There’s something special about taking part in a craft group, whatever kind of craft you do, due largely to the return to the female space that it offers. This is something that is so hard to come by in our modern life. Except for baby or toddler groups (where the topic of conversation tends to be limited to the one, rather narrow, subject of children) we don’t often get the chance to spend time working together with other women in a way that would have been the day-to-day norm for our forbears. Whether poverty stricken field workers doing the laundry and spinning together, or upper class ladies all sewing on their samplers, we would have occupied this same, busy, feminine space where we could just ‘be’ and work together. Much like those heart-to-hearts parents and children find so much easier in the car; removing the sense of observation and confrontation makes it easier to be open.
It’s something I’ve noticed as a mother – that caring for children and doing housework is not so onerous a chore when performing it in company. We’re social creatures meant for the community of the shared environment and the current isolation of everyday life is both alien and hard. Something about being with other women, too, is important. Whether it’s the shared experience, or the shared perspective – perhaps if society ever becomes truly equal it will become less of an issue, I don’t know.
There is so much that is soothing in doing a craft. It is work that leads to an end product that is valued by us and others and is, usually, either beautiful, or useful or both. When you compare that to our normal activities (whether paid work, childcare or housework) where so much of what we do is of fleeting duration and little valued you can see the appeal.
If you’ve never taken part in a group like this, you won’t have much of an idea what I’m talking about, so let me paint you a picture…
It’s evening in someone’s home. As a crafter their sitting room is liberally bestowed with the fruits of their labours, and probably gifts from various crafty friends. A crocheted blanket in cheery colours is draped over the back of the sofa. Embroidered and appliqued cushions adorn the room like sprinkles on a cake. On the wall are various pictures, from a cross-stitch, to a heart made of buttons, some drawings, photographs and a large felted landscape. A soft glow from lamps is cast across jars full of knitting needles sitting on decoupage coasters whilst a handmade dreamcatcher sways in the window.
At one side of the room is a set of shelves. Books on all kinds of craft from crochet to quilting are ranged in subject order and boxes full of fleece, yarn, fabric, and paper are stacked underneath. On the table in the centre of the room is a large plate of cakes, a bowl of crisps and at least one open bottle of wine and several glasses. All sorts of women sit around the room, on the sofa and chairs, a bean bag, a pouffe and cross legged or sprawled on the floor, colourful projects filling their laps.
The conversation is muted at first – a quiet discussion on this month’s ‘Let’s Knit’, or queries about which charity shop was selling off a job lot of yarn. As the crafters warm up, and more wine is consumed the conversation gets more animated, more personal. Babies are mentioned, as they always will be at gatherings of mothers, but the group is diverse and the ‘babies’ in question are all ages, from newborn through to grandbabies. From babies the transition to sex and menfolk is simple and inevitable and raucous bursts of laughter spill across the room. Sometimes there are tears and shared sorrow, too. Perhaps (as happened in my group) one of the mothers has lost a baby and the group draw together to support her and each other and to organise his funeral. This is womanhood at it’s strongest – sharing strength, sorrow, joy. Being together.
Some of the women craft furiously – listening in, but working hard, their clicking needles providing a soothing backdrop of noise like a heartbeat. Others let their work lie idle in their laps, too taken up with the chatter to concentrate on both. The most skilled have their fingers flying as fast as their tongues wag, finishing a whole sleeve of a cardigan whilst ripping the reputation of their son’s form teacher to shreds.
Eventually women begin to make excuses. It’s a school night, they’re tired, the toddler is teething and it’s not fair to leave himself alone to deal with it. One or two will carry glasses out to the kitchen and the conversation will drift back to the muted level of the early evening as they wash and dry the glasses and plates and help tidy up. The evening is over and everyone returns home but with a sense of community, shared experience, support and the whole of this entwined in the fabric of the project they’re making so it stays with them always.