Textile arts and crafts have a longstanding history of being connected to femininity and domesticity. Prominent art historians Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock have been generative figures in highlighting the machinations and effects of patriarchal stratification which relegated women making decorative arts in domestic spaces. Particularly for Parker, women, domesticity, and textiles have become inextricably linked in western cultures, to the point that “to know the history of embroidery is to know the history of women” (ix). While Parker’s research was focussed on embroidery, other academics have since explored adjacent approaches in relation to broader creative practices with textiles, and have analysed ways in which the tools and materials of the textile arts have also been primary resources through which (mostly) women have expressed their social, political, and ethical values.
When we wrote the initial call for this issue in 2021, we (Sky Croeser and Christina Chau) were discussing multiple intersecting socio-political events unfolding in the world, and their effects on our lives. Our city Boorloo (Perth, Western Australia) had dodged waves of strict isolation that other capital cities in Australia had endured, partially due to our geographical isolation and ability to control movement across neighbouring regions nationally and internationally. Even still we participated in debates and discussions around interpretations of civil responsibility, individual action for collective good, in relation to the ongoing pandemic and climate crisis, and more personally creativity and early parenthood during a pandemic.
While readjusting to ongoing interpretations of a ‘new normal’ and working from home, we also returned to making with textiles in our domestic spaces, as a way of practicing, enacting, and working through ideas around reparation, care, and ethics, in a time of global precarity. We noticed that many people were using similar materials to explore these ideas and communing online for a variety of reasons: from connecting with others to explore senses of community during isolation, to expressing and mobilising political action through communities interested in craft activism. Somehow there was a concurrent enmeshing of the conceptual threads being posted on social media sites and the discussion threads posted within them, and the actual textile threads people were holding in their hands to create all over the world were expressing and deliberating on their values and ethical positions through their creative practices.
The call for this issue felt very timely, and we invited scholars to reflect on ways in which online communities post, commune, and discuss current socio-political context through craft activism, making, and repairing, as well as reflect on the history that these creative practices have with feminism, political action, and domesticity.
Now that we are publishing this issue at the end of 2023, the socio-political contexts that concern us daily in our minds, on our feeds, over our sewing tables, and between neighbours continue to be all-engulfing. We continue to be concerned with local action in reaction to global events and are often overwhelmed with the gravity of unprecedented ecological and human suffering, while also knowing that these feelings of overwhelm have been ongoing from generation to generation. Also, people have continued to critique, express, protest, and call for action in a multitude of ways, including through textile crafts.
The collection of articles that make up this issue each examine ways in which the personal is political, and how each stitch, weave, and cut form acts of subversion – all of which are amplified online and shown to other makers. During the pandemic, making, uploading, sharing, and commenting online became primary means for communicating, and since then makers and scholars have had time to reflect on the impact of online craft communities in a specific concentrated amount of time. Of course, online craft activism and communities have existed online for decades, as have offline communities and social gatherings, and movements. However, the interplay between online and offline making, sharing, expressing, and communicating has taken on particular nuances since COVID-19 because we have all had to rethink the delineations between our spheres of influence and control.
The authors in this issue discuss relations between expression with textiles, and the online communities that form while supporting, guiding, and communing around material expression. Multiple themes have emerged through the collection and curation of the articles that make up this issue. There are often approaches to craft and textile practices as simultaneously politically subversive involving collective action, and also deeply personal and reparative. Many of the authors have also discussed contemporary practices as a continuation of earlier feminist critiques of patriarchal systems of power.
Most prominently, however, we see that this issue also deals with how creators weave together the past and present, and presents optimism for future action, education, and change. Kouhia argues that hobby crafts are often linked with reactive pastimes: the surge in crafting during the pandemic sparked debates around the implementation of alternative futures linked with postfeminist forms of domesticity.
Martin and Rosner each consider contemporary creative practices in relation to first- and second-wave feminism; Martin makes conceptual threads between contemporary digital zines and third-wave feminism, and back to longer histories of scrapbooking and other feminine craft practices. Rosner also focusses on recent artwork b00b (pronounced ‘bee-zero-zero-bee’ or ‘bewb’), which is an embroidered bra fitted with near-field communication technology, to discuss connections between trust, interaction, and embodiment alongside historical feminist performances such as Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece.
Hanley also explores the ways in which weaving might connect the past; here Hanley reflects on makers convening at a local wool mill (and of the Yugara people who lived and cared for the land before the mill was built) with textile artists in the present, and points to possible futures for the building. Rönkkö, Lapinlahti, and Yliverronen also focus on knitting podcasts and social media platforms being used to continue crafting legacies around community building, skill sharing, collaboration, and creative empowerment. These authors each consider the potent effects of makers coming together and building community.
Collins-Gearing focusses on more personal effects of making with textiles, and writes about the way that weaving connects her with her Ancestors and with their long history on Country, as well as a regeneration of self and culture; the article becomes its form of reflection-in-action.
In this issue, crafting communities online are also considered as a vehicle for confronting and critiquing contemporary culture: Kennedy reflects on contemporary craftivism online in connection to legacies of subversive embroidery, to highlight how these communities create a collective public voice that processes and critiques current events and personal issues, to enable a form of personal and collective therapy; Wallace argues for the Tiny Pricks Project as a form of haunting, where threads pierce and connect memories of the past to create material critiques of vernacular patriarchal language in American political culture during Trump’s presidency. These authors each find great potency in small gestures to form collective expression and change in nuanced ways.
This issue provides a clear indication of the potent changes created by making and sharing knowledge with others. Read together, the articles highlight that making with domestic materials and political critique have and will continue to go hand in hand. These gestures are often deeply personal accounts of how one processes current events and contemporary debates, and contribute to collective concern for the systems of power that pervade our lives.
Parker, Rozsika. The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine. London: Women’s Press, 1984.
Pollock, Griselda, and Rozsika Parker. Old Mistresses; Women, Art and Ideology. London: I.B. Tauris, 2013.