Craft inspiration for the Stature masks
Helen here, I thought I would say a bit about the inspiration for the Stature masks, crafts-wise. I had a murky idea about how I wanted them to look, and I have to say I’ve been heavily influenced by Jo Hamilton‘s crazily accurate crocheted portraits:
If you look on her website there are some mannequin masks which are a bit like my crochet ladymasks, which I hadn’t seen before I started the project honest guv. Anyway she’s a super talented needlewoman and I praise her highly. skill.
What else. this is Blanka Amezkua. She makes embroideries based on the way women are depicted in comic books, they’re pretty cool. Embroidery not crochet, but what the hey, we’re all craftswomen aren’t we?
I’m also well into yarnbombing, if it’s done creatively (none of this wet-scarf-round-a-lamppost eyesore-osity). I live on knithacker (they featured us last year! and my Ron Swanson monster a bit earlier which resulted in a possible meeting with the man himself) and there’s loads of amazing cool ideas for getting knitting/crochet into the public realm.
Finally I am in super love with Olek. You’ll have seen pictures of her work on craft blogs and the internet generally: she makes crochet fabric in bright coloured camouflage patterns and uses it to yarnbomb tanks, bikes, people. She’s a total dude and she dresses like she’s crocheted herself every morning. Once she crocheted an entire flat, including all the people in it, and covered the walls with crocheted drunken sexts.
my favourite thing she ever did though, is this amazing installation ‘The End is Far’. It’s pink and glittery and the walls are covered in fussy, girly scrawled affirmations. There’s CROCHETED GOLD SKELETONS in this piece.
How to be feminine
I am a crafter, it’s my medium, and I’m also a feminist so naturally I’m intrigued to learn and share how craft has contributed to women’s history. The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker is frankly fascinating. The book largely covers the craft of embroidery from Victorian times and links it with the false notion of femininity, and how this relates to class and women’s roles within and outside the home.
So embroidery was at one time an upper class ladies’ pursuit and kept them occupied for no real reason other than to give them something to do all day. It was considered a proper ladies’ activity, and was practised by young girls who wanted to be ‘good’ and feminine even though some of them hated it. It was more or less considered to be an art like any other. Then the Renaissance came along and the idea of the artist as a ‘divine, inspired individual’ was big, so copying patterns designed by someone else, no matter how accomplished, started to look a bit rubbish next to these wonderful conceptual oil painters who just happened to be mostly men. This division between fine art and craft went on for ages and still continues to this day to an extent. Craft is still mostly practised by women and tends to serve a more functional, domestic purpose. The Arts and Crafts movement went some way to uphold the value of a well-made object, though, so props to them. Nowadays the likes of Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin mix fine art and craft in their work and seem to do quite well out of it.
Crochet has a slightly different history it seems. Developed from a type of embroidery called ‘tambour’ it was practised by poor Irish women during the potato famine, who used it as a cheap way to make lace to sell abroad. It was deemed a bit common until Queen Victoria got into it and then it became all the rage. Here she is look:
Jump forward a few years and here we are today. Crafts got left behind slightly in the 80s when people started buying cheap factory-made items and handmade wasn’t very cool. Now we are in a recession, or were, or something, and a big crafts revival has taken place (actually it started way before the recession but whatevs). Funnily a lot of the stuff people make nowadays doesn’t seem to have much function; yarn, especially wool, is expensive, and people still buy cheap goods from abroad, even more than ever, so it doesn’t really have much correlation. But it’s super cool to crochet.
So the issue of femininity. I would say, from my travels on Etsy and the like, that being cute and childlike is kind of a big trend in handmade items. People favour woodland creatures and kittens and cupcakes, crochet food, doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m not knocking it because it obviously makes people happy and they like making it and buying it so who am I to judge. I’m as guilty as anyone else to be fair. But when you look at those women from Victorian times, embroidering flowers on everything in the house (for a while, the word ‘flowering’ was synonymous with embroidering) and women now, crocheting teddy bear cupcakes: the styles have obviously changed, and women (presumably) are making things of their own free will these days; but what it means to be feminine is more or less the same. Soft, unobtrusive, child-like. As Rozsika Parker says: ‘there is no hint of the determination, application, ambition and education demanded by [these works]’
Our very own Elizabeth Gaskell saw the limiting social structures held in place by embroidery. In Wives and Daughters, 1866, she depicts her heroines using the craft to intimidate others, throwing their reels around, and to seduce men by being ever so feminine. The woman without needle skills is hopeless at attracting men. Parker notes that she ‘relied on [her] readers’ familiarity with the art’, sympathising with the heroines’ lack of real power but allowing them to win their own small victories using their only weapon: embroidery.