So this is how punk ends - not with a bang but with a jumper. Today, all over the world, thousands of punks, goths, emos and other ferociously tattooed, face-pierced miscreant bastard folk-devil scum will take to the streets to protest their disgust with war, oppression and bourgeois conformity by crocheting hideous green twat-hats with stupid ear flaps.
I’m talking about World Wide Knit in Public Day. Which, by its very name, suggests that knitting is a sordid and disgusting practice best done behind locked doors and drawn curtains. Which it is.
On at least four continents muscular youths possessed of the sort of surly disposition and fashionable facial disfigurements that persuade old folks to cross the street, muttering under their mint-humbugged breath about the return of national service, will be sat in parks and on street corners, cheerfully nattering to one another and churning out skull-festooned jumpers that proclaim the need for anarchy. The sickening truth is that knitting is hip - and Western youth culture is knitting its own death shroud.
Punk knitting: has youth culture gone mad?, Steven Wells
this is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. I do have a few major disagreements with this article. obvs it’s pretty ableist. also I do think craft is political, in that it’s a pursuit associated with older women (at least the kinds of crafts that are currently hip — knitting, sewing, crocheting, etc). I think it’s important to look at which pursuits are valued by our culture and why, and I think that sexism and ageism are partly why these handicrafts are trivialised and mocked.
plus I just like craft. but I am really sceptical of “radical craft” culture. it seems very individualistic and very much restricted to the level of signs and symbols. making a t-shirt that says “fuck patriarchy” is fun. but it’s only a t-shirt. it happens that I like radical politics. some people like the Beatles. but someone who has a Beatles t-shirt is not necessarily a Beatle. having a “fuck patriarchy” t-shirt might make me feel good but it doesn’t mean I’m in a movement. in the end the t-shirt is just a material possession, just a brand. it’s not that different from the mass-produced “anarchy” patches they sell in Dangerfield, or Hot Topic, or whatever your local equivalent is.
because craft is not outside capitalism. craft supplies can be really expensive and are usually bought new. in theory you can reclaim a lot of the materials you need for most things but that takes time and space, and you will still probably need to shell out for thread, glue, developer, etc. in australia, a handcrafted garment usually costs more than a readymade garment of roughly equivalent quality.
and crafting takes a lot of time. most people don’t have the time to make their own soap and their own bread and their own scarves. especially if it’s actually going to cost them more. like, there is pretty much nothing more middle-class than those books on making quirky stuffed foxes out of felt. (confession: I like quirky stuffed foxes made out of felt.) it’s just another way to pay more to be unique, which is pretty much the defining ethic of late capitalism.
I’m not saying people should stop making craft or art, just that we shouldn’t overstate the political importance of craft in itself as a radical practice. make practical and non-whimsical shit (like this Afghan wireless network infrastructure made out of oil drums), or sell cross-stitched bookmarks and baby booties to fund community projects (like older women at church fundraisers have done for decades) and then we’ll talk.