Crafting, Resilience

Maybe the crafters here will not be surprised by this: the more I continue with knitting, the more I’ve come to realize that, in certain situations, the most politically empowered thing one can manage in troubling times is to start cultivating sanity and resilience through little, everyday practices, building from there.

While it is not required, some form of creative grounded-ness can be a very good foundation for staying receptive, open, and taking engaged actions in the world towards benefiting other people. Knitting and crafting tends to be seen by the people I know as a quaint “hobby,” maybe an escape-hatch or a “womanly” way of unwinding. Little do they know (or do they? I’m kind of a blabber-mouth) that cultivating craft in my life is part of a broader commitment that includes developing the clarity, strength, and sanity to stay socially engaged and be of help in the areas that matter to me. This commitment goes beyond knitting; it also includes being trained in teaching and research (where, I hope, the things I write can add to the chorus of voices that, specifically, is opposing the kinds of anti-immigration laws, policies, and public discourses that are unfortunately cropping up in many different places. More on my research here).

Knitting and making things has made all the difference between, on the one hand, trying to do this work while nursing a constantly battered sense of hope that social shifts could produce a more equitable world, and — much more preferable — doing this work while allowing the process to teach me to cultivate resilience. In other words, crafting isn’t the cure for, say, the kinds of micro-aggressions (and more) that women, POC, and various minorities encounter, but it can provide a home-base to return to if a day or incident has been trying. The need to cultivate a source of clarity and resilience grows greater in light of the reality that women (speaking for myself here) tend to be socialized to internalize or blame themselves for problems that are structural or systemic (why is it more habitual to castigate ourselves if we are less than perfect at balancing the demands of life than, say, to question the unreasonable gendered expectations placed upon us, and ask for a hand?).

The knitting has been a companion for all of this. It has been, for me, one of the best apprenticeships in recognizing and practicing real agency again. With every project — with every stitch! — I subconsciously remind myself that something new is possible, that new things are possible and can be brought into being with a little bit of practice, knowledge and patient action (oh, and mistakes). And if I’ve developed a habit of reading about others’ crafting tales, it’s partly because they also remind me of the unending emergence of new things in the world — splendid things reflecting the world of care, ingenuity, and loving engagement the maker put into them. Seeing this helps me to dig deep into my life and experience, and begin to look for ways to be involved and continue to take action on a broader scale. In the process, I am finding it helpful to draw on that same crafter’s energy and keen eye for possibility and transformation.

Happy Crafting, folks. Wishing you an empowered week.

loyola
…sometimes, it also helps to find a pretty view. Loyola U. campus, looking east over Lake Michigan

20 thoughts on “Crafting, Resilience

  1. Well written post. I enjoyed reading it and I agree with you.

    These are tough times as a little northerner in a small southern town. If I didn’t have my art, my crafts, and all the distractions they provide, I sometimes think I wouldn’t make it. I love the idea that I am “cultivating” sanity. Now if I could find a way to reap and share it, but alas, this is not the right “hardiness zone” for rational thought .

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  2. This is very different from Rachel P. Maines’ book Hedonizing Technologies, which looks at how doing crafts has come to emphasize the pleasure of creating something more than the end product and its usefulness. I haven’t read this book and I wonder if it does take into account all the people who knit or do some other craft activity to recharge whatever it is they need to recharge, whether that be “sanity” or emotional strength. I think medical students who wanted to be surgeons used to be encouraged to knit to keep their hands and fingers nimble. You’ve made me wonder what it is for me or why I do it. I never sat down to ponder that. I’m probably a hedonist! Of course, I think I get a lot of other things out of it besides pleasure. Lately I’ve been engaged in crafts as a break from social activity. Just that: not as a preparatory means to have the strength to act socially again. Or maybe I’m doing it as a preparatory activity. Julia Kristeva brought back the idea that melancholy is a preparatory stage that always precedes another period of being active with the world again. I certainly don’t think that knitting is a melancholic activity. Inactivity is a melancholic activity. I just think it’s interesting how you have revealed that crafting can be viewed as previous to other actions and states. Maybe a lot of us get into a “previous thing” without noticing.

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    1. Hedonizing Technologies sounds really interesting. I will have to check that one out next time I’m at the campus library! 🙂 I’m probably (very likely) a hedonist, too, and it’s interesting to know that craft helps you to take a break from social activity. I admire the way that some of your crafting (your Halloween cross-stitch projects) is part of teaching and sharing with your students!

      I like Kristeva’s idea and possibility that melancholy is a preparatory stage, or precedes activity. I think that explanation hits closest to home, for me, even if I also don’t find knitting very melancholic (it can be really joyful and fun, actually). I was just very surprised, over the past year, to discover that knitting could ‘support’ some of my other activities and interests. I would be very interested in reading that text. Thanks, Tony, for your thoughts and the reading recommendations!

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      1. I haven’t read that book but I saw a scholarly review of it. I can’t get it at my local library so if you ever do give it a look, please share your thoughts about it!

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  3. Thank you, Shirley. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation this is on what knitting can be. I’m fascinated by the idea and spend a lot of time thinking about it myself. I’ve tended to associate its benefits with the effect the physical action of knitting has on the unconscious mind, but thinking about it as a way of building resilience and training oneself to live in hope while patiently taking one step after another is wonderful and inspiring.

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  4. Yes, there’s undeniable magic in the physical action. I imagine that working a full sweater or shawl allows for plenty of time to let the gestures of stitching work their magic (I would love to read more about your thoughts on this!). Thank you for reading, Melinda. 🙂

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  5. Thank you for this; I needed to read it today. I use knitting and crafting in a similar way sometimes. It can be very meditative and it always makes me feel accomplished. I love being able to point to something physical that I’ve finished, which is a slightly different feeling than other non-tangible accomplishments. The last week in both in my personal life and the broader world have been particularly destabilizing and I’ve been trying to find my balance. Nothing feels like enough and I have to remind myself that I’m doing what I can, when I can and that will have to be enough. Anyway, thank you!

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    1. Sorry to read that things are in a rough patch, Mandy. And yes, it’s hard not to have personal things compounded by the broader situation (I was thinking of how destabilizing it must be to have recent events hit so close to home. No words). I like the idea of reminding ourselves that we are doing what we can (often within very real constraints + limits), and that we are enough. Thanks for that! I am sending hugs and all good thoughts from Chicago, and hope you’re feeling better. ❤

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  6. What a brilliant, thought-provoking post, Shirley! I agree that knitting (and other handcrafts too, for that matter) can teach us so much beyond just how to make something… Patience and tenacity being at the top of the list, for me at least! I also feel that making for yourself strikes back at the easy disposability of consumer culture – investing time and quality materials in a handmade piece creates an entirely different (and more satisfying) feeling to just picking something up in a store. I’m really hoping that more people will latch on to your message – the world needs more crafters!

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    1. Thank you for reading, Helen, and for your thoughtful take on the good side-effects of crafting. 🙂 I completely agree, and am shocked at how easy it is to overlook and minimize the real human + environmental costs of easy disposability. I find myself, at times, falling into the logic of the “great deal” and am trying to be more conscious of it. And you make a very true point – the spirit of knitters’ work is at odds with the making of fast, mass-produced, soon-to-fall-apart things; time-invested and good materials really do make a difference (as the wonderful Beasties show!). And, there is something so amazing and democratic about a craft that enables this kind of making with…basically a couple of sticks! 🙂 Happy Sunday to you!

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  7. I couldn’t agree more, Shirley! Whenever I am working on an interminable academic project, or have somethings keeping my brain too busy, I find crafting settles it all down, makes the world seem smaller and more possible, and helps to remind me of the endurance I do have–things will get finished! Or, if they don’t, that maybe the process itself is what counts. Thanks for a lovely, thoughtful post!

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