Basket Unweaving



I've had what could best be described as "a funny old week". My Twitter, if it didn't blow up, certainly had a very tiny controlled explosion, resulting in being approached for commissions and sales, which is always lovely. I haven't made the best use of Twitter in the past, but I'm certainly making up for that now, and all in all I think I've had a bit of a social media overload. Pip was away, and on Thursday, when I had the polling station, a double bill of performance curated by Daily Life Ltd, and First Aid Training to get to, I, rather embarrassingly, became the practical demonstration at said training. I'm not even good with descriptions of blood, and felt so fragile and rotten that I didn't make it to the performances that evening. Just before I went to bed the possibility of a Tory majority government was beginning to look likely, and I had a terrible tension headache from my visceral reaction to mentions of blood.

On Friday morning I felt hungover and funereal with the election result. I think I'm not the only one who's still in a certain amount of shock. 

Thank goodness, then, that I had a second Daily Life Ltd ticket for their cabaret evening on Friday. I was late and flustered to the event, but within two minutes of walking through the door, I felt better.

Poets associated with F.E.E.L. (Friends of East End Loonies) performed a rollicking variety of texts, from the elegiac to the ethereal to the positively zinging with all the "madness" of life. Listening to them made me want to get up in front of a microphone again, which I haven't done since I was fourteen.

Dylan Tighe performed wondrously crafted songs interwoven with looped 80s keyboards, with words both poetic and realist.

But the two highlights for me were Simon Raven's "basket unweaving", a witty riposte to the busymaking distractions of  mental hospital mandated "art therapy", and Bobby Baker's Ballistic Buns

Bobby told us the story of her grandfather and grandmother, extraordinary individuals who met in the early twentieth century. Her grandfather, a "senior angler" or Oxbridge mathematics superboffin to you and I, was tasked with creating the British answer to "Big Bertha", an enormous mortar gun used by German forces in World War One. He never forgave himself for the devastation his engineering engendered. Her grandmother was from a wealthy background, hardly ate a thing, but, much like Bobby, loved feeding people.

One of Bobby's abiding memories of her grandmother was of sitting at the dinner table, when her granny would suddenly shriek, "Catch!" and pelt rock hard home baked buns at Bobby and her siblings.

As Bobby was a tomboy (believe it or not, so was I at the age of ten), her favourite film of the time was Dam Busters.

Thus, in homage to both her grandparents, whilst footage from Dam Busters scored by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played, Bobby pelted her captive audience with (mercifully soft) Madagascan vanilla buns. And, as Bobby demonstrated her pitcher's arm in a curiously balletic style, all the tension which had been building up in me over the course of the week bubbled up and overflowed into uncontrollable belly laughs. The laughter, as Alice of Daily Life put it, of jouissance. Just what the doctor ordered.

It made me think, as I have often privately thought before, that it's ok to be a bit mad. But here was collective, joyous, jouissance madness.

I felt buoyed up, and all these thoughts have led to the embroidered words of this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion; "Raise each other up."

I refuse to despair in the face of another five years of Austerity Britain. I refuse to silently seethe, to grow complacent or apathetic. I won't stop working, however much arts funding is squeezed, however much the rug is pulled out from under vulnerable people. I will do my bit.

I wasn't quite sure what diaristic elements to include alongside the words, so Pip had the excellent idea including collage elements of the stack of Labour party literature he'd accumulated. I simply cut out the words and phrases which seemed most pertinent.







Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Between The Waves: Experiences at the 2014 Feminism in London conference

The Feminism in London conference made me feel uncomfortable. It also made me feel elated, disgusted, relieved and confused. And in that regard, I would say that it did its job. Feminist conversations are oftentimes uncomfortable.

However, as I am what some people are terming a "fourth wave feminist", I sometimes feel caught between, or perhaps under the various waves of feminism. And I must admit, I'm not entirely satisfied with any of them. That perhaps, is also the point. Feminism must move forward as it encounters new barriers to the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

I felt particularly caught between these waves when listening to the opening speech of the conference by Gail Dines. She called for a return to radical feminism, which originated in the 1960s with the rise of second wave feminism. Radical feminism's fly in the ointment is patriarchy; male domination over all aspects of society. Now, as a modern day intersectional feminist, I have a bone to pick with this idea; for example, what about race? What about class? Sexuality? Trans rights? I would argue that as a white, middle class, heterosexual woman, I have more privilege than a black, working class, lesbian woman; I get a bigger slice of the pie. Intersectionality is about being mindful of this and supporting all our sisters in their struggles against the multiple oppressors they face.

 I also believe that men have their place in this too, and can effect positive change, so long as they don't attempt to dominate a movement that is primarily about women's rights. Case in point the recent cock-up with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg wearing "This is what a feminist looks like" t shirts which were allegedly made by women under sweatshop conditions. If true, this is certainly an  utter outrage, but to my mind also rather begs the question: what were these men doing making the feminist conversation about them? At which point we return to the issue of patriarchy. These men are the living embodiment of the word, taught to believe everything is always about them. It's up to "scrappy upstarts", i.e. the thousands of women who attended and supported the Feminism in London conference, to remind them that it's not. This is a message from the speeches at the conference that I wholeheartedly embrace: that feminist revolution is a collective effort. That we must pull together to make our voices heard.

There was a strong focus on the increasing "pornification" of our culture at the conference. The next day, I was idly scrolling through Tumblr when I happened upon a fashion editorial advertising a new line of Barbie-themed garments. One of the t shirts proclaimed the legend "This bod's for you." Many women today claim that they don't need feminism; some because they think feminist = man-hater, some because they believe there is equality now, so what's the point of feminism? Well, I would argue that when our own bodies are not for us is precisely the point at which we need feminism. That's not even taking into account the disparity in what men and women are paid for equivalent jobs, to give but one example of inequality.

A young woman who is painfully aware of this inequality is Freya Pigott. In Freya's own words: "I am a 16 year old student with a love for standing up for what I believe in." And what Freya believes is that injustices committed against women have to stop.


As part of The Art of Feminism exhibition which made an appearance at the conference, Freya exhibited a textile piece entitled I wish the content of this would age quicker than the fabric will disintegrate.

The mismatched fabric squares making up the work are machine embroidered with statistics related to gender inequality and observations on the misogyny Freya encounters in society today.




I found the below the most harrowing: More people would dial 999 if they were to witness animal rather than domestic abuse.






Creating this piece was a considerable act of bravery for Freya; some of her classmates criticised her efforts, asking what the point was, and stating that "it wouldn't change anything"'; as if art has never changed the world!

I was invited along to the Feminism in London conference by Catherine of Significant Seams, to document a discussion on how craft can change the world.

Catherine was joined by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective and Deadly Knitshade to present the talk Crafting Politics. Creativity couched as craft rather than art was important here; the speakers concluded that art is less accessible and more exclusive than craft, which is a form of creativity which transcends class, gender, and race divisions. Of course, the particular forms of craft discussed by the speakers, stitching, knitting, and patchwork, are to a large extent still gendered female, though "manbroiderers" such as Mr X Stitch are doing their best to debunk this. However, as Roszsika Parker notes in The Subversive Stitch, the very term "manbroidery" wards off the associations with "trivial" femininity embroidery still holds.



Through her work with the Craftivist Collective, Sarah Corbett has encountered some male activists who say of Craftivism that it's "crap"; that activists need to be angry, to shout, to effect change. Sarah argues that she is channelling her anger to reach the right audiences, and simultaneously creating joyousness out of anger. This reminds me of a glorious cross stitched quotation I saw once: "I sublimate my rage through needlework". Craft can be political in unexpected ways, partially as consequence of its "girly", "fluffy" associations.

As Deadly Knitshade noted, when you tell people that you are protesting or raising awareness through needlework or knitting, they relax and say "Oh, that's really interesting". In a similar way, colleagues in a school I was working in recently couldn't seem to reconcile the fact that I wear a lot of pink lace with the fact that I'm a "rampant" feminist; my feminism and Craftivism are thus both slightly stealthy forms of politics.

Craftivism is neither high (elitist) art or confrontational (scary) activism. It is Craftivism; activism using craft in a quietly beautiful way.

Returning to the theme of second wave feminism for a moment; Catherine argued that textile crafts were thrown under the bus by second wave feminists in the 1970s, just as research was beginning to indicate that they were the most effective hobbies for better mental health and deeper relaxation.

 I concede that during the second wave domesticity was in feminist firing lines, and needlecrafts were part of this domestic sphere (hello, the enduring phenomenon of Jane Austen). However, during the 1970s a number of feminist artists turned to textile craft as a means of self-expression and manifestation of "the personal is political"; the collaborative work of Judy Chicago particularly springs to mind. During each wave of feminism, craft has played its part; think of appliquéd Suffrage banners in the first wave; of Womanhouse and The Birthday Party (both instigated by Chicago) in the second; of Craftivism, and the reclamation of craft as an undervalued, gendered art form in the third.

In each wave, in each era, there is much to be proud of in the efforts of feminists, craftswomen, and women who fit into both categories (why, hello there). I think there will be much to be proud of in the waves which follow, as well.