I used to make fun of my high school friend Kim, who was a member of the Future Homemaker’s of America. They had after school meetings where they learned to sew, cook and do all the traditional women’s work that, as a budding feminist of the early nineties, I scorned.
She was the one who patiently endured my ribbing and then taught me how to sew in the months before my wedding.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, and I am still sewing. Oh, I am still keeping my feminist leanings. Popular songs that have lyrics about a woman’s beauty as if that were the only thing she had to offer make me twitch, as do portrayals of moms and dumb blondes on TV. A stain or a man should not be the center of life, and there are more than a few competant women out there. So why should a traditional woman’s art grab me and hold me more than say, painting, which is more equal opportunity?
Sarah Gordon, in her article “Boundless Possiblilities”, written for Journal of Women’s History, states “As a way to hold on to traditions while simultaneously challenging them, home sewing was – and remains – a fascinating dimension of women’s work.” By sewing their clothes at home, women challenged ideas of modesty and fashion. In the past, sewing was a respectable way to earn extra money and enhance their economic position (this tradion continues with etsy). And by using home sewing to clothe their families, women “helped shape the identity of the people [they] clothed”, including the identities of the men in the house.
As a teenager, I had a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater – to reject sewing simply because it was seen as women’s work. I know differently now. The majority of people on craftster or etsy are women, engaging in traditional women’s work but finding new ways to get us to think about what it means to be female in todays day and age – from the uterus plush toy to the pornographic latch hook rug, women are subverting traditional values by engaging in traditional work.