Woman’s Hour – A Return to the Domestic Arts

I bumped into Practical Polly on my way back from the Bluestockings meeting on Wednesday, and she pointed me towards an interview that Yarnstorm has done with Woman’s Hour, about her new book, and the Return of Domesticity. She said there was the start of some drama about it on the Ravelry boards.

Having read the piece in the Telegraph that had sparked a number of interesting conversations between my crafty friends, I thought I would check it out. Plus, I’m generally a radio 4 kind of person.

So i went back and listened to it today and to be honest i’m pissed off. I’m definately annoyed at the interviewer – it seems like they got stuck down the cul de sac of an idea that being a woman – specifically a woman who makes things – means either a life of drudgery, frippery over and above one’s responsibilities, or trying to force everyone else back to the kitchen sink.

Like baking a cake, or making flap jack – when there is ‘perfectly good flapjack in sainsburys!’ *- is betraying feminism.

There was a classic quote about “if I were a working man who came back from work, to my wife showed me the embroidery she’d been doing, I’d think ‘get a job!’,” as if creative women sit around all day long, rather than out making money.

Kaffe Fassett makes quilts, and blankets and clothing, that are time hungry and incredibly intricate, publishes his patterns in magazines and gorgeous books, is considered an artist, and is loved by the V&A!

Nigel Slater enthuses about baking, and food bought locally and made from scratch and is a national treasure. Jamie Oliver is the same, and is considered a culinary crusader.

When men do these things, they are applauded. When women do them, they are betraying the sisterhood, and forcing other women to follow suit, whether they choose to or not.

Yes, Yarnstorm called her book ‘The Gentle art of Domesticity’. Yes, Nigella is the ‘Domestic Goddess.’

Did they ask for a beating by daring to use the dreaded D word?

Given that unless you are ‘homeless’ you live some sort of place (a house, a flat, a room) that could be called ‘home’, shouldn’t the home be part of everyone’s lives? shouldn’t it be part of who we are if we want it to be, and not just somewhere we collapse to at the end of another long day at work? That we might choose for it to reflect the things that we like, or are interested in. That it might contain thing that we want to enjoy, or own, or look at or use? That we might choose, as individuals to fill where we live with made things, with bought things, with things we have found, with things that might work only for us?

And also when exactly did the bench mark by which all our worth is measured get based on (British) business’ idea of how many hours a man should (over)work?

The interview seemed to suggest that women who create things are fools, who hark back to a time when a woman’s whole life was in the home. That owning a darning mushroom is to wish to live in a time when women made all their family’s clothes, and weren’t allowed to vote.

*I* own a darning mushroom. I use it to darn the cashmere socks I knitted eighteen months ago. The cashmere socks that cost me the equivelent of two tickets to the cinema. Cashmere that was hand dyed by a self employed woman, who runs her own business. Was I abandoning feminism, as woman who knits, to have chosen to pay my money to her, rather than spend it watching a film made by a major Hollywood Studio, who maybe has decided not to make films with female leads anymore?**

Knitting (and sewing) as hobbies, are as expensive, or as thrifty as you need them to be. They take up as much, or as little time as you want them too. I have knitted for two hours a day for months on end, turning a boring commute to a job I hated, into socks, scarves, hats, presents for others, and beautiful things just for me. I have celebrated other people’s creativity by using and adapting their patterns, and revelled in my own abilities and knowledge by making things from my own ideas in my own head. I have concentrated on the stitches that flow though my fingers, rather than on the traffic which I could do nothing to control.

I chooses to make things. I find kinship with some of those who choose to make things too.

I respect people who choose not to. (I find kinship with many of them aswell.)

I am a woman. A daughter. A sister. A partner. A feminist.

What I choose to do is betraying no-one. I’m just made to feel that it is.


* I bet if I looked at flapjack in my local sainsburys I would find ingredients in it that I couldn’t pronounce, and that weren’t particularly good for me. That’s why people are being encouraged to improve their diets by cooking food from scratch.

**A whole other kettle of crap.

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3 thoughts on “Woman’s Hour – A Return to the Domestic Arts

  1. Beautifully stated. I now spend all of my hobby money on crafts. Until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have looked twice at a craft show. I had no interest in creating my own things. I think some part of me thought embracing domesticity was a failing. Now that I embrace it with both arms (and both feet), I wonder at all those lost years. I lost time and opportunities and my talented elders passed away and took their knowledge with them. I had a grandmother who could lacemake, for goodness’ sake!

    Our mothers and grandmothers fought hard for us to share in equal opportunities. We are not betraying them by staying home to raise families or knitting our own socks. What they really won for us was the freedom of choice. That is the most beautiful freedom of all, and it makes goddesses of us all – domestic and otherwise.

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