In Defense of Crafts

As someone with a lot of hobbies, I’ve noticed lately that there’s a pretty strict delineation which of my hobbies are seen as skills, and which are considered little more than a fun pastime. Historically, jobs that are primarily dominated by women have been seen as less important and requiring less skill than those dominated by men. However, when more men enter a profession, it’s given a level of credibility it wasn’t before. 

There’s also less of an emphasis in the modern day on appreciating the work of artisans and craftspeople. Mass-produced clothing, decor, et cetera are the standard, and if something can be done by a machine, it usually is – even if it’s lower quality than if it were made by a person. I’ve talked a lot about this before, but the huge separation of consumers from the production of goods is bad for everyone. For example, if I buy a pair of jeans from Kohls, I have no idea where those jeans came from. I don’t know who designed them, wove the fabric, or constructed them.

Because of this, I also don’t know how the jeans were constructed or how to duplicate or mend them. Corporations want you to be reliant on them and see production as something that happens in faraway factories, so that when a seam splits or a table leg breaks, it doesn’t even cross your mind to repair it yourself. Rather, you just buy a new one. 

But in addition to this, work primarily done by women is devalued even more than work primarily done by men. I build furniture, and I also sew clothes. The former of those skills generally makes people see me as a more capable person, while the latter is just seen as a fun hobby. Of course I sew, I’m a girl. Girls like clothes, and fashion, and all women sew. Okay, maybe I’m laying it on a little thick, but you get it. Sewing is expected from me and carpentry is not, because of my gender.

No one has ever looked at me twice in Joann’s, but when I was recently looking for a drill at a pawn shop with one of my male friends, a total stranger came up to us and told my friend, “You better watch out, your girl’s looking at power tools.” Which has it’s own set of insane problems, like the implied ownership of “your girl,” but the whole point of that interaction was that I was doing something I wasn’t “supposed” to be. I have less personal experience with these, but the women I know who crochet, knit, or do other needlework also often have their work dismissed and devalued because it’s “feminine.” “Carpenter” is an acceptable career path. “Embroiderer” is not.

And for the record, I’m not saying that sewing is harder than carpentry, but I will say that making something in 3D space can be a hell of a lot harder when your material can move around, stretch, and reshape itself without you doing a single thing. Soft wood, while malleable, is a much more reliable material for me than slippery silk or – god forbid – stretchy fabric. (If anyone has tips on sewing stretchy fabric, CALL ME.)

It’s time that “crafts” stops being a synonym for “easy hobby.” “Arts and crafts” is a term we associate with activities for little kids and retirees. It’s kindergarten spaghetti towers, not professional needlepoint. The definition of craft is “an activity involving skill in making things by hand.” The craft of women who make jewelry or lingerie and the craft of men who build furniture or houses are just as demanding of their own individual skillsets.

Of course, there is overlap and to assign a gender to certain activities is totally reductive and untrue. There are plenty of men who sew, women who build, and more – but when the gender of the worker lines up with the gender that has been socially assigned to a task, people don’t question it. Of course that guy is building houses, he’s a guy. What’s that girl doing with a power tool, though?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that all crafts are equal. And I know it sounds stupid, and like a very first-world-problem, but I’m serious. Check your biases. Is that thing really “women’s work,” or is that what society wants you to think? And maybe if we put more emphasis on the skill of individual workers and craftspeople, we could bring production and consumers back a little closer to each other.

If I wonder who made every product in my house and how, I’m going to start finding out pretty fast just how many of my clothes are made by underpaid, exploited factory workers. Where do your things come from? Who made them? And why does the faceless person sewing Shein clothes appear in your mind as a girl?

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