Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

Follow me on Twitter!

Knitting at Occupy Wall Street

yarn bombed wall street bull

image via nytimes.com

I just talked with a Brooklyn crafter who was on her way to the Occupy Wall Street protest. “There are knitters and crocheters down there,” she told me. “They’re teaching people. One woman is knitting hats for people for when it gets cold.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the New Domesticity is the way certain old-fashioned domestic skills are being used to make explicit political statements. While not all crafters have any kind of political agenda, of course, there’s a certain subset of the DIY craft movement that considers their work “craftivism” (craft + activism). Craftivism includes a wide range of beliefs and motivations, from environmentalism to feminism (re-valuing traditionally devalued women’s work, as I mentioned before when I wrote about the re-skilling movement) to anti-capitalism.

Knitting has become particularly symbolic of an anti-status quo spirit. The knitting-as-social-protest seems to date back about a decade, though it has definitely become more prominent lately. In 2002, the first Revolutionary Knitting Circle held a “global knit-in” at the G8 Summit in Alberta, Canada, and the group has since spawned others across Canada, the US and Europe. Since then, there have been all kinds of “anarchist knitting mobs” and such across the country, and ”yarn-bombing” (covering pieces of urban infrastructure like lamp posts or parking meters in knitting) has become a new form of (illegal) street art in the past few years. In December 2010, yarn-bombers famously wrapped the Wall Street bull statue in a pink and black sweater. When we were living in Sydney in 2009, I marveled at the overnight appearance of fuzzy yarn legwarmers covering the sad, skinny trees of my neighborhood park – at the time I’d never heard of yarn-bombing and just figured this was some odd Australian form of public art!

So why knitting? I don’t really know, but I have some thoughts. Unlike some of the more fine arts-ish crafts, it has an obvious practical purpose and can be used to avoid certain aspects of consumer culture – you can knit your own sweater to avoid buying a sweatshop-made one at a big box store (though you’ve still got to buy the yarn somewhere, and it’s not cheap). It’s portable – you can’t really haul a sewing machine to a protest march. And knitting’s iconic status as the most famous of the “grandmotherly arts” makes it a particularly bold and amusing statement – soft yarn makes a dramatic contrast against cold steel, women knitting hats during a protest kind of flies in the face of the stereotypical image of the angry, screaming young man.

I want to write more about craftivism as it relates to women in the future, but right now, if any knitters want to chime in with their thoughts about why knitting has become such a symbol of protest, I’d love more thoughts…

19 comments to Knitting at Occupy Wall Street

  • susan w

    silliest thing i’ve read in eons. while knitting can be a social activity – look at all the knitting circles around the country – it is not a “protest” sport/skill/art/craft. To associate it a craft with the left – or the right – is inane. It is no more one direction than the other. silliness trying to find connections where none exist.

    • admin

      I can totally understand not thinking that knitting/crafting should be used for political expression, but I think it’s clear that some people are using it this way. My question is: why? And, though I’ve only seen “craftivism” crop up around topics that might be considered “left wing” – feminism, anti-corporatism – I’d be very, very interested to learn if crafting was being used as a form of social protest on the right side of the political spectrum as well.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Emily

    • If you don’t think knitting is political, check this out. http://www.microrevolt.org/mission.htm This woman has been protesting companies that use sweatshop labor for YEARS.

  • Karen Cosburn

    Bravo Emily for bringing this to peoples’ attention. I for one am not a crafter, but can completely understand the whole craftivism thing…especially the type of examples you’ve illustrated. I love the image of the Wall Street Bull wrapped completely in pink wool…it’s just so irreverent.
    To me, knitting is very much a “back to basics” kind of skill that harkens back to the time that many republicans wax philosophical about (seems to me they LOVE to talk about the good old days). You know, the time when white suburban families supposedly lived a “Norman Rockwell” existence and Mom was knitting Johnny a scarf for Christmas because the simple things in life are the best. As such I’m amazed that more of them aren’t embracing this as a prominent activity at TEA party rallies.
    In spite of this though, I can understand why it’s used more frequently in Liberal settings. I mean, in my mind the image of a woman knitting is almost iconic for “care-giving” and “nurturing”. Seriously, when you see someone knitting something, do you ever assume they’re knitting it for themselves? I sure don’t.

  • Geraldine

    I am conservative and have knitted for many many years. Even before the current craze. Knitting in public and elsewhere is fun and doesn’t have any political bent. I have knitted at a tea party event, but I knit everywhere anyway.

  • [...] was scrolling through the Twittersphere earlier today and came across a link to journalist/blogger/freelancer Emily Matchar’s article, “Knitting at Occupy Wall …  It’s a short piece that begins with a description on how some of the protesters on Wall [...]

  • shanna

    I crochet. I thought it was a thing of the past, something of a dying art. That was until I found groups online, and stores like Etsy.com. I’ve never thought of using it as a political stand. I also like to bake, cook, sew, and clean the house. If that means people want to put me in a category of a want-to-be-1950′s-housewife I’ll take it.

  • glenna

    Knitting is calming, it is apolitical. I think that is the salient point.

  • Love this blog!!! my brother actually sent me the link, which is just funny. Mom taught me to crochet when I was younger. I’ll knit on occasion. BUT my favorite political activist knitter is Madame Theresa Defarge from Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities.” Yeah, she’s totally not real but she’s still great! She knits throughout the whole book and is secretly encoding a registry of names of those condemned to die at the guillotine. Such a villain! She would love the new “craftivism” movement…although I’m sure it would all be too bloodless for her sensibilities.

  • EGP

    Of course knitting, as with most handcrafts, has been used as a political statement and to support causes that support those who are in need. From the fictional imagery of Madame DuFarge and her minions to the real anti-slaveholder potholders (sold by Union women to promote Abolition) to knitting socks for the troops in WWI and WWII, it’s about care at its most basic level–one stitch at a time. Oh, and it has always most definitely been a progressive kind of tool, as it is custom, individual, personal and indicates an egalitarian feeling between the giver and receiver.

    But, then I didn’t assume these things; I had evidence and confirmed it by looking it up.

  • Of COURSE you can use knitting for political purposes! I can use sitting, standing, talking, not talking, painting, writing, singing, Facebook, etc, etc, etc, for political purposes! The act of knitting or crafting can be used for all manner of things, and to exclude it as something that can be used for political statements on the basis that it is “calming” or that to suggest that it is political is “inane” is just silly! I find painting pictures relaxing, so by that rationale, painted graffiti can’t be political either. Come on!! There are many, many examples of political craft. Have a look around and get a little knowledge before posting such statements.

  • Marianna Brough

    Where does the yarn come from? Unfortunately lots of yarn is produced using very cheap labor and materials, outside the U.S. I’m just saying….

  • Interesting discussion. I am wondering if anyone has been collecting handknit hats or mittens for people to wear at the Occupy protests. Knitters and crocheters usually jump at making for events like that.

  • Jessi

    Knitters for the 99% making hats scarves and mittens for occupiers across the nation. Knitting is peaceful- Knit in solidarity <3 http://www.facebook.com/pages/Knitters-for-the-99/122211957884817

  • [...] And there’s an interesting article on the website, newdomesticity.com, where the terms “craftivism” and “yarn bombing” are used:  http://newdomesticity.com/?p=106 [...]

  • Someone pointed me this way the other day, and I just wanted to say a) thanks for the interest in craftivism (although it’s a 6-months’ late reply!) and b) I had never heard of the antislavery potholders before and while I knew about Madame Defarge, I had no idea about the Tricoteuse!

    And… as for people making things for the left side of politics, I always wonder what would have happened if I started writing about craftivism all those years ago and was a conservative. Personally, I don’t care what side you vote for, I care that you care enough to make something to express your opinion.

    • Emily

      Hi Betsy! Thanks for writing – I’m a big fan.
      I wonder if craftivism would have had as much punch if you’d been a conservative – I think some of the movement’s impact comes from the surprising juxtaposition of traditional and radical?