Whip Your Hobby into Shape: Knitting, Feminism and Construction of Gender

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Abstract:

In the last fifteen years, domestic hobbies especially needle and paper crafts have been revived and rediscovered in the English-speaking world. In the forefront of this renewed interest in old-fashioned hobbies is knitting. Contemporary proponents claim that this craft helps them to achieve balance between their busy lives and dedicate some time to themselves. They often take their project to public spaces such as coffee shops, pubs, and park benches. Publishing houses speedily cash in on the revival by providing increasing numbers of pattern books to local bookstore chains. Hence, knitting constitutes an ideal case study for redefining the role of craft in contemporary popular culture. This article argues that knitting participates in an opening up of the three binary oppositions, namely original vs. copy, public vs. private in relation to space, and heterosexual vs. homosexual.

Related to the past and conceived nostalgically through connection to our parents’ and grandparents’ domestic activity, knitting is rapidly being revitalized and repackaged by such groups as Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ’n Bitch as hip and fun. Women of any age but especially younger women in their twenties and thirties see knitting as empowering hobby because it provides an opportunity to undertake something purely unpractical and inefficient. It provides a conceptual link and helps redefine the historical and contemporary significance of domesticity in society.

In the attempt to repackage and change the image of the craft several publications establish a connection between knitting and sexuality. These books construct knitting as not only a worthwhile and altruistic pastime but also as a decadent, self-indulgent, and subversive action. For example, Domiknitrix: Whip Your Knitting into Shape offers a bikini pattern as well as other edgy projects such as deep-décolleté tops and seductive hair and headpieces. Traditionally associated with home handicrafts, knitting had emerged into communal, activist practice. Contemporary popular media has also tied knitting to ideas of physical and spiritual love, peace amongst the nations, meditation, and rebelliousness against previous generations.

This research looks at the knitted objects and the images that appear in the media to explore how knitting as a phenomenon helps women and men negotiate their everyday lives. Dedicating time to such traditional, time-consuming activities promotes the idea of conscious choice, of being in charge of one’s life and time. Participating in these activities provides an outlet for relaxation, slowing down and taking in simple life pleasures. My research builds on this argument and looks further at the knitted objects themselves to examine their roles in the lives of their makers and consumers. Using contemporary material culture scholarship, which underlines the importance of identity formation through agency, I try to determine how the knitted erotic objects differ from items purchased in stores. What is the role of the handmade and self-produced? How do hand-knitted items that become part of interior display help to negotiate the identities and individualities of their makers? Finally, this article looks at how the presence of knitters in different social contexts helps to blur the binary division between public and private space. It also discusses the gendered appeal of knitting books and the total omission of gay men and their interests from the literature.

Keywords: craft; domesticity; feminism; gender; identity; knitting; queer

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175183509X460065

Publication date: July 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Textile brings together research in textile studies in an innovative and distinctive academic forum for all those who share a multifaceted view of textiles within an expanded field. Peer-reviewed and in full-color throughout, it represents a dynamic and wide-ranging set of critical practices. It provides a platform for points of departure between art and craft; gender and identity; cloth, body and architecture; labor and technology; techno-design and practice— all situated within the broader contexts of material and visual culture.
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