Craft as radic­al?

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I’ve split the article up into four sections- my criti­cisms of radic­al spaces and scenes I’ve known, of the fash­ion industry, and of the current commer­cial craft reviv­al, and then at the end explain­ing the ways I think doing textile crafts can be radic­al. In writ­ing the article, I was specific­ally think­ing of crafts such as sewing and knit­ting, both because they are things I do, and also because they are stereo­typ­ic­ally done by women and often dismissed as silly and frivol­ous, but a lot of the points can apply to any handi­craft. As well as deal­ing with the topic of crafts, it’s really more of a kind of wander round my thoughts about “radic­al”. The section on crafts is actu­ally the shortest, but I’ve used it as the over­all fram­ing device. I’ll prob­ably manage to piss off both the cliquey punx and the craft blog­ger people with this, but never mind.

To make myself clear­er, I’m specific­ally defin­ing “radic­al” here as free­ing people from the oppres­sions and inequal­it­ies of main­stream capit­al­ist soci­ety. It’s no good claim­ing a place, group, beha­viour or people are “radic­al” if they just contin­ue the racist, sexist, homo­phobic, ableist or classist (and every other bad -ist) struc­tures of the rest of soci­ety. It’s also no good call­ing some­thing “anarch­ist” or “non-hier­arch­ic­al” if there’s just a differ­ent unspoken hier­archy at play (that no-one is allowed to talk about).

The incred­ibly depress­ing polit­ic­al climate of the last few years, with its lurch to the extreme right and increased support for oppres­sion and exploit­a­tion makes genu­ine radic­al spaces more import­ant than ever, but also means that it’s import­ant to not treat the whole thing as a silly status or fash­ion game.


Over the years I have often felt disheartened, disap­poin­ted and let down by supposedly radic­al spaces and groups (not all of them, but a good chunk of them). When writ­ing bullet points to plan this essay, I star­ted this section by writ­ing “Noth­ing that is only straight white boys who dress alike can ever truly be radic­al”, which prob­ably sums it up.

A lot of people conflate DIY with being in a hard­core or crust punk band, and not much more. Radic­al and non-hier­arch­ic­al doesn’t mean “you must dress exactly like us and listen to exactly the same music”, but that’s often what it boils down to. There are supposed to be no hier­arch­ies, and an idea that humans are funda­ment­ally equal, but in prac­tice there tends to be an unspoken hier­archy of cool based on wheth­er you have exactly the right clothes and hang out with exactly the right people, which often leads to extreme snob­bery, cliquey­ness and unfriendly snotty atti­tudes. Activ­ist communit­ies do have a prob­lem with infilt­ra­tion by police agents (who have been caught in the past doing extreme things like having chil­dren with other activ­ists under their false iden­tity, while secretly being married to someone else), but it’s unlikely that all of the people who don’t quite dress or speak right are wait­ing to report on you to MI6. It’s also very shal­low. Just because you have the right back patch and hair­cut doesn’t mean that you will actu­ally follow your purpor­ted ethics or treat other people with respect.

It’s also still a boy’s club in many ways, despite a lot of women’s best efforts. Strike magazine famously did their poin­ted and accur­ate profile of the Manarch­ist– that activ­ist bro who “under­stands other peoples’ oppres­sions better than they do them­selves” and “is the best activ­ist. he is the best at saying he is the best”, “his voice is louder, his words truer. His anarch­ist future is inev­it­able, drawn from books writ­ten by other white men. It is a super­i­or vision. He knows more about any given topic than you, for he has a degree in it”. and essen­tially whose “‘anarch­ism’ is hier­arch­ic­al polit­ics by men who are not in charge yet”. Women who dress in a more mascu­line-coded way are respec­ted more than those who don’t in these scenes. Women who wear dresses are partic­u­larly suspect, even in situ­ations where they actu­ally do the major­ity of the work and treat other people well. More times than I can count, people have been horribly rude to me or friends because we aren’t dressed ready to join in a black bloc, yet as soon as they real­ise that you are running the event or are friends with someone they consider cool enough they are suddenly nice to you.

There are also plenty of men who have done bad things, hurt, mistreated and abused people, yet always seem to be considered a default and indis­pens­able member of the group. You can’t have someone who doesn’t quite have the right clothes or listen to the right music, yet viol­ence or abus­ing part­ners can get a pass from a lot of people if you’re in a cool enough band or every­one knows you. As the Strike article puts it “his friend may have hit his girl­friend once or twice, but he does really good activ­ism and anyway he regrets it now”.

Every day grind­ing low-level sexism is also present. I had to deal with a guy on a project who wouldn’t listen to me or anoth­er woman talk about some­thing we did regu­larly as part of our work in our day jobs. He had no exper­i­ence of the topic, yet still ignored and dismissed everything we had to say in a really patron­ising way until a man backed it up, and he constantly acted like he was our boss rather than that we were equals. He also had a really crappy atti­tude about includ­ing disabled people – he thought it was a pain, not that import­ant, and did we really have to both­er? When I complained about work­ing with this guy, I was told (by anoth­er woman no less), that I just had to put up with him, because he was a “real” activ­ist. The infer­ence was that I didn’t really count as one. Matey-boy hadn’t actu­ally done anything useful at that point, but he was a “real” activ­ist because he was involved in squat parties and crust bands and I wasn’t. What’s radic­al about having to claw a tiny space in a boy’s club? Why is it a boy’s club to begin with? Why do they assume it belongs to them, and they are the gate­keep­ers who get to decide wheth­er you come in or not?

Perform­ing music is also a mine­field for women, wheth­er in bigger bands at fest­ivals or small local gigs, often even in settings that are supposed to be radic­al. There are a lot of women push­ing away and doing it anyway, but it can be an uphill struggle. There’s an assump­tion that men are the default setting for bands, it’s natur­al for them to form a band and play music, and they are judged on the qual­ity of the work they produce. Women often get treated like a novelty or an inter­loper, scru­tin­ised for every tiny mistake to prove that women can’t play or treated like a perform­ing poodle who can do a surpris­ing trick when it turns out they’re good. They have to deal with patron­ising sound­men (there are sadly much fewer sound­wo­men/non-male sound­people than there should be), creeps in the audi­ence who catcall or try to touch or grope them, creeps in other bands they perform with and reviews that focus on their looks and wheth­er the review­er wants to have sex with them or not and treats their actu­al music as an irrel­ev­ance. To have to steel your­self to put up with all of that before you’ve even got star­ted with the music puts so many people off. My friend Kirsty has writ­ten an article here about the exper­i­ence of being perceived and treated as a woman in the music scene (and being seen as a fat work­ing class woman, with all the extra harass­ment and classism-induced self-doubt that brings).

In my teen­age years in the late 90s and turn of the century, I don’t think I saw any women on stage at local gigs. Once I recall there was a woman bass-play­er, and creeps in the audi­ence made slimy remarks about her breasts. There were women in big acts in the music press such as PJ Harvey or Le Tigre, but I didn’t see any in my local surround­ings. The atti­tude was that the boys did things, and you watched, admired them, and inflated their egos accord­ingly (with a result­ing tantrum if you failed to inflate their ego suffi­ciently). I remem­ber in 2001 I went to see Le Tigre with a group of friends, and after­wards one of my male friends said that he hadn’t had a good time despite enjoy­ing the music. He said that he felt out of place there as a straight man, and like they didn’t really want him there. I said that that was how I often felt at gigs, and he was surprised. He was 19 or 20 at the time, and that was the first and only time he had had that feel­ing that is far too famil­i­ar to every­one else. When gigs form such a huge part of what is even considered a DIY social scene, the fact that women have to actively fight to be included on an equal foot­ing shows how far from truly egal­it­ari­an and radic­al these scenes still are.

These spaces are also very white. Not entirely, but no way do they repres­ent the mix of popu­la­tion in their local areas. People of colour are dispro­por­tion­ately affected by social injustice, yet their pres­ence is also dispro­por­tion­ately low in places and groups that are meant to be about doing some­thing about those injustices. It’s clearly not because they’re not bothered by injustice, it’s because the spaces and people don’t feel welcom­ing. There’s some­thing very discon­cert­ing about being in a gig crowd in London, and it’s 90% white, and/​or 90% men. It makes me feel like I’m on shaky ground myself being there, it could be made clear to me any minute that I’m not really welcome and shouldn’t be there, and I’m vaguely included at least by being white. I partic­u­larly noticed this after I went to see Toro Y Moi. The crowd was a pretty even 50-50 split female and male, and reflec­ted the ethnic makeup of London pretty closely. It felt really relax­ing and nice, every­one was having a good time and no-one was being obnox­ious, and I real­ised how rarely you get that feel­ing.

My friend Stephanie has writ­ten a very good article here about her disheart­en­ing exper­i­ences as a black woman play­ing in punk bands. A lot of the bad exper­i­ences result from both being one of the only black people there, people’s surprise that she’s there at all, people’s assump­tions that she’ll be the only black woman there (and that she’s inter­change­able with any others who happen to be present), and that now she’s there people act like they’ve ticked off a box and don’t have to both­er includ­ing any more non-white people. As she says “What if there are millions of black kids sitting in their bedrooms listen­ing to ESG and X-Ray Spex like I was, that would love to come to shows, but are put off by the racism they fear they may encounter, or just gener­ally the anxious­ness brought on by being the odd one out?”. (Of course, the article imme­di­ately brought her a lot of stick from defens­ive, whiny people claim­ing she was the racist one for complain­ing, and everything was fine and they knew her life better than her, which meant she had to write anoth­er follow-up article here.)

Again, I can’t speak from person­al exper­i­ence about LGBQT+ issues in radic­al spaces, but friends also complain about cliquey­ness, unspoken hier­arch­ies and rigid dress codes. Inclu­sion of trans and gender-queer people has improved, the idea of having gender-free toilets also becom­ing more and more common, but still, accept­ance depends on wear­ing the right clothes and know­ing the right people. Being inclus­ive of disab­il­it­ies is also anoth­er weak spot. People have star­ted to be more thought­ful about wheel­chair access lately, but things like accom­mod­at­ing visu­al or hear­ing impair­ments are not considered import­ant, or even smal­ler things like seat­ing. It’s lovely you can fulfil your vision of a stark, spartan space, but not every­one can actu­ally sit on a hard, narrow bench, and their health needs unfor­tu­nately top your need to feel cool.

Classism also plays a big part. A lot of the most heav­ily involved or most visible people in these places are from very well off back­grounds, and are play­ing at slum­ming it, and just using their punker-than-thou image as anoth­er way to gain social capit­al. I’ve got a Clas­sics degree, which isn’t some­thing you can get down a coal mine, true (although people assum­ing that study­ing Ancient History is some­thing only posh people are allowed to do is a pet hate of mine), but I grew up in a poor, decrep­it ex-ship­build­ing town, and was the first person in my imme­di­ate family to do A-levels, and the joint first (same year as my cous­in) in the whole exten­ded family with 30+ cous­ins to go to univer­sity. Although I don’t have a strong accent, anyone who hears me say words like house, down or milk can hear the Medway in my voice (it’s not considered an attract­ive accent). In so-called radic­al spaces I’ve often felt simul­tan­eously sneered at for not look­ing ratty enough but also being kind of common. It’s like the ideal is to portray as down at heel image as possible, but secretly inside to keep upper middle-class ideals of stiff-upper lips and cover­ing up conflict with mana­geri­al­ist talk. There’s also the issue that in expens­ive cities like Brighton and London there are a lot of punker-than-thou types with suspi­ciously vague finances, prob­ably cover­ing up seri­ous family finan­cial input.

The classism also feeds into the idea that manu­al labour is some­thing anyone can pick up, and is all a bit of a lark, not some­thing you’d do day in, and day out. It deval­ues prac­tic­al skills and assumes that the import­ant work is creat­ing incom­pre­hens­ible organ­isa­tion­al charts and indi­gest­ible prose filled with academ­ic jargon that only those in the know can decipher. The idea of DIY being “have a go! don’t worry if you’re not a virtu­oso!” gets warped to become “know­ing how to do things is uncool”. It’s a continu­ation of the Victori­an ideal­isa­tion of the “Gentle­man Amateur” – you couldn’t possibly dirty your hands by being too devoted to or good at some­thing.

There’s also a strong macho streak running along­side. Hard­core and crust punk are valued above all other kinds of music and seen as intrins­ic­ally more polit­ic­al and power­ful, and espe­cially women who want to play other genres are seen as a bit weak, not really a radic­al- tying into the idea that it’s only related to your taste in music and fash­ion. Activ­it­ies like hunt sabot­age are valued over community events. Hunt sabs are mostly amus­ing them­selves by annoy­ing posh people, yet it’s seen as much cool­er than doing work to include or help margin­al­ised people. The Strike Manarch­ist article (the gift that keeps on giving) sums it up clearly as “However often when unglam­or­ous labour needs it turns out that the Manarch­ist is busy with some­thing very import­ant. The Manarch­ist prefers to be at the centre of the action. He was at Mill­bank. He was at G20. He was at Occupy. He’s a hunt sab. In fact he was always there. Were you there?”

The gener­al miso­gyn­ist­ic idea in soci­ety that if it’s mostly or stereo­typ­ic­ally done by women it must be worth­less and stupid carries through to radic­al spaces. Hunt sabbing is more import­ant and gives you much more cred than making sure the toilets get cleaned and people get fed. There’s a real disdain too that visu­al arts are “bougie”. Gig posters and graf­fiti are accept­able, but noth­ing else. The only accept­able craft it seems is screen-print­ing for patches and tees. Please don’t knit your jump­er here, it isn’t punk enough.

Fail­ings of the fash­ion industry

I think most people real­ise that the fash­ion industry is immensely fucked up. Huge numbers of garment work­ers (often women and chil­dren) in poor coun­tries like Bangladesh are horribly exploited in sweat­shops where they are paid a pittance for long work­ing hours in unsafe condi­tions, which regu­larly lead to disasters like the Rana Plaza Disaster. These terrible work­ing condi­tions were also preval­ent in the west (see the Triangle Shirt­waist Fact­ory Disaster) until campaign­ing, union­isa­tion and regu­la­tion abol­ished them, and compan­ies were forced to pay a living wage and provide a safe work­ing envir­on­ment. With the advent of contain­er ships and cheap oil making long-distance trans­port­a­tion feas­ible and afford­able, the manu­fac­tur­ers then moved produc­tion to much poorer coun­tries with little to no work­er protec­tion and large pools of people desper­ate to earn a living. If one coun­try tight­ens up its regu­la­tion and work­ing condi­tions, the manu­fac­tur­ers look for a new cheap­er place rather than clean up their act.

Fast fash­ion is also a major waste of resources. The clothes are dispos­able, poorly made, poorly fitted, and made of shoddy fabric (usually synthet­ics made from fossil fuels) and shipped halfway round the world at short notice. However, it’s not so simple to say “oh just don’t shop at Primark then”. Shop­ping at more expens­ive stores isn’t going to fix the prob­lem, and with the continu­ing finan­cial crisis, stag­nat­ing wages and lack of reli­able work around, cheap­er stores are the best a lot of people can afford. Saying “buy fewer clothes then” doesn’t help much when the clothes wear out so quickly, and soci­ety requires you to look clean, present­able and wear appro­pri­ate outfits for differ­ent settings to even take part. Pretty much all of the manu­fac­tur­ers are part of the same unhealthy system. There are ethic­al manu­fac­tur­ers out there, but their clothes tend to be expens­ive because they actu­ally cover the costs of work­ers having decent wages and condi­tions, and are rarely avail­able in larger sizes. In the UK and other west­ern coun­tries we’re currently deal­ing with a situ­ation where wages for labour are increas­ingly decoupled from living costs, leav­ing the money and assets to be concen­trated in fewer and fewer hands, while more and more people scrabble for the leftover crumbs. A solu­tion that relies on you being able to spend more money isn’t very radic­al at all.

The cloth­ing industry is also very harm­ful for mental health. Theres a strong push­ing of the idea that if clothes don’t fit, the issue must be with your body, not the design or cut of the clothes, and that the number size on the label reflects your worth as a person in some way. As clothes get more and more cheaply produced, obvi­ously the fit is going to get worse. About ten years ago I used to regu­larly buy clothes from H&M. They were good qual­ity, medi­um price for the high street, and had the bonus feature for me that because they were a Swedish company, their clothes were a good fit for tall people. Their clothes have rapidly gone down­hill, and I would say the prices are lower than they were a decade ago, but the cloth­ing is prob­ably worse qual­ity than Primark now, espe­cially with the sizing. The last time I was there I picked up a dress that looked vaguely the right size and tried it on. It was tight round the arms, and far too short for me. So short that it could have been from the children’s section. I was aston­ished to find that the label claimed it was a 20 from the plus-sized range. I’m a UK 10-12 (I think this is a 6 or 8 in the US) and it was too small for me. I thought of some poor woman who actu­ally wears a size 20 getting upset in the chan­ging room because she couldn’t remotely fit herself into this rare piece of cloth­ing that was supposed to be her size, upset caused just because someone did a very crappy job on qual­ity control.

The cloth­ing industry also does a very, very poor job of serving plus-sized women, and seems to a actively want them to feel bad about them­selves. The main ranges of clothes are rarely avail­able in larger sizes, instead there’s a rack of unat­tract­ive poly­es­ter tents in loud flor­al patterns in-store, with the few nicer items only being avail­able on the website and selling out very quickly. This treats women who are above a certain size as a prob­lem or a side­line, not as normal people who can be part of main­stream soci­ety or clothes ranges. Yet there is abso­lutely no phys­ic­al reas­on this has to be the case. You only have to make the same clothes in some larger sizes. The shops just don’t want to.

High fash­ion also has a lot to answer for with caus­ing body image prob­lems. Fash­ion shoots in magazines like Vogue push only one accept­able body shape – very thin, and increas­ingly these days abuse Photoshop to create images that are almost anatom­ic­ally impossible. There’s a stand­ard size for catwalk and couture models- they are required to be both 5 ft 10 and have 34” hips. Almost no adults have both of these things (teen­age girls going through a growth spurt some­times do). Even if the models are close enough, they are pres­sured to diet to come as close to the magic­al 34” as possible. There’s an inter­est­ing article here from Priya Dieterich, a student who was approached by a model­ling agency when she was a teen­ager, and then horri­fied at their atti­tudes to her body, weight and health, and gave it a pass. When called out on these issues, people in the industry trot out the same old excuses about “aspir­a­tion­al” or “bodies distract from the clothes” or “we need to have a stand­ard sample size, and it saves fabric”.

Address­ing the sample size excuse: Yes, it is very useful and conveni­ent to be able to swap outfits between models of the same size, but there is no need for the sample size to be so tiny that almost no-one can fit into it. This is a modern devel­op­ment, the sample size didn’t used to be so small. As recently as the 90s it was cut to fit a 36-37″ hip, which is still very small on a tall woman but much more commonly found natur­ally. Even asking for the most tiny change in industry prac­tice, of making the sample size a bit bigger (which isn’t even a radic­al option- it’s still one size and a small one at that) is appar­ently impossible, because it would appar­ently use too much fabric. This is bull­shit. Cloth­ing fabric usually comes in widths vary­ing from 40” to 60”. Once that’s folded in half to cut pieces in doubles, you’re not going to be able to squeeze in two full body pieces next to each other. Adding 3-4” to the width will do noth­ing to increase the length of fabric you use, it just shaves a few inches off the useless offcuts.

On the “aspir­a­tion­al” front- I’m about that height, just below, and the only time I’ve ever approached that weight was after a very nasty bout of gast­ric flu. I certainly didn’t look aspir­a­tion­al or glam­our­ous. I looked ill.  It’s just not real­ist­ic or healthy for a lot of people’s bodies, and present­ing phys­ic­al outliers (or more often than not, young girls who haven’t finished grow­ing yet) as a stand­ard every­one should want to be is harm­ful. “Aspir­a­tion­al” is supposed to mean some­thing that you could possibly achieve, like a career or achieve­ment, not some­thing you can’t change like your basic body shape. There’s already a lot of social pres­sure for women to take up as little space, both phys­ic­ally and socially, as possible.

It’s supposed to be the ulti­mate compli­ment to tell a woman that she could be a model, but actu­ally models aren’t treated well unless they’re a super­star. I guess in combin­a­tion with the “don’t take up space” idea, a tiny, pretty, young look­ing (or possibly actu­ally 15 years old) model who never gets to say anything or have any opin­ions is an ideal woman for a lot of soci­ety. Top, top, models can earn a fortune, but the lower level ones get badly exploited. A lot of models are teen­age girls from poor back­grounds from coun­tries like Russia or Brazil sent to work in wealth­i­er coun­tries. They’re miss­ing out on their educa­tion because they want to earn money to send home to their famil­ies, are worried about losing their visas, don’t speak much of the local language or know about their worker’s rights, are eager to please and be a success, and are ideal candid­ates to exploit and abuse. There’s a disturb­ing docu­ment­ary about model scouts look­ing for teen­age girls from Siber­ia to send to Tokyo.

Even when the models are older, educated, women from wealth­i­er coun­tries, the agen­cies still nick­el-and-dime them and exploit them. Gawker/​Jezebel journ­al­ist Jenna Sauers worked as a model for a number of years after gradu­at­ing from univer­sity, and despite keep­ing in regu­lar work, ended up in debt to her agency. She has writ­ten an article here about all the ways the agen­cies fiddled her money. They treat the models like inden­tured labour­ers- they send them to work abroad and then over­charge them for substand­ard accom­mod­a­tion, which in combin­a­tion with the fact that agen­cies are allowed to add busi­ness costs like flights and photo print­ing to the model’s tab, means that they start out work in debt to the company. The agen­cies seem to be essen­tially unreg­u­lated, espe­cially as a lot of their models are not local citizens and are only there short-term, and are prob­ably work­ing under the table. Jenna Sauers says “How, exactly, I was supposed to make a living as a model never became entirely clear; when I worked two months in Australia last year, after agency fees and the rent (for dorm­it­ory style accom­mod­a­tion shared with other models) were deduc­ted, nearly AU$5,000 worth of earn­ings became AU$690.90.”

As well as the finan­cial exploit­a­tion, models also have to deal with sexu­al harass­ment and even assault from photo­graph­ers and styl­ists who contin­ue to get work again and again no matter how they treat the models (Terry Richard­son being a notori­ous example).

Put a bird on it?

I have been making things all my life, it was never really some­thing I had to actively decide to take up. My grand­moth­er was a dress­maker, and before she had me my mum was the manager of a fabric shop, so I was intro­duced to textile crafts very early, and the idea that making your own things is normal. A lot of people don’t grow up learn­ing how to make things and decide to take it up as a hobby them­selves as an adult. There has recently been a real surge in popular­ity of crafts, lead­ing to a whole new range of books and magazines aimed at begin­ners.

However crafts are often still presen­ted in media as commid­i­fied, twee, mannered thing for fussy, silly women with too much time on their hands. I wrote in my bullet point outline “Explain loath­ing of Alsopp”, and Kirstie Alsopp sums that type of craft media up for me: a smug, cold, heart­less Tory who portrays a cosy image while look­ing down on, and support­ing polit­ics that actively make the life of anyone who has less than her more diffi­cult.

Crafts aren’t a complete answer to the prob­lems of capit­al­ism or an excuse to feel smug- it’s hard to track down or control sources of a lot of the mater­i­als used, and done in the wrong way crafts can be incred­ibly waste­ful of resources and an excuse for just anoth­er kind of consumer­ism. Making your own things also doesn’t really stop clothes compan­ies from doing any of the exploit­at­ive things mentioned in the previ­ous section- only union­isa­tion and regu­la­tion of worker’s rights can really improve the situ­ation of the garment work­ers. The attract­ively designed books and magazines avail­able to appeal to new crafters are often sorely lack­ing in actu­ally teach­ing you to do a good job. They skip essen­tial steps and skills, because they treat making things as a novelty, and it’s patron­ising to their audi­ence. It’s no good sewing badly made and badly fitting items that will never be used and never learn­ing the tech­niques to produce good and useful items. You shouldn’t use craft skills to churn out useless items. Use the skills to meet real needs, save resources or fix things that would normally be thrown away under consumer­ist models. Are you liter­ally taking hold of the means of produc­tion or just using mater­i­als to waste time? It’s also import­ant to avoid turn­ing buying craft supplies into anoth­er form of consumer­ism – for example scrap­book layouts where you must buy commer­cial scraps and follow specif­ic set layouts. It’s easy to turn buying mater­i­als into outright hoard­ing.

There are a lot of craft­ing blogs around now as well. I have mixed feel­ings about the biggest sewing blogs- It’s good to share projects and tips, but they are also often very mater­i­al­ist­ic and churn (some­times unne­ces­sary) projects to get as much blog content as possible. The typic­al “upcyc­ling” projects are bloody awful and also often cut down decent plus-sized clothes to fit smal­ler, more easily avail­able sizes, creat­ing some­thing waste­ful just to gener­ate blog content, rather than making things to genu­inely fill a need (and taking away scarce plus-size vintage items from people who could really wear them). The big blogs become vehicles for gain­ing commer­cial spon­sor­ship rather than genu­ine shar­ing of ideas and tech­niques. I wrote this article a little while ago about why I still write paper zines as well as having this blog, and in the part where I discuss the grow­ing commer­cial­isa­tion of blogs I said:

“You see a lot of now profes­sion­al­ised life­style and fash­ion blogs which a few years ago were records of the inter­est­ing lives or style of the (nearly always female) writers, which is what attrac­ted their large audi­ences. Once they quit their jobs and went pro-blog­ger though, the blogs gradu­ally turned into lacklustre sets of photos of comped outfits from cloth­ing compan­ies or pristine houses only achiev­able by someone who stays at home all day without much to do, ridicu­lous sponsored posts about how much they love a certain break­fast cereal or whatever, and a gener­al sense of a bored, list­less person sitting at home all day feel­ing obliged to keep churn­ing this stuff out and suppress­ing anything person­al or less than super-posit­ive to keep the money coming in, and the advert­isers happy. The whole situ­ation becomes that the product they’re selling is their own life, and as a result the writer becomes more and more isol­ated in a strange little blog­ging bubble. It’s like some weird, modern, neolib­er­al­ised digit­al paid version of being a 50s house­wife.”

The commer­cial­ised big craft­ing blogs cover up the blatant market­ing spiel of gener­al life­style blogs with projects they’ve made, but it’s still basic­ally market­ing copy masquer­ad­ing as someone shar­ing their life. There’s also a weird ideal­isa­tion of indie pattern design­ers vs “the big 4” pattern compan­ies yet McCalls are hardly Coca-Cola, and the indie patterns are often very expens­ive, fit badly, poorly draf­ted and don’t have plus-sizes. Buying a differ­ent company’s more expens­ive, not as good pattern makes you some­how an outsider or “radic­al”, yet actu­ally it’s all just down to consumer­ism and using the abil­ity to spend more money as the criter­ia for who is “better”. Spend­ing more money makes you more “creat­ive” in the commer­cial­ised blog­ger world- anoth­er way that classism can slip in.

So, with all those criti­cisms and caveats, why do I think crafts can be liber­at­ing and radic­al? If you can make your own thing you are not restric­ted by what is in the shops or what is marketed to you. Clothes are made for your body rather than feel­ing like your body failed by not fitting into the ready made clothes, which can only be good for mental health. Hand-made clothes if done well, are high­er qual­ity and longer last­ing than most high street stuff. Things can be fixed and adjus­ted and reused and reima­gined- you are not reli­ant on what can be bought in the shops, or on the life­time dictated by built-in obsol­es­cence to force you to buy products again when they break prema­turely (by the manufacturer’s design). Crafts also keep continu­ity with the prac­tice of manu­al work- keep­ing culture and self-reli­ant tradi­tions alive- further reject­ing modern consumer­ism.

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  1. I bought one of your Ynfytyn zines at DIY Cultures . It’s excel­lent. This blog is awesome too. I espe­cially relate to the parts about manu­al labour, the Victori­an Gentle­man /​ uncool skill thing, and what you said about useless craft­ing or seiz­ing the means of produc­tion. Ten years in London, six years of art school and many exper­i­ences living and work­ing in ‘creat­ive’ envir­on­ments made all this very reson­ant with me.

    1. Thanks- I’m guess­ing you got it from Pen Fight distro?

      I’m glad it struck a chord- I was quite anxious when writ­ing it that I would come in for massive flack from multiple direc­tions.

  2. I don’t recall the name of the stand but it was on level 4, area 2 – I had a stand there as well for my fanzine APA APA (
    I think you do run the risk of ruff­ling feath­ers when you write some­thing mean­ing­ful and opin­ion­ated. That’s good. Other­wise you end up like one of these ‘life­style’ people who tell you what perfect vintage outfit they’ve ‘thrown togeth­er’ every day for a flip­ping year!

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