My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional

My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. No pieces of who I am or what I create exists without the others. My blackness is in every loop on my knitting needles, my queerness infused into the hemlines of my me-made garments; my whiteness, my understanding of how to balance myself between cultures that both belong to me, is woven into the threads of every fabric I have chosen to bring into my home. Although I mostly blog about pattern designs and shoe lasts, I think often about how the things I create are intertwined with the ways in which I walk through the world. Bringing up these sticky conversations in the midst of a pattern review sometimes makes people uncomfortable — crafting is a respite for many, a way to release and get away from the hard realities that exist all around us, so they don’t necessarily want to read about how angry I am about the cultural appropriation depicted in the latest Alexander Henry print. But for me, there is no break — I don’t get to escape from my skin color, my cultural identity, my sexuality, because they influence everything I do, whether I want it to or not.

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the Rachel wrap-dress

My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. Just because I have complaints about how white supremacy and the patriarchy affect me and my crafting doesn’t mean I am without my own privileges. My feminine tastes, my gender, my body shape, all of these things are validated when I thumb through patterns at Joann’s, dress after skirt after blouse perfectly suited to my liking and my sizing. I don’t recognize it as luck. It’s intentional. The sewing world, the world at large, has been set up to confirm my body’s presence in it, to make me feel comfortable participating in sewing, an activity that I love so dearly. I haven’t had to break the mold, haven’t had to yell and fight for my body to feel seen, for my bust to feel accommodated, for my curves to feel recognized, for my gender preference to match up with the designs available for my body type.

But because I have a wife whose identity on the gender binary is tenuous, and because I like to make things for her (I’ve started to describe making as my love language), I have had the tiniest glimpse into what it feels like to travel around in a gendered world that is not quite made for you. The first garment I ever sewed for her was a button down shirt, a men’s pattern. She liked the boxy shape depicted on the cover of the envelope, liked that it didn’t have darts to accentuate her waist or her bust. Not all women want their boobs to be pushed up and their waist to be squeezed down. At this time in my sewing life I had little experience with fitting adjustments — I thought you just took the side seams in and in and in until it fit perfectly, until there was nothing left to take. When I completed the shirt, it was huge on her, she was lost in it. The design was obviously not made with her body in mind. So I took in and in and in at the side seams. But now the sleeves were disproportionately huge. So I took the seams back out out out. In an act of desperation I added some darts in places that made no sense. I felt proud of what I had done but curious about why I had to work so hard to make the garment right for her when I was able to make patterns fit me right out of the envelope with relative ease. She wore the shirt a couple of times as a show of gratitude, but she was never comfortable in it. Eventually we gave it away. I am much better at fitting now. I have since made her jeans, shorts, tons of button down shirts using a better pattern, and approximately 379 pairs of joggers. But I make her the same things over and over again because there is so little available that suits both her tastes and her body. It’s not a complaint; I understand that my wife is part of a niche market. It’s just an acknowledgement. A reminder that in some ways I fit into this world more easily than others do. Which is, again, a privilege.

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my finished constellation quilt

My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. I’m trying to get out of the habit of saying things like “oh, this project is a piece of cake to complete!” and “it’s so easy, anyone can do it!” because, yes, another acknowledgment, a reminder: the world is not made up of people with the same abilities that I have. One person’s “easy” could be another person’s “crying themselves to sleep at night out of utter frustration”, for any number of reasons, all of which are valid. The whole slow fashion movement is based on a certain set of privileges that not everyone has. The money, the time, the brain capacity, the skills, the physical ability, the comfort — it’s not available for everyone, even if they appreciate what the movement stands for and want to take part. Some makers only buy organic cotton and natural dyed fabrics because they want to be mindful of the impact that their art has on the environment. Other makers shop at Walmart because it’s the only way they can financially accommodate their therapeutic crafting and their need to put food on the table. There is room for all of us; the definition of what a maker is doesn’t have to be squeezed down down down to recognize only people who are doing it in the ways we consider “right”.

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bathroom vanity that I built and tiled for our renovation

My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. I recognize the privileges I have as a cis woman making clothes for herself based on patterns that are easily available, affordable, and within her size range. But I also recognize how that privilege goes out the window when I go to a hardware store to buy materials for my next wood working project. When asking which aisle the screws are on, I am condescendingly told by a smirking man that “screws actually come in different sizes? So, like, it would help to know which type and size you’re looking for.” As if I wasn’t actually going to be using them myself, as if I had NO idea how screws work. I am offered help when carrying cumbersome things to my car and even though I politely decline, I am still followed out of the store all the way through the parking lot just to “make sure you’re okay!” I am petite, but I am strong, yet no one trusts this. I wasn’t taught how to work with tools and machines from anyone in my family because they never learned themselves, so a few years ago I taught myself by reading a book called The Handbuilt Home written by Ana White, a woman who builds her own furniture. I don’t want to have to shop at the big box home supply stores for materials, I would rather support small hardware businesses that thrive on local support, but the Home Depot three miles away is the only place I have found that employs women on the floor, not just the cash registers, the only place I’ve found that allows me to toe that fine line where I can ask for help without being patronized in the process.

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whitewashed skirt — required coloring in some of the white ladies with brown markers

Amongst older knitters, I make it clear that no, my grandmother didn’t teach me how to knit. And my mother didn’t teach me how to sew, either. When I was growing up, they were too busy being single parents to enjoy the free time and disposable income that often comes with recreational crafting and deliberate artistry. I think of them whenever I am luxuriating in my craft room, a space larger than any bedrooms my family ever occupied growing up. I make enough money that I can buy fabric that I don’t need, can splurge on the expensive embroidery floss, can purchase more yarn than the pattern calls for, just in case. But I am always wondering what kinds of things my mother, my grandmother, my father could have created when they were younger if they had had more money, time and support. I grew up poor, knowing that my parents wanted me to be better off than them, knowing that they wanted my life to be easier than theirs. I am, and it is, and I try not to forget what modest beginnings I came from. But it is so easy to ignore the pain of past yearning- yearning is not a pleasant state. The freedom I have to create is a constant reminder of the distance between me now and me then, between my parents and myself. It makes me feel guilty and proud all at the same time. Both in and in and in and out out out.

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knitted octopus sweater

My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. I seethe when I see a wall of cotton novelty prints that only features white faces, because I want to see my likeness in them, too. But I also have to check myself after automatically cringing when I walk by a shelf full of acrylic yarns, which I presume to be “cheap” and not worth a second glance; being able to afford more expensive yarn is a privilege that I often take for granted, which I find very interesting considering that when I first learned to crochet as a child, I had no idea that yarn could be made from anything other than synthetic fibers — cheap yarn was all we could afford, and so it was all I knew. That distance, again. Of course, now I know much more. Like how recognizing yourself in the world of crafting doesn’t look the same for everyone. Like how your socio-economic status, the color of your skin, the way you walk through the world, your culture, your gender identity, the people you love, your size, your ability, your mental, physical and emotional health, your religion, all affect what, how and why you create. I don’t see myself in shelves of fabric depicting all white faces, and others don’t see themselves in a $20 skein of yarn.

As I was writing this piece, someone left a comment on a blog post I had written recently. The post was about the ways in which fabric is whitewashed, and what a negative impact that has on both communities of color and white communities. The commenter fully agreed with what I had written but also mentioned how she, as an older woman, very rarely saw herself depicted singularly in the media, how after a certain age her peers seemed to disappear, her changing needs rarely addressed. It was like her age had suddenly put her in a demographic that was invisible. Of course, intellectually I understand the explicit repercussions that ageism and misogyny have on women in today’s society — I’m an actor for TV and film, so I have seen and felt the pressure to stay small small small and young young young since the moment my career began, and I imagine that I will experience those pressures in even bigger ways as my work continues. But I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t spent much time thinking about the personal toll this disenfranchisement has on women as they get older, yet another divisive impact on a community constantly struggling to make their voices heard.

I can’t fix any of this myself, I wouldn’t even know where to start, but I can strive to make enough room for all those parts of me, and all those parts of you. I want to hear as much as I want to be heard. It takes tremendous effort to be a crafter who is constantly carving out space for all the different people who exist in our world, and the sad truth, what I hope I have demonstrated in this essay, is that the work is never done. I know I don’t get it right all the time and I imagine that few people do, but I can always keep trying. I want to understand our world beyond the privileges and shortcomings that I experience myself, appreciate it through eyes that are not always my own — I can’t escape from my identity, but I don’t want to escape from anyone else’s either. Being an intersectional feminist is a powerful and often humbling movement to be a part of; it has taught me empathy and inclusiveness, and influenced my making in the most unexpected ways.

My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional.

Anyone else want in?

 Jasika blogs at http://jasikanicole.com/

The other posts in the Who We Are series are here.


68 thoughts on “My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional

  1. Thank you for this piece! I feel like every day I’m growing, learning, striving to be better. This is such a well thought out and written piece and I cannot wait to share it.

  2. Beautifully written piece, it’s such an important thing to know that we all have a different perspective that has been built from all the experiences we have and that we need to see more of other people’s experiences and lives too. It can only make for a richer more inclusive world. Empathy and inclusiveness are the two of the traits that I hope my children grow up with.

    1. yes, intern dana is one of the characters I voice for WTNV, also the narrator in Alice Isn’t Dead, but most of my work is in tv/film

  3. Amen. As an age advantaged maker (59) I can attest to the growing invisibility of older people
    women in particular. In fashion, sewing, media it seems once you hit 35-40 you begin to fade. Life is not geared to the ageing population.

    1. Haha, well thank you! I feel absolutely unwise most of the time, but I appreciate that I at least *seem* like I know what I am talking about 😉

  4. Thank you for this – so thoughtful and such clear explanation of things that are often hard to articulate. When I can take time to make things I often do so in silence so I can hear myself think. You’ve given me a few new channels to think on.

    1. I appreciate this! As you may know, there is a whole dynamic that people in disenfranchised communities often commiserate over where people outside of our experience ask us to explain/educate them about things they are unfamiliar with, and it can be hard to figure out how much to give of yourself (because convincing other people of your hardship and pain can be exhausting), while still feeling like you are actively making your community better by sharing your voice. It’s a fine line to toe, and it’s different for different people at different times. I love when people recognize this though, and it makes putting myself out there a lot easier. Thank you so much for reading, Dani.

  5. Thank you for this, Jasika. I’ve been thinking a lot about intersections between gender identity, sexuality, and clothes for a contribution here; you said what I was thinking (and much more) so beautifully.

  6. Wow. I’m pretty sure I’m not infusing anything into my hem lines. So I’m impressed by how much you are able to imbue. Your garments are a pleasure to read about and I love the thought process in your construction.

  7. So moving to read Jasika 🙂 You write as well as you do everything else – with soulful mindfulness. Thank you for putting so much of yourself into this essay.

    1. What a sweet compliment, Kathleen! As always, thanks for weighing in and providing so much encouragement and support to your peers in the community- I am thankful for you 🙂

  8. Fantastic article! Jasika, you always blow my mind with how mindfully you navigate the personal and political (and how one essentially is the other) through your role as a maker, and in the glimpses we get into the rest of your world. It’s an inspiration to me. Thank you.

    1. Sallie! Thank you so much for reading, and for this sweet compliment. I appreciate all the things you share with the community so much 🙂

  9. Beautifully written and very thought provoking, indeed!

    Oscillating between feeling guilty and proud – same boat here for various similar intersections….

    Thank you for this post! It made me cry, laugh and go way back into history.

    1. And angry too… on the cloak of invisibility that the society puts on all the outliers that don’t fit within the ‘expected’ range …

  10. Thank you; what a fantastic article. I love the fact that my love of sewing is bringing me to articulate people like you, who make beautiful clothes for sure, but also help others to appreciate life from a different perspective. So much to think about – thank you.

  11. Jasika,
    As a person who has few intersections myself, I appreciate your voice and your work. Thank you.

    Also, I’m glad you mentioned Ana White. I’ve been watching her on YouTube every week for more than a year now! So great to see a woman of color (possibly First Nations?) building things!!

  12. Thanks for being so open about sharing your perspective. One thing (among several) that struck me about what you said- Alexander Henry “appropriating” for his fabric line. I own a business that designs and creates bonnets for curly and kinky-haired women, and our top seller this year featured the Alexander Henry’s Mecca for Moderns Electra fabric. Maybe that’s “re-appropriation” =)? But at the end of the day, I think the women who purchased that style just liked seeing themselves represented so powerfully and beautifully, in a way they aren’t always are. At the end of the day, I think we all just want to be seen.

    1. I don’t know anything about that print specifically so I cannot speak to whether or not I think it is problematic, and even if I could, I am not the end-all-be-all decider of what should be considered cultural appropriation- it is different for different people, communities and cultures, and it is not my place to tell others what they should and should not be comfortable with.
      The prints I speak of are the ones that depict white individuals with European features participating in cultures that are not their own, like fabric prints that portray only white women’s faces adorned with Day of the Dead makeup, or prints with ambiguously indigenous men “saving” white women who appear to be in distress (which is problematic on many, many levels). Prints like those are a problem for me and for many others, whether they are PoC or not.
      Yes, we all want to be seen; I hoped that my recognition of this was made clear enough in the piece I wrote. But people being seen should never erase anyone else’s chances of also being seen. I think that when white people, for instance, wear costumes to dress “Mexican” for Cinco de Mayo or put on black face and an afro wig or copy bits and pieces of a someone’s culturally specific wardrobe for the sake of having fun, with no thought given to what those bits and pieces mean, where they come from, why Cinco de Mayo is actually celebrated, or the pain and trauma that comes with walking through this world in black skin, it reduces us to jokes, negatively affects our struggle to have our marginalized voices heard, and erases the human experiences of the people who actually live the lives that are being made fun of. You don’t have to own something to honor it.
      I didn’t write this piece to point a finger at anyone for doing things “right” or “wrong”. I wrote it to hopefully open a door for people who don’t think about intersectionality regularly, to allow them to start dialogues in their own lives, to start flexing the muscles of ‘listening to’ rather than ‘speaking over’. Once that door is opened, if anyone cares to walk through it, they have to do the rest of the work for themselves.

  13. A wonderfully inspiring, thoughtfully written essay. I am really glad you are sharing your voice and listening too: it helps encourage more of us women to do the same. I enjoyed your episode of Love to Sew too!

  14. This is wonderful. So well said, so much that needs to be said, and you just get right to the point. And it made me think – and will continue to make me think – about the ways that I discuss and talk about my own crafting. I have said that something is easy or “anyone can do it” when I get complimented on something as a deflection in some ways without really thinking about the many different ways that can be taken/understood. I know I’m privileged to have the time, money, able-bodied-ness to make as much as I do but by undervaluing, even in a humble brag, my work I’m just reinforcing my privilege and not really seeing or listening. Thanks for making us all better by thinking and listening.

  15. What a thoughtful, well-written and inspiring post. I love how you’ve drawn out all these themes and really made me think about privilege in terms of my crafting. I hadn’t thought about this particular area of my life as so necessarily intersectional before. Thank you.

  16. Another excellent, on-point article, Jasika. Your bio doesn’t say writer or journalist or I didn’t see it anyway. I think that should be up front in info. about you.

    1. Oh my goodness, biggest compliment ever 🙂 I have some weird baggage around calling myself a writer and I am not sure exactly why- I used to think it was because I didn’t get paid for it (although I do now occasionally) or because I didn’t write regularly/solicit journalism gigs, but I think it’s probably something deeper than that- some deep-seated insecurity that I wasn’t even aware of, lol. Whatever the reason, I really appreciate this comment and your encouragement!

  17. Excellent piece! I wish that I was a better communicator, so I would be able to clearly tell you how much reading your post meant to me. So many of us are disenfranchised, either deliberate action or ignorance. Thank-you for putting this out.

  18. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I’ll admit while I think about — and try to increase my awareness — of privilege in most parts of my life, I don’t think much of it in crafting. As I grew up with very little, my mother still made magic, making things. Clothing, furniture, beautiful spaces, fixing the plumbing, the electricity… Mom could do all of it, so my assumptions are that people who are poor can make. Another thing to reconsider… And this: last week I was in Oklahoma to visit my son. He is in the military and was training for a few weeks there. It’s possible when he is reassigned, it will be to the base there. The town doesn’t have much, but hey, a new Hobby Lobby is being built! I turned up my nose at that and he reminded me that there, the political and religious are so intertwined, that shopping at HL is probably no worse than shopping anywhere else there. I’m fortunate where I live to have MANY choices for my quilting fabric shopping, and I can easily boycott HL. Quilters and other crafters in that OK town will be glad when it opens, and the world will not be substantially worse off. Pointed to this post by Abby Glassenberg’s email. THanks again.

  19. Making as a language of love. That really resonated with me. I feel like you are offering real depth with this in many areas.

    Thank you for the always thoughtful and thought provoking writing.

  20. I have been systematically devouring every single post on your blog since I found it a few weeks ago and your whitewashed NOLA post was so brilliant I sent it to practically every crafter I know! This is everything I feel about crafting and feminism that I have never been able to articulate but also so much more that I have never really taken the time to examine and think about. It’s a wonderfully well written piece Jasika and I’m totally also sending this on to everyone I know xxx

    1. Oh Dani, this is such a sweet reply- I really appreciate you sharing my writing with your friends! Thanks so much for reading and supporting and encouraging 🙂

  21. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your “self” through this post. I am going to share with my daughter and sisters. Ticked me pink to check out the NOLA post as that is my daughter’s name! Saw your blog via Jen Hewett’s page. She is a charm just like you.

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