feelings around sewing and career aspirations, and it's nice to make peace with it.

The history of Craft in America

I started watching this series (I think discovered via Meighan O'Toole on Twitter?) on PBS called Craft in America. It's a pretty PBS-esque, more traditional documentary series, but it's really interesting for me, as I haven't studied much about the history of craft. I've dabbled in many other kinds of craft over the years aside from textiles - woodworking, pottery, print-making, etc. - so I really enjoy the breadth of the series.

Sweatshop: Deadly Fashion

I came across this a couple weeks ago via one of the French sewing pattern companies I follow online, and have seen it making the rounds a bit since then and can't recommend it enough. Sweatshop is a short documentary series (there are five episodes so far, not sure if more are to come?) created by a Norwegian TV station, and you can watch them all online subtitled in English. The premise is that they took three teenaged Norwegian fashion bloggers, and sent them to Cambodia to see first hand where and how their "fast fashion" clothes are made. 

We all know this reality exists, but as the teens in the show note, we are still so detached and disconnected from it. It's too easy to gloss over the horrible suffering that our privilege and economies of scale cause in other parts of the world. Things are too cheap here, and the consequences are often unseen where we live. WATCH IT. And more than watching it, look into the manufacturing ethics of your favourite clothing companies, and think about how you can reduce your consumption of cheaply made garments.

Health crises leading to careers in textiles?

How would that be for a headline? Haha... Kate Davies, a wonderful knitting pattern designer (seriously, just look at her portfolio and drool), recently wrote a five-year update on how her life and career path has changed since having a stroke at age 36. She had been a driven academic before her health crisis, but in hindsight realizes she wasn't genuinely happy with that life and career path. It hit home so much for me, as my path away from working in web development feels so similar. Like Kate, I can 100% say I don't miss it. 

I know for sure now that if I get to a point where I'm able to work again, I won't be going back to that universe, even if I do end up applying the skills I learned there to new endeavours... I know that on my best days, all I want to do is sew. It's still weird to say it, but I am working on not being embarrassed or letting myself feel like it's frivolous or un-serious. It's what I love, and there's nothing wrong with it!

She says towards the end:

Sometimes I am annoyed at myself for not realizing earlier just how ill I was. How could I let myself get into that state? Why could I not acknowledge I was so severely depressed? Why did I rush back to work when I still wasn’t well? Part of the problem was something pretty common in sufferers of my particular kind of nuttiness: a complete lack of insight into the severity of my condition, coupled with a total inability to be objective. When you are in that state, depression makes perfect sense. Suicide makes perfect sense. There’s something unanswerable about it. And when it gets to the stage where you are seeing things, and believe that your mind is responsible for changes in the light and weather conditions, and you should probably be sectioned, and are only saved from ending your own twisted, unreal reality by a brilliantly understanding GP and a wonderful and equally understanding partner, things have really got to change. If I’d realized how ill I was, perhaps I would have made that change. But I simply didn’t grasp the critical nature of my situation, and I could never bring myself to give up that scholarly dream: the dream I’d had since I was nine.

My stroke meant I had to walk away from academia. It was initially tough to do so – I did grieve about it for a while, feeling I was giving up so much intellectually – but I look back now and I have no regrets at all. The things I enjoyed about it – the research, and the writing – are things I still enjoy, and can now pursue with much more creative freedom. How I wish I’d known I could run a business, and that it could be fun! People are, in general, much much nicer in the world of knitting, design, and small publishing than they are in universities. . . . I am now able to pursue and develop ideas from the things that inspire me, to work with people I genuinely like in a wonderfully creative industry, and to make things I really believe in. I find my work massively enjoyable and completely fulfilling – and it comes with the additional benefit of supporting me financially.

I may have not been severely depressed, delusional, or suicidal when my health crashed, and I certainly didn't have something as drastic as a stroke, but I wasn't happy either. I was really unwell and my anxiety had been getting out of control again. Physically, I was hanging on by a thread (which snapped when I finally quit my job), and for some reason I'd been fooling myself for years that things were okay. And yet, I felt like it was the end of the world leaving that universe that I'd worked so hard to become a part of, to make my name in, behind. 

Truth is, both me and that universe have gotten on fine without each other. And while I'm not physically in a position to pursue my dream job or my own company right now (far from it), I'm still hopeful that one day, even if it's years from now, I might be. I'd love to look back on all of this as the turning point where I got back on track, even with its high price - it would feel worth it.

Have you come across any interesting posts about art/craft/sewing and health or gender lately? If so, please share below, I'd love to read them!

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