Monday, August 22, 2011

Radical Craft!

This is the sort of unexpected juxtaposition that I love to think about.

Sunday before last, ABC2 aired the documentary Making It Handmade. Four Melbourne crafters feature, showing how they’ve “upcycled” the once daggy ladies sewing circle into something with a much more feminist flavour. (I suspect there may always have been a hint of the female power in the old sewing circle).


hoopla_brayfence3Image wantonly stolen from this website:

No malice intended – if you would like it removed, just ask.


Each young woman has employed the crafters’ circle in a different way, from a gentle space for young women to gather, share their skills and be creative, to night-time raids to cross-stitch political messages onto wire fences (above). There’s also the crafter who makes decorative “female parts” with her friends and then flings them up high onto the electricity wires in the street, so if this offends, it’s probably wise to avoid this particular movie.

On the other hand, if you’re interested, the documentary is still available via iView for another 6 days. The link is below:

If you’re visiting here too late to catch iView, this interview with one of the crafters, Rayna

might fill you in a little.


Now back to bed to rest. I’ve caught the annual lurgee that sweeps into Brisbane on the westerlies every August and I’m not going to fight it. Keep warm!


  1. I watched the same show a tad earlier in the week (on ABC2) and had a bit of an email exchange with a fellow monash HDR student..... I'll tell you in part what I shared with her...

    I thought the show demonstrated something I've noticed happens when craft turns up in the art world - ie - craft is only sexy and 'arty' when it's:

    a) done badly and/or
    b) contains something controversial or pornographic and/or
    c) is executed by bright young thaaangs in the city who aren't your usual CWA members..(eg embroidery by great aunt bertha = naff.... embroidery by tim moore = way cool man!)

    so by the time the show rolled around to making flingable glitter vaginas I was ready to throw a soft (handmade) toy at the girlies! as I mumbled 'ooo come on!!!' - judy chicago absolutely romped it over these baby feminist crafters more than 30 years ago with the magnificent 'dinner party'(well crafted - by hundreds of willing and able crafty women) ....

    so no - I wasn't a fan of the show

    I'm more a fan of the great auntie bertha's of the world (who really know their stuff) and of humble art that marries concept/execution/materials .... it may not be as sexy - but it's got a hell of a lotta SOUL....

  2. I wondered whether you had seen the program Ronnie and what your take would be, so thanks for writing back.

    I totally agree with some of what you have said. It annoys me intensely when poor workmanship is overlooked and work is acclaimed just because it contains a swear word!

    And I agree that flinging ladies bits on high is just silly really. It's an amusing activity for the group, but not really any more.

    However, I did appreciate the Brown Owls who meet to work together. In some ways a young urban CWA group, I thought, and in this day when craft isn't highly regarded it is great to see people sharing their skills and women getting together for something other than getting drunk and nightclubbing.

    I also appreciated the point about recycling and sustainable use of materials rather than craft just being another way that capitalism sucks us in.

    And I did like the cross stitch in the fences. I think that if you have a political point to make, it's essential to be creative in how you do that, if you want to be noticed. If that had just been a painted sign, I wouldn't have noticed it, I don't think. And somebody had been cutting it down (twice) so it was certainly annoying someone - which I LIKE!

  3. I liked this a lot - Ronnie you make some valid points but just having this on tv was radical in many ways and I find this quite exciting.

    Like all art forms we can argue about what is 'good' and what isn't, but having this out there and challenging the commercialism and technologisation (?) of modern life is very cool. Not to mention the feminist collective aspect as well. I was also reminded of Greenham Common - the chain link fence has become a feminist/activist icon and that is interesting in itself.

    Thanks Amanda for making me notice it! And if women want to fling hand made vaginas over power poles - why not?

  4. I'm glad you thought it was interesting, Claire.

    Yes, I agree that having it on TV was quite radical, and as one of the young women said right at the end, just handmaking something is a radical act in these times.

    I've heard that said before in relation to ceramics/pottery, but it still made me stop and think again.

  5. Hey hey hey! Interesting to hear your thoughts. I'm one of the crafters in the doco - the maker of the fling-ups...*ducks soft-toy missile*...
    I've gotta say, that while I do appreciate fine, virtuosic craftsmanship I also dig (& actually find more appropriate in some instances) a DIY lo-fi aesthetic. It's less intimidating, more inclusive & I've found it really effective, in projects I've run with Craft Cartel, as a way of encouraging people with less confidence to become involved.
    So the simplistic or 'poor' workmanship isn't something which is overlooked - it's half the point. We're all 'baby feminists' & baby artists to start with, if people were too scared of this phase to become involved at all, it'd be a real shame.

  6. Hi Casey,
    Thank-you so much for dropping by and especially for your comment. It's great to have you as a part of the discussion here.

    Your point about virtuosity frightening people off before they start is right on the mark for me.
    I spent the first 20 years of my life never feeling I could do these things "well enough" to participate, until I started studying occupational therapy.

    Back then, first year included a variety of crafts which you had to do and then analyse, in order to understand what skills were required. You could then think about how they might be used to help someone with a hand injury for example, rehabilitate.

    I suddenly felt the joy of "making", and understood that the benefits exist regardless of the quality of the end result. It's about process, creation and expression, and product is such a tiny part of the equation.

    Also, coming from a background in ceramics, one of the things that I love about craft and the whole craft-art continuum is the fact that it has the potential to be so inclusive, if we just let it. From 5 year old Johnny's pinch pot to a chunky, thick-rimmed, brown-glazed mug to egg shell thin bone china, from Grayson Perry's Turner prize winning issues-based vases to an intentionally asymmetrical wabi-sabi tea bowl from Japan - it's all in there, and I love that!