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Mrs Jones, Crafty Maven

International Women's Day!

It’s International Women’s Day, the day to celebrate the achievements of women, but also to highlight the challenges we still face. The soft arts and domestic crafts have often been seen as something to rebel against. That they represent the oppression of women. Well, for a time that was true, but we now understand so much more the sources of inequality for women!

I recently watched the movie “Suffragette” on a plane, and I must say by the end I wanted to punch every man on that plane! Now I know you might be a bit shocked by that, a gentle lady like me…and it wasn’t these particular men on the plane that had been oppressing women in the early 1900s. But I felt angry that history had given such privilege to men and had been so cruel and oppressive of women. And to be honest because it reminded me that I still live and work in world that is dominated by men. I travel a lot for work and I have to tell you when you sit on a plane you are swamped by men in suits that fill more than their share of space…legs spread and knees into my personal space, elbows, newspapers, luggage creating a sense of privilege and ownership. I had a man on a plane last night grumpy with me because my tiny suitcase was squashing his enormous and important suit bag. It can be pretty darn suffocating at times.

When I was young and idealistic I was proud to be a woman foraying into a man’s world and showing them that I was just as good if not better at many things. I could knit, sew, cook, solve algebra, construct things from wood, renovate furniture, landscape and work in male dominated offices with pride. In my own naïve way I bought the message that equality was here and women could have it all. And have it all we did…all the kid wrangling, remembering doctor’s appointments, organising, working, costume making, present buying, birthing and breast feeding….being superwoman it turns out is bloody exhausting.

I’m afraid as I have become older, while I am still proud of my diverse skill set, I have also become more cynical and growingly frustrated to see on a daily basis that the glass ceiling still exists; that the statistics continue to show wage inequality, inequality in management jobs, in decision making jobs; that the gender balance in undergraduate classes is lost by the time it gets out in the workforce and management; that men (and dare I say old, white, middle class men) continue to make decisions for me and about me and my fellow women (and I know its not just women, its also our First Australians, our recent arrivals, our LGBT, our elderly, but as it is International Women’s Day so I am allowing myself this indulgence). That even though I continue to show my capabilities, assumptions are made about my abilities (and my weaknesses) and I must continue to prove myself. I was beginning to feel that i was just getting older and bitter until I sat at lunch with a table of women at work recently and they all started talking about their own experiences. That constant sense that you are being judged by a different set of criteria that you you must always prove your self, of constantly being  the only woman on some committee or meeting, of being counselled to be careful not to be emotional (if only we spent more time telling men to be careful not to be aggressive, we might go someway to dealing with domestic violence I suspect). It was such a relief to learn it was not just me with this niggling annoyance and growing frustration. Here was a group pf intelligent and successful women feeling the same undercurrent.

Now many men will argue differently that it is perceived bias. And there are lots of really amazing and supportive men out there (my gorgeous husband is definitely one), but I’m afraid you need to walk a mile in my size ten heels to really understand how subtle but pervasive it is.

But, dear reader you might be starting to wonder, what does this have to do with arts and crafts? When will I speak of soft yarns and cute knits? Well I guess what I think is true about crafting and the resurgence of craft among many women (sorry men, I am actually just thinking of women here) is that women are taking back ownership of the crafts, but by our own choice. We are taking it and owning it and it no longer owns us. And that is progress!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Women Knitting late 1800s

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Crafting with friends

Crafting with friends

Several years ago I formed a “Crafternoon” group. The concept brings together two of my favourite things…craft and afternoon tea! At the time I had access to an old corner shop that could be my craft space and crafternoon space. Amazing things were made in that space…organic paper lanterns for a birthday party, quilts, Christmas gifts, clothes. Amazing food was also favourite being a vegetarian curry with Quinoa consumed one breezy summer afternoon when we took our craft out onto the concrete apron in front of the corner shop.

The shop became someone else’s home and we moved to a take-it-in-turns-at-your-place model. Each host bringing out their favourite china and comfy chairs for us to gather, gossip and occasionally craft!


To be honest, at times it felt it became more about the food than the craft! But more than that it fostered crafty friendships. I met like-minded people who happily shared food, ideas and skills and whiled away the hours tinkering at our craft projects. We did lose momentum and the months between meet-ups became longer, the crew became smaller as everyone got busy with life, kids and family! We've been in hiatus for quite sometime, but periodically when a couple of us meet up we suggest a crafternoon, and I'm sure one day we will manage it! I have recently joined a new Crafternoon group, met new people and eaten new foods! Last event included meeting some chickens who didn't mind taking part too!

The tradition of craft groups has a long history. I always remember that movie “How to make an American quilt” where the construction of a wedding quilt is the catalyst for sharing advice and life stories. The idea of not only crafting with friends but actually working together to create something beautiful and something that is a challenge to make on your own really did appeal to me. The movie did rather create a romantic notion in my head about co-creation of craft items (much in the same way “Pretty Woman” made me want a red velvet evening gown and white gloves!).

The tradition of quilting bees is particularly strong in American history. Friendship quilts has a long tradition. Some years ago (when the Australian dollar was at parity) I discovered antique quilts on eBay. I scored a few beautiful vintage quilts. But one of my favourite finds was a stash of friendship quilt blocks, not yet sewn together but embroidered with the names of the creator on each block. The names are wonderful….Daisy… Mary Scott with a tartan fabric…you can’t help but wonder who these women were and what the final quilt was intended for and why it was packed away for many years unfinished. I know some would finish a quilt like this but I feel it’s not right. That a quilt like this needs to be completed in a friendship circle and by hand!

Knitting too has its own tradition of gatherings. I’ve just revisited one of the great “Stitch’n’bitch” books by Debbie Stoller. She talks about the origin of the phenomenon. Starting with a small gathering of older family knitters and younger enthusiasts in a Café in New York. This first small group that waxed and waned spawned a global phenomenon of the ‘Stitch’n’bitch social gatherings. There are many throughout the world today- including Australian chapters. New younger groups and movements are also happening with English mob “Wool and the Gang” creating their own Avon-like social gatherings and parties.

With the advent of the internet knitting groups have gone global. If you ever see the letters KAL – it means “Knit-a-long” and it is a real child of the online age with people in far flung places knitting the same project at the same time. There is even the idea of a mystery knit-a-long that many designers use in which you don’t know what you are creating until the end! The pattern is released in stages…something like a treasure hunt as each weekly or monthly clue is released! Great designers with a reputation for creating beautiful things get almost a cult following for their mystery KAL. Kaffe Fasset the darling of all things colourful knit, for example, produced an afghan in his trademark colour and pattern style.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m happy to craft solo and sometimes you need that quiet space and contemplation to really knuckle down to a project or to unwind after a busy day. But the camaraderie of crafting together is a great motivator, a great way to learn and share skills and a great way to make friends.

So get out there a join a craft group. It will make your heart sing and your mouth laugh!

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