call yourself a homemaker?
The handmade resurgence has been linked to a renewed interest in domesticity. But is craft’s popularity really all about embracing traditional roles?
Not long ago, the woman we were meant to emulate was Carrie Bradshaw. Career-driven and independent, she happily shunned cookbooks for cocktail bars. But, as the SATC characters settled down, it seems our aspirations changed with them. Now, the media’s “perfect” woman is more likely to be clad in a handmade apron than Prada and brandishing a tray of cakes.
The craft resurgence has come alongside the rise of the so-called “new domesticity,” with women expressing a renewed interest in everything from preserving to chicken rearing. But while some have praised this movement for challenging the stigma of homemaking and adding value to traditionally “feminine” skills, others have warned of its regressive nature.We wanted to investigate how much crafters view their hobbies as linked to traditional roles and whether picking up the knitting needles really means we’re all striving to become domestic goddesses.
Hannah Newman Evans ( www.mamafrogblog.blogspot.com) is a former catering entrepreneur who’s handed her business over to her husband to become a full-time mom. Craft and thrift are central to her daily life now that her family survives on one salary – she makes her own toiletries and cleaning supplies as well as growing veggies and sewing her son’s clothes. “I honestly find this way of life more fulfilling,” she says. “I saw the compromises my female bosses had to make to juggle work and family. Giving both work and motherhood full devotion is impossible.”
Growing up with a stay-at-home mom was another factor in Hannah’s decision, a sentiment echoed by vintage blogger and former makeup artist Susan Earlam ( www.oldfashionedsusie.com). “I had a fantastic childhood and believe it was down to my mom being there for us,” she recalls. “I want to create the same situation for my own children.”
Susan enjoys sewing and is a proponent of traditional, old-fashioned values. “But this doesn’t mean I want to live in a time when sexism was rife,” she elaborates. “What I mean is perhaps a more simple life – self-sufficiency, taking care of my family, and them taking care of me.”
However, not all crafters are so enthusiastic about handmade’s continued links to the home. Kate Lampitt Adey ( www.katelampittadey.com), a textile artist working on a PhD thesis about knitting, argues that it restricts women’s creativity. “The term ‘craft’ is so entrenched in hierarchy... with fine arts at the top and domestic crafts at the bottom,” she explains. “I’m concerned that the true value of being creative is overlooked by being placed under the banner of domesticity. I think this representation of women’s creativity as part of their role in society, rather than their individual identities, is worrying.”
Self-employed mom-of-two Jo Gifford ( www.dexterousdiva.co.uk) is an enthusiastic knitter and painter, but rejects the idea of trying to become a domestic goddess. “It’s a creative outlet and my time to chill out,” she tells us. “I don’t put pressure on myself for our home to be handmade and spotless, nor do I think upcycling and creativity is just for women. My partner helps with chores, as we believe it shouldn’t just be a woman’s role.”
Talking to different women, it’s clear that our reasons for crafting are varied and personal – just like our reasons for working or raising a family. But one sentiment echoed by everyone is that pressure to conform to stereotypes is unhelpful – whether it’s the negative reactions Hannah says she encountered after giving up work, or Jo’s rejection of the pressure to have a perfect house.We can all enjoy and benefit from creative pastimes and time spent with our families – and, of course, from our careers, if that’s what we choose. Let’s give women (and men) the freedom to spend their time as they wish. As Kate says: “Creativity in itself is wonderfully empowering... It’s relaxing, it gives me confidence, and a sense of belonging.”