ArticlePDF Available

Fabricating Activism: Craft-Work, Popular Culture, Gender



This article examines the recent resurgence of interest in what we call “fabriculture.” Three dimensions of fabriculture are explored: the gendered spaces of production around new domesticity and the social home; the blurring of old and new media in digital craft culture; and the politics of popular culture that emerge in the mix of folk and commercial culture. Ultimately, we conceptualize craft as power (the ability or capacity to act), as a way of understanding current activist possibilities.
Access Provided by Rutgers University at 11/27/11 5:37AM GMT
Utopian Studies, Vol. , No. , 
Copyright © . The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Fabricating Activism: Craft-Work, Popular Culture,
Jack Z. Bratich and Heidi M. Brush
This article examines the recent resurgence of interest in what we call “fabriculture.”
Three dimensions of fabriculture are explored: the gendered spaces of production
around new domesticity and the social home; the blurring of old and new media in
digital craft culture; and the politics of popular culture that emerge in the mix of folk
and commercial culture. Ultimately, we conceptualize craft as power (the ability or
capacity to act), as a way of understanding current activist possibilities.
In this article we analyze the recent popularization of DIY craft culture. We
evaluate craft culture, or “fabriculture,” around three major knots: () the
spaces of production, especially as they are gendered; () the relationship
between old and new technology or how the digital and the tactile merge;
() how this popular cultural form, weaving together folk and commercial
culture, provides new modes of political activism. Examining Web sites, prac-
titioners’ statements, and other craft-related events, we assess the tendencies
within fabriculture. While cyberculture and digital culture seem inherently
opposed to the archaic practices of weaving, spinning, and crafting, we
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 233UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 233 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
situate fabriculture within this  eld of new media study. Ultimately, we seek
to conceptualize craft as power (the ability or capacity to act), as a way of
understanding current political possibilities.
When we speak of “fabriculture” or craft culture, we are referring to
a whole range of practices usually de ned as the “domestic arts”: knitting,
crocheting, scrapbooking, quilting, embroidery, sewing, doll-making. More
than the actual handicraft, we are referring to the recent popularization
and resurgence of interest in these crafts, especially among young women.
We are taking into account the mainstream forms found in Martha Stewart
Living as well as the more explicitly activist (or craftivist ) versions such as
Cast O , Anarchist Knitting Circle, MicroRevolt, Anarchist Knitting Mob,
Revolutionary Knitting Circle, and Craftivism. In addition, a whole range of
cultural forms fall in between these poles, such as the virtual knitting circles
and crafting blogs, as well as the association with (post)feminism in the
pages of Bitch and Bust magazines. When we use the term craft-work , we are
speci cally referring to the laboring practices involved in crafting, while fab-
riculture speaks to the broader practices (meaning-making, communicative,
community-building) intertwined with this (im)material labor.
This resurgence, we argue, complicates conventional notions of activism,
especially regarding gendered politics. Craft-work’s communal quality, recon-
guration of time, and reappropriation of spaces provide a rich tapestry for
rethinking contemporary activism (Minahan and Cox ). The crafty sub-
ject is bound up with trickery and arti ce, with tactics that make fabriculture
part of what Michel De Certeau calls the “politics of the popular.” Finally, it is
tied to a broader DIY culture and an activist community in a way that spatially
and analogically links experiments in making futures di erently.
1. Spaces and Histories of Craft-Work
The dawn of capitalism emerged in the transmutation of craft. Textiles, we
will remember, were one of the  rst major industries. Craft-work was trans-
formed from guild to factory, from artisan work to industrial labor, from use
value to exchange value. But it was not just the “handicraft” that became
systematized and eventually automated in the loom.
The communal craft
circle—the ability to produce a community through production and dis-
tribution of the object (within the family, as gift, as public sign)—was also
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 234UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 234 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
captured by capital. The revival of craft-work and fabriculture is in some
ways a revival of this original mutational moment.
And this labor tr ansformation was thoroughly gendered. Mechanization
and industrialization smashed the cottage industry of weaving; it changed
the speed and space of production and introduced a shift in the gender
of weaving. In nineteenth-century England, factory owners recruited male
spinners to work the machines. While men were viewed as better equipped
to fuse with the machine, in fact laborers often employed their entire
families to assist them at the factory machines. Men were paid by the piece,
and women and children toiled for the man’s income. Gender struggles
in craft-work existed in antiquity, and the preconditions of capitalist gen-
der hierarchies could be found in the professional guilds, even while in
some places the guilds a orded more room for women’s agency (Federici
, ). This transfer to the factories was no simple or smooth process.
As Sylvia Federici argues in Caliban and the Witch , the rise of capitalism
via primitive accumulation was not just an economic reorganization of
the bodies of male workers (e.g., the spinners who were absorbed into
the factories). Before this violence could take place, another violence was
enacted as precondition. This clearing for capitalism was the dispersion,
deauthorization, and expropriation of women’s skills and knowledges
along with the destruction of many women’s bodies (the witch burnings).
The rest of these knowledges and practices were consigned to the domestic
sphere as “mere” reproduction.
In a telling parallel, fabriculture’s recent popularity arose alongside
of another highly publicized craft-work in the s, namely, the expo-
sure and scrutiny of global sweatshop practices. Anti-sweatshop activism,
especially around the garment industry, not only raised awareness of a
particular form of labor commodity but was an entry point into counter-
globalization activism more generally (Klein ). Craft culture can even
be regarded as a direct response to this pervasive and oppressive form of
craft-work (Campbell ; MicroRevolt ). The emphasis on slow pro-
duction as opposed to rapid output, on personal expression against repeti-
tive and specialized tasks, and on gift exchange versus mass production
all constitute this parallel craft. The collaborative aspects of craft culture
reappropriate the collective qualities of sweatshop labor, but without the
exploitative discipline and hierarchical forms. Handicrafts in contempo-
rary culture o er a critique of the regime of technology and the culture
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 235UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 235 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
of speed. Crafting creates slow space, a speed at odds with the impera-
tive toward hyperproduction. Crafting also ruptures the seamlessness of
the technological present—watching someone knit reveals alternatives
to mass production, introducing jarring anachronisms akin to the Amish
buggy on a highway.
None of this is strictly new: as Glenna Matthews notes in an interview,
“From time to time there has been an outcropping of this kind of rebel-
lion against everything being machine made” (Sabella ). The “response”
to sweatshops is not necessarily explicit and does not therefore simply
come after capital expropriation. It is simultaneously an intensi cation of
precapitalist practices, invoking the long history of craft-work with this latest
Knitting in/as Public
Near the door inside a New York City East Village co ee shop is posted
a simple xeroxed sheet. It announces the weekly meeting of Knit Club and
lists the rules of Knit Club ( rst rule: don’t speak about Knit Club outside
Knit Club). The humor derived from the hypermasculinization of a knit-
ting circle (via David Fincher’s Fight Club ) nds a more popular expression as
well: the absurdist spectacle of the Style Network’s Craft Corner Deathmatch .
Juxtaposing the placid traditional domestic arts with the aggressive competi-
tive contests of shows like Junkyard Wars and BattleBots engenders a humor of
incongruity but also provokes broader questions about gender, technology,
and the publicness of domestic craft.
In a Boston Globe column called Miss Conduct, a concerned reader
o ered the following conundrum: “I recently attended a professional confer-
ence and during a couple of sessions noticed several women in the audience
knitting as they listened to the presentations. It seemed a little rude, as it
was clear they were not giving their full attention to the discussions. Am I
being unreasonable?” Miss Conduct rules that the knitters were indeed being
“terribly rude.” The Globe coverage appeared on Etherknitter , a blog devoted
to knitters (“Public Displays of Knitting” ). The etiquette column
prompted some blogging. Anna writes, “I’ve been dying to knit in law school
lectures btw but I know it would NOT be looked on kindly. *sigh*.” Martha
warns, “I do think . . . that working women might need to consider how
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 236UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 236 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
professional they look knitting at an industry conference. While I think we
all agree that knitting helps us pay attention, so much of business success
is based on others’ perceptions of us, like it or not” (“Public Displays of
Knitting” ).
What causes such discomfort about knitting in public? One might put it
this way: Knitting in public is out of place . Freud institutionalized a concept
denoting the jarring and disorienting e ect of being spatially out of phase:
unheimlich . The queasiness of the unheimlich occurs also when interiors become
exteriorized (especially the home, as it also means unhomely ). Knittingin public
turns the interiority of the domestic outward, exposing that which exists
within enclosures, through invisibility and through unpaid labor: the produc-
tion of home life.
Knitting in public also inevitably makes this question of space an explic-
itly gendered one. One commentator observes that knitting in public today
is analogous to the outcry against breast-feeding in public twenty years ago
(Higgins ). Both acts rip open the enclosure of the domestic space to pub-
lic consumption. Both acts are also intensely productive and have generally
contributed to women’s heretofore invisible and unpaid labor.
But could such an innocuous activity as knitting have such social rami -
cations? How disruptive can fabriculture be when crafting women are more
in the public eye than ever before? Many of us may know that Julia Roberts,
Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, and other celebs knit. We may also know about
the resurgence of craft culture from the Style Section stories of major news-
papers. But knitting in public leads to questions about publicizing our knitting.
To understand the implications of this transfer of the private into public we
need to situate crafting into broader issues of space and gender.
The relationships among women, space, and weaving are key to antiq-
uity’s myths and practices. Arguably, the most famous spinner can be found
in that formative text-as-textile, Homer’s Odyssey . Domestic and faithful,
Penelope weaves. In the Odyssey —and by extension, in classical culture—
weaving and women were interchangeable. Spinning and weaving were cre-
ative and productive acts conducted solely by women ( The Penelopey n.d.).
Telemachos explains the division of labor in classical culture as he addresses
his mother, Penelope: “Return to your own hall. Tend your spindle. Tend
your loom. Direct your maids at work. The question of the bow is for men
to settle, most of all for me. I am master here” (Homer , quoted in The
Penelopey n.d.).
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 237UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 237 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
These sexual divisions of labor began to be codi ed spatially in antiquity.
Weaving as labor took place in a space speci cally designated for women and
textile production: the gynaeceum . A dista , a tool used for weaving, eventu-
ally became a kind of verbal shorthand signifying women, women’s work,
or the woman’s side of a family. In other words, weaving and women were
so intertwined that the tool could linguistically, as synecdoche, stand in for
women in general.
Women-only spaces have often produced exotic imaginaries in literature,
painting, and common parlance, often erasing the labor and production that
characterize and produce these spaces. Consider the names: gynaeceum,
harem, seraglio, zenama , purdah. Through Western artists eyes these interiors
were opened up for us to see voluptuous bathers and sultry odalisques—no
weaving, no loom, no dista , no politics, and no threat. Tensions between
women’s productive spaces and those of men are erased in these eroticized
The domestic has been associated with private space since the seven-
teenth century and has been long linked with the feminine and with the
mother (Scott and Keates ). We also want to call attention to the tra-
ditional sites of women’s production: the spaces within the domestic space,
speci cally enclosures within the home that functioned as women-only
spaces for work and for con nement. Anthropologists and historians remind
us of women’s con nement even within the domestic space. Menstrual huts
or red tents housed the unclean menstruating body. Similarly, the laboring
woman-body was restricted to segregated enclosures.
This transfer of the private into the public has been called part of the
“new domesticity,” a phrase that may immediately raise the hackles of those
who would see this as part of a retrograde postfeminism. We could also
call it reclaiming , as in the reappropriation of oppressive and violent repre-
sentations (epithets, stereotypes), but with a signi cant di erence. Whereas
reclaiming seeks to give a previously negatively charged meaning a new
a rmative one (based on the identity of the group doing the meaning
change), the new domesticity does not transform old into new, it reweaves
the old itself . To put it another way, the old meaning itself might undergo
change, whereby the diminution of all things domestic is seen as a patriar-
chal strategy, one that  nds its double in its continuing devaluation even by
rst- and second-wave feminists. Old domesticity, with its attending nega-
tive associations with female subordination, devalued labor, and social role
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 238UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 238 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
restrictions, could never fully capture what was actually going on in these
spaces. Working with fabriculture can rend this semiotic fabric to reveal
layers of activities and meanings covered over.
Neither rejection nor reclamation, this is an a rmation of something
that is no longer what we thought it was. We could call it “returning to the
home,” but that space is no longer the same. Within contemporary fabricul-
ture, practitioners are not forced to go, nor is it always framed as empower-
ment due to postfeminist “choice.” A sentiment like “you can’t go home
again” evokes the process here: The return is of something that is not the
same and may not have been the same even “back then .” To put it another way,
this is not “returning to the home” but more like “ detourning the home.”
The domestic as attached to a domicile itself was a historical phenom-
enon, as we have discussed. The extension into new spaces is just the latest
warp in a cycle that also included intension into bounded places (home and
factory). Craft-work is not unique here, as now various kinds of labor (intel-
lectual and symbolic but also classically manual) take place outside of o c-
es and are becoming mobile and remote. Craft culture’s publicity (in shops,
parks, mass transit, the streets, and public events and, as we will discuss later, in
cyberspace) and its often communal quality mirror this new exteriorization.
The home, as the other side of this spatial split, was also a stopping
point on a trajectory. A long history of critical scholarship, especially feminist
research, has sought to make the private sphere visible as site of social rela-
tions, arguing even that calling it the “private” sphere is an attempt at obscur-
ing those social relations. What happens now, when feminist analysis is not
the only thing bringing domesticity out into the open, when the practices
themselves are “going out”?
The home has become social, even global. We could call it the social
home . By this we mean two things: () the domestic sphere’s practices physi-
cally coming out into the public and () the recognition that the home was
always crisscrossed with social relations. The social home acknowledges
these oppressive conditions while also noting, along with Glenna Matthews
(), that the home was not simply a space of capture (gender domination,
exploitative reproduction of labor).
The home is also a site of subject production irreducible to mechani-
cal reproduction. These counterhierarchical interactions, circuits across and
between women, have been examined most famously and controversially by
Caroll Smith-Rosenberg () and more recently by Franklin (), and it
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 239UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 239 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
is here that we place the history of fabriculture and space. The interactions
and practices outside of the circuits of capitalist capture, and evading the
patriarchal gaze, can form new sources of value production. Crafting does
not belong to the home any more than it does the factory.
The knitting circle or sewing circle is a worthy example here. Often
noted for being women-only spaces where the production of physical objects
and communication take place, these “hidden” zones provided a di erent
kind of subject formation. These spaces would function to allow women
to swap stories, skills, knowledge, and strategies and generally speak about
the more oppressive aspects of the social home.
It is no wonder, then,
that these “tightly knit groups” had to be ridiculed as “gossiping circles”
and otherwise managed semiotically. Seen as idle work, a waste of time,
and unproductive activity from the perspective of capital and masculinized
value, these forms of craft-work do not get integrated into pro t-making
systems but get marginalized as, at best, use-value objects or a cost-cutting
measure. Precisely in this diminution as “only” a ective and sentimental is
where new  gures and possibilities arise, which we will see later.
Online Spaces and Collectives
Stella Minahan and Julie Wolfram Cox () argue that Stitch ’n Bitch groups
(and as a movement) have been traditionally de ned by face-to-face meetings
and manual work but are a highly mediated phenomenon. Fabriculture is “a
new way of connecting that is based on material production using traditional
craft skills and yarns as well as the optical  bre and twisted pair cable used for
telecommunications” (Minahan and Cox , ). Knitting in public, as we have
already noted, has become an event of publicity and of publication. Third-
wave feminist magazines such as Bust and Bitch , self-published print media
(zines), television programs like Craft Corner Deathmatch , and documentaries
like Woman’s Work (Grossman ) are all inseparable from the emergence of
the new craft culture. Most importantly, here is how fabriculture merges with
cyberculture to produce what Minahan and Cox call a “new materiality.”
Traditionally, craft circles took place in the context of institutions such as
churches, ethnic organizations, and political groups, for example, abolition-
ist sewing circles such as the Cincinnati Anti-slavery Sewing Circle.
happens when these spaces are virtual, when they enter the mediated public
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 240UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 240 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
sphere of the World Wide Web? Web sites and blogs devoted to fabriculture
(e.g., Craftster, Grumperina , Knitting Blogs Web Ring, Craftzine) span a wide
range of activities. Twitter feeds, Facebook groups, Tumblr (re)posts, and
YouTube channels have all become vehicles for the expansion of fabriculture.
From commercial sites to virtual knitting circles (or knit-alongs ), the new
domesticity is thoroughly an online a air. Carrioke, Etherknitter, and
Extreme Knitter can meet one’s needs for debate over the merits of knitting
in the round or the ethics of vicuna wool. Just as an embodied knitting circle
exceeds the mere execution of knit and purl, so, too, do the knitting blogs
share personal anecdotes, show baby pictures, and share political convictions
(as the Knitters Against Bush demonstrate).
Like so many other online communities, contemporary knitting culture
blurs the boundaries between consumption and companionship.
 With
online communities such as iVillage and the WeddingChannel and
BabyZone sites, women converge around gendered activities, includ-
ing knitting. Knitting blogs often open up the domestic space of the user
through confessionals, photos, and details on current projects. What could
generate more warm and fuzzy feelings than a “community of knitters”?
When this kind of traditional domesticity is circulated, the open-ended
multiplicity of such technocultural metaphors as the matrix is closer to
its original meaning (as motherly/matter). We can see that even at the
moment of a rming women’s online experience, we need to acknowledge
how quickly it can be captured in the con ning, gated enclosure model of
the cult of womanhood.
But other knitting blogs position themselves against this old domestic-
ity, preferring hip and edgy aesthetics, with names like Extreme Knitter . It is
not surprising that Stitch ’n Bitch nation was launched by Debbie Stoller,
editor of the pop feminist magazine Bust . De ned chie y through Stoller’s
lead, much of the contemporary knitting movement often positions itself as
subverting the conventional associations of knitting: domesticity and tender
maternalism. The April  issue of Bust Magazine , for instance, featured a
project by subversive cross-stitcher Julie Jackson entitled “babies suck.”
Confessional culture also constitutes much of the blogosphere, another
way of exposing the private to the public.
 Knitting blogs expose the dark
side of knitting—addiction and excessive consumption. Etherknitter, a physi-
cian and knitter, recounts an exchange that she had with a yarn store owner.
She writes, “The sta in the store sees a lot of people at the store who act
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 241UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 241 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
out their neediness through yarn. She saw it as uncontrolled buying. Since
we were talking about obesity in America at the time she was tying it into
alcohol/drug and food addiction.” Etherknitter also observes the use of the
word stash to refer to a collection of yarns. She re ects on the lifestyle altera-
tion that came into her life after knitting: “I really do have to beat myself to
ful ll the more boring paperwork obligations in my life since I started knit-
ting” (“Knitting Addiction” ).
Sometimes the bloggers show photos of their in-the- esh knitting gro-
ups in places like New York City. The photos often show several smiling,
youngish, mostly white women exuding an upbeat alternative lifestyle
arranged around a table drowning in cocktail glasses.
 Circulating images
of embodied knitting extends that much larger virtual knitting circle. The
photos and commentary of the blog reveal the practices of the enclosure to
a larger audience. The knit circle becomes media event, but not only online
(as a series of individuals on computers); like other sites, these virtual spaces
bring people together in space (to have face-to-face knitting circles).
We could say that these sites weave alliances and relationships. Virtual
crafting is an exchange of information, skills, and even products. In other
words, the knitting circle now meshes with the World Wide Web. More
apropos is the phenomenon of online social networking , where interac-
tions are now embedded in virtual spaces (blogs, microblogs, and social
media applications). At the same time, these online techniques and spaces
become increasingly integrated into everyday life (online dating services, txt
mobs, psychogeographic aesthetic experiments, certain reality TV shows,
and embedded mobile communications technologies more generally).
Continuing with our crafting notions, we can call these social meshworks ,
whose a nities and links are formed not in organizational contexts or in
identity-based communities or even via consumer tastes (DeLanda ).
The units of a nity can be small and local (harkening back to guilds and
to contemporary a nity groups) and/or global (especially with virtual
communities). Just as the practice of crafting can be seen as open-ended,
so, too, these relations and communities can be woven.
Knitting in public forces us to examine more closely the production of
both material and virtual spaces. In many ways, knitting in public takes us
to the knot of questions regarding the private/public split in today’s spatial
arrangement. But the social meshworking aspects of fabriculture are only
the  rst steps toward understanding the relations between old and new
technologies. We turn now to this intertwinement more directly.
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 242UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 242 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
2. Cyberfeminism: Gender, Materiality, Techne
As a series of binding or connecting technologies (of objects and subjects),
craft media are not just representational—they are “tactile” as well. Using
one’s hands is obviously not exclusive to handicrafts, as so much of what
gets considered high art involved the painter’s and sculptor’s hand. In
the s one of the many feminist interventions into the art world,
Threadbare: A Subversive Aesthetic , worked on this similarity and di erence. By
pleating crafts into the range of art pieces, the artists foregrounded the hier-
archy of senses (visual over tactile) at the foundation of canonical high art.
Historical con icts over machinic control and techne not only involved
class con ict; they signi cantly revolved around gendered divisions of
labor. Weaving and textile production take us to the nexus of these cycles
of struggle. Some feminists advocate technological pro ciency as a means
to personal power. Cyberfeminism was and is a movement that encourages
woman–machine relations, especially digital relationships (Fernandez and
Wilding ; Haraway ; Plant ; Spender ).
 As the s pre-
dictably pronounced that women were “falling behind” in the information
revolution, cyberfeminism emerged as a way of having women embrace the
machine. In Nattering on the Net , Dale Spender writes, “Given our history,
it’s not possible to assume that women will automatically share equally in
any gains that come from the present information revolution. Women were
excluded from the process of knowledge-making when the printing press was
invented; and there’s plenty of evidence today to suggest that women are
again being kept out of the production of information as we move to the
electronic networks” (, ).
During this time, groups mobilized to occupy the Web, and cyberfemi-
nism was born. Cyberfeminism is not limited to issues of technological access
or bridging a gendered digital divide. As Radhika Gajjala and Annapurna
Mamidipuni () argue, cyberfeminism is a spatial problematic. In addition
to being about technological environments, this space is geographical: We
“must be wary of drawing the automatic conclusion that ‘gendering’ always
occurs to the disadvantage of women in all technological environments
across cultures, histories and various locales” (Gajjala and Mamidipuni ).
Faith Wilding and the Critical Art Ensemble  nd in craft an important pre-
decessor, if limited to physical space: “The organizing cell for the  rst phase
of feminism was the sewing circle, the quilting group, or the ladies’ charity
organization” ().
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 243UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 243 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
Aside from the speci c category of cyberfeminism, it is widely acknowl-
edged that tactical cyberculture is primarily a masculine phenomenon. The
typical association is masculinity/digital culture and femininity/fabriculture.
The DIY craft culture, however, complicates this gendered binary. Of course,
many women are involved in programming and digital culture, and some
men are part of fabriculture. But more than this empirical crossover, we
can see information technology and handicraft being fastened together in a
number of ways.
As Reece Steinberg’s Craft/Technology Web site points out, the
relationship between technology and craft is deeply intertwined. Time
reviewed the fabricultural site Craftster and called it “open-source crafting”
(Craftster ). Some of the key individuals involved in fabriculture have
a foot in both worlds. Leah Kramer (founder of Craftster) is a computer
programmer. Jenna Adorno (a writer on ) works in the software
industry. Not surprisingly, these crafters maintain an online presence for the
handicraft. Another technical example is knitPro, a Web application that
translates digital images into knit, crochet, needlepoint, and cross-stitch
Kirsty Robertson ()  nds many links between crafting and infor-
matics, following Plant, including information storage and binary data.
Robertson, analyzing a number of artists and activists working on this con-
nection, also highlights the embodied activity of both crafting and digital cul-
ture and even  nds links to biotechnologies. Craftivists have found another
overlap, this time in the software model. At a digital poetics workshop,
according to one of the participants, they “set out to explore the surprisingly
plentiful interconnections between knitting as a form of activism and com-
puter viruses” (Matt Soar, quoted in Buiani ). This Viral Knitting Project
worked “to create knitting as actual communication,” creating both a “text/
ile” and a community (Buiani ). Other metaphoric interweavings of tech-
nology and craft include the parallel use of patches and  ber. Even the node
of a network etymologically derives from the Latin for knot . Furthermore,
the “hard” sciences liberally borrow soft terms like fabric , texture , and string to
understand the nature of the universe.
But there is more to the craft/digital connection than metaphors. The
rst attempt to automate processes (aka software) was based on the Jacquard
loom. Kirsty Robertson () follows up on this historical connection when
she argues that information technology is less about hardware than software,
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 244UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 244 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
and this code-based programming is akin to knitting.
 Sadie Plant () has
written a “machinic history” of Ada Lovelace, the nineteenth-century aris-
tocrat, mathematician, and collaborator with Charles Babbage on an ana-
log computer. Ada herself was obsessed with tapestries and with the idea of
weaving encrypted messages into scarves. The intertwinement of digital cul-
ture’s origins with fabriculture has led Plant to suggest that the binary code
/ that underpins computer programming was derived from knit/purl.
A  lm like Conceiving Ada and Plant’s scholarship rely on the long- standing
associations between women and traditional handicrafts to warm up
women’s perceptions of the digital Web.
Once we take this aspect of craft seriously, we can no longer simply hold
onto the notion that craft-work is “old” media. In fact it recon gures our
notions of old and new, even our notions of media itself.
 Beyond just the use
of hands, tools, and skills (the common uses of the term techne ), craft-work
by de nition transforms old into new (even at the literal level of refashioning
previous material). The resurgence of fabriculture can also be placed into
this logic, as a revision of the past. Its thoroughly mediated quality (especially
with online spaces) blurs the line between old and new technology. To put it
simply, cyberculture reconditions fabriculture (especially its origins), while
fabriculture reengineers the “newness” of new media and the virtuality of
digital culture.
What meanings are immaterially woven into the craft commodity? This
is one way of thinking about the virtualization of the object. Hidden maps
and codes were embedded in quilts designed to convey escape routes in the
Underground Railroad. Family crests, Native American quilt-narratives, espi-
onage messages, and encrypted love notes are other types of informational
materialism (Kimokeo-Goes ). Beyond the meanings directly integrated
into the material design, we also need to take into account the communica-
tive processes infusing the labor process itself. This would mean taking seri-
ously what Tiziana Terranova () notes as the forms of labor not usually
associated with value: chatting, life stories, amateur production. Once again,
the knitting circle comes to mind, whereby participants swap skillful know-
ledge (techne) but also stories, experiences, songs, and other life strategies.
We could consider this peer-to-peer textiling , a collaborative “information mat-
erialism” (Terranova ).
Of course, the fact that products are often circulated within a gift econ-
omy (in and out of capitalism) also gives the material a semiotic dimension.
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 245UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 245 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
The recent revival of this gift economy (as counter to globalized sweat-
shop production and mass homogeneity) adds another twist. In this case,
handicraft encodes a desire for the precapitalist form of production, for the
“personal touch.” The commodity now infused with a code that embeds non-
capitalist desire is ironically part of a new marketing campaign: global/local
authenticity (Gajjala ).
Throughout all of this, we can see that craft is not just a material
practice separate from semiotic ones. We could put it this way: Craft fastens
the concrete and the abstract into a material symbol. Fabriculture is a mate-
rialization of a series of relationships and symbols. Therefore, its material is
imbued with a mediated quality (as delivery system for messages but, more
importantly, as series of subjective processes, systems of meaning-making,
technological principles). And once again, this encourages us to think media
outside of its representational quality, in its binding capacities, subjectivation
processes, and social value. Crafting, as media and as resurgent technology,
stitches across common distinctions between old/new, material/immaterial,
economic/semiotic, bio/info, and digital/tactile and opens to a new fabric
of relations. It is thus profoundly virtual (in Levy’s [] sense) at the same
time as being material.
3. Politics and the Popular
It would be the height of banality to say that the resurgence of craft culture
has been commodi ed. Much of DIY craft culture has been fully integrated
into consumer culture in the likes of Martha Stewart, the Style Network, and
even the DIY Network. But before examining this popularity more directly,
let us turn to the radicalized sectors of craft culture.
Craftivism, as the name suggests, highlights the activist components of
craft culture, exempli ed by groups like the S/he Collective, Revolutionary
Knitting Circle, and Anarchist Knitting Mob. These groups create public
events such as knit-ins and Massive Knit NYC. The latter was performed in
memoriam of Jane Jacobs, an urbanologist famous for her pioneering work
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 246UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 246 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
on the importance of public spaces in cities. The Anarchist Knitting Mob
called for people to gather in Washington Square Park in Manhattan. Groups
and individuals would then “knit-the-park,” crafting fabrics that surrounded
certain grounded objects (fence railings, lampposts, bench legs, etc.). The
point of this action, as conveyed by the organizers, was to remind us (as
Jacobs did) that public spaces are not static or permanent, they are processes
under construction. And this construction does not have to be geared
toward redevelopment as capitalist venture.
By softening the hard material of these objects, the radical crafters
remind us of the communal and creative essence of the public. Other craftiv-
ist projects include the aborted “Wombs on Washington” action, where knit-
ted wombs (collected online) were to be thrown on the steps of the Supreme
Court; artist Barb Hunt’s knitted land mines; and the MicroRevolt collective’s
knitting of corporate symbols “to showcase the labor involved in the making
of textiles and clothing” (Robertson ).
On a more everyday level, craftivists develop values and practices like
mentorship, community-building, connection with other DIY projects, and
gender empowerment. The Viral Knitting Project, for instance, did not
just create a textile: “Its performativity, as a collaborative and interactive
project . . . also created a community” (Robertson ). The Revolution-
ary Knitting Circle promotes discussion, skill-sharing, and relationships
among people with di erent backgrounds. The S/he Collective works
toward building a community that promotes women’s art and social change.
The current resurgence of crafting has strong links to the anarchist milieu,
especially as a politicized practice of resourcefulness, local knowledge,
and nonhierarchical organizational forms. For instance, radical knitters
participated in counterglobalization demonstrations in Quebec City by sit-
ting on the street knitting objects with protest messages.
Darlene Clover () examines another kind of craftivism, one not tied
to typical revolutionary practice. In fact, her “Sewing Stories and Acting
Activism” examines one of the more denigrated forms of crafting—quilting.
The quilt (like much tactile media) is often semiotically limited to its old
domesticity, equated with its use-value functions (warmth, comfort, security),
and devalued regarding its political potential. But one need only to think
again of the Underground Railroad map-quilts to see how a conventional
practice can be used for hidden purposes (the quilt as camou age).
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 247UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 247 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
Crying the Blues was an exhibition that used quilting to convey Canadian
seniors’ “stories, ideas, and concerns” (including health care, education for
their grandchildren, wage cuts and job loss [Clover , ]). More than
a series of representations, this material imaginary was then recirculated as
a pedagogical tool. The  nal “product,” therefore, was not only an embodi-
ment of a set of symbols but a set of connective material practices that
formed a provisional community.
 This communal quality comes in many
forms in the crafting world, from online blogs to public demonstrations,
from small Stitch ’n Bitch sessions in cultural centers to conferences like
the above-mentioned “Digital Poetics and Politics.” These on- and o -line
gatherings do not just bring people and ideas together to make and sell a
product, they connect each member’s skills, competences, and creativity—in
other words, their material labor.
What, then, do we mean when we talk about the politics of crafting?
Is it limited to issue-based quilting, radical knitting circles, and public knit-
ins? If knitting o ers subversive possibilities, it is hardly restricted to explicit
radicalized forms. Instead, it is the very logic, the very mechanism, of craft-
ing that promises a powerful political tool. The community-building, space-
making, and ethical relations that constitute fabriculture allow us to rethink
the politics of the popular via mundane media. Even the founder of craftivist.
org , Betsy Greer, recognizes this component: “Craftivism is about more than
‘craft’ and ‘activism’—it’s about making your own creativity a force to be
reckoned with. The moment you start thinking about your creative produc-
tion as more than just a hobby or ‘women’s work,’ and instead as something
that has cultural, historical and social value, craft becomes something stron-
ger than a fad or trend” ().
Greer here indicates that component of craft found in the German kraft
(power, skill, capacity) as well as the politics of value production. We can add
to this another characteristic—the familiar claim about the radical potential
of the digital Web—interconnection, weaving, producing and reproducing
alliances. As Minahan and Cox (, –) note, the resurgence of craft-
ing is a profoundly collective phenomenon, with progressive dimensions
(women expressing themselves via “third spaces”) as well as more radical,
protest-based iterations. The very connectivity of craftivism, according to the
authors, is a means of overcoming the alienation in an information society.
Counter to dominant notions of the placid individual crafter, crafting
is a social movement and at times a form of direct action. The politics of
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 248UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 248 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
crafting here involve a number of layers. Some craft politics are familiar
reformist ones—they seek to in uence policies (e.g., reproductive rights) as
well as raise funds and awareness (such as Craft the Vote or Afghans for
Afghans). Others are more like cultural interventions (e.g., street art, sten-
cil art, gra ti), which insert messages into the commercialized spaces of
everyday life. Still others accompany street-based direct action politics (coun-
terglobalization protest knit-ins). Others might operate alongside confron-
tational street tactics (the kind usually associated with aggressive masculine
subjects), in order to counter the more macho forms. Besides the content of
the messages, the protesters remind others of the pace of transformation,
that disruptive street tactics need to be met with mundane grassroots direct
action, and that confrontational action needs to be paired with a cooperative
project. This is a type of “pre gurative politics,” one that creates collabora-
tive relations now as if the world to come has already arrived. In other words,
fabriculture spans a variety of political forms, from the familiar reform and
revolutionary ones to the cultural politics of everyday life central to cultural
studies research.
Return of Time: Old/New
To understand the politics of popular fabriculture we again need to raise the
question of history and how fabriculture manages the old/new divide. One
immediate retort that could be raised is that fabriculture’s popular resurgence
is really just a nostalgic return to preindustrial folk culture (especially in its
contemporary marketing). Even aesthetically it has carried this connotation:
When incorporated into artistic canons, crafting is often “folk” or “outsider”
art. Also, being embedded in domestic traditions (as use value, as gift) pro-
vokes this association with folk culture, as do its ancient and mythological
roots (elaborated above).
But this is not simply a return to the folk, as if an older tradition belongs
to the past. What would it mean, for instance, to make the case that Tantra
(meaning loom , continuity , tool for expansion or a weaving ), which persists today,
belongs to the past? This modernist sense of time as progress and segmented
eras has been criticized especially from postcolonial scholars. There is a di er-
ence between noting a long-standing tradition and relegating it to “the past”
(as premodern, as a previous stage in development, as precapitalist). Modern
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 249UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 249 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
linear time is thus a cut that makes an ongoing tradition (one that might vary
in its power and visibility) seem like a “return” to the past.
Reconditioning and remediation complicate any easy periodization:
Current fabriculture is a resurgence or a reversion of that which went dor-
mant or took on other forms. As with domesticity, the return is not of the
same thing. More speci cally, the resurgence is not of the past: The emer-
gence of capitalism was a moment when craft was transformed into labor,
the proliferating spaces of production were codi ed into private/public, and
process was diminished in favor of product (commoditization). But crafting
never disappeared: Its commodi ed and industrialized forms never elimi-
nated fabriculture, only spatially organized it and ascribed value to certain
iterations of it (while devaluing others). Crafting persisted and proliferated,
in cracks and interstices. Its resurgence is not new per se, nor is it old—it is
a way of rethinking the capitalist industrialized moment itself and the patri-
archal division of space/labor. This notion of time, appropriately enough,
ts right in with some basic technical characteristics of craft-work: for exam-
ple, refusing to fetishize newness as such. Instead, innovation itself changes:
Now it can mean recrafting the material, unraveling a product to start again,
or reworking the same material, di erently. As it goes with the material
(reworking one’s textile) so, too, with material culture; as with fabric, so with
Just as we have argued that space is recon gured through fabriculture,
time undergoes this process as well. Weaving a history can go a number of
ways here: Is fabriculture part of an unbroken thread of practice? Or does
it entail dropped stitches? In any event, breaking history up into segmented
eras and placing craft into one of them would simply cut up fabric into strips.
Relegating craft culture to a past folk or to a purely new phenomenon would
diminish its critical powers, thus continuing the project of devaluing a ective
labor and disciplining gendered production. It makes much more sense to
evaluate fabriculture in terms of popular culture.
De Certeau and the Tactical
Michel De Certeau’s (, ) work on popular culture, while dealing
mostly with scriptural, spatial, and culinary forms, o ers a number of helpful
insights, speci cally around the notions of pop culture as tactical . For
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 250UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 250 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
De Certeau, dominant powers use visibility, gridding, and institutionalized
spaces to limit possible actions. They employ strategies to enclose spaces, orga-
nize proper usage, and determine the pathways of action. De Certeau locates
pop culture on the side of diminished powers, the “weak” who can employ
tactics as a counter to the dominant groups. Tactics are small-scale actions
(De Certeau draws from guerrilla warfare) found in the interstices of the dom-
inant. They are unformalized practices hidden away from dominant gazes
(sometimes right under their noses). These occulted spaces and practices
carry with them the tactics for coping with domination but also the types
of operations that can combine to produce new e ects. In discussing games
as a popular art, for instance, De Certeau (, –) notes that embedded
within them are a whole host of tricks and maneuvers preserved as tradition.
Pop culture encodes these tricks and operations into its protocols.
What about crafts? Can they, too, be located as a type of operation, as a
series of tricks and tactics? We can beg in with some linguistic tricks, operations
also having traditions embedded in them. To be called “crafty” is synony-
mous with being cunning, clever, even deceitful. One does not have to go too
far back in time to note that cunningcraft referred to a whole series of know-
ledges and skills associated with women (aka folk knowledges or witchcraft).
Ornamentation and arti ce, associated with the arts of feminine seduction,
only increased the association of “craftiness” with legerdemain. The word
knack , which commonly refers to skill (“to have a knack for”), has its roots in
an old German word for deception, trick, or device. Even the English origin of
trick comes from the French tricoter (to tie or knot together [Robertson ]).
In Greek, one would say to “spin” a plot, rather than to “hatch” a plot as
we may say in English. Craftiness and cunning were inseparable for the
Greeks: Ariadne’s thread, the labyrinth, weaving contests. Weaving and wiles
are woven together in the Odyssey : “Here is an instance of her [Penelope’s]
trickery: she had her great loom standing in the hall and the  ne warp of
some vast fabric on it. . . . It is a shroud she weaves for Lord Laertes. . . . So
every day she wove on the great loom, but every night she unwove it; so for
three years she deceived the Akhaians” (Homer , ).
 As myth, symbol,
and model, the relation between spiders and spinsters winds its way through
numerous cultures and their folklore (Weigle ).
Craft thus has an intricate relationship with the tactical quality of popu-
lar culture. Relegated to interstitial spaces (outsider art, trivial sewing circles,
devalued labor) craft culture found shelter for persistence. It is, after all,
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 251UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 251 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
innocuous , the unconventional hidden in convention, which links it to viral
tactics (Buiani ). Finally, the embedded quality of crafting (hidden messag-
es, camou age, secret circles of exchange) also highlights this tactical media .
Tactical media are usually associated with the world of high-tech specialists,
cyberactivists, digital artists, and the hacker class (Lovink ; Wark).
One last remark about De Certeau’s contribution to crafting as subject
formation. De Certeau () notes that these tactics (such as camou age)
are not limited to human beings. He traces these operations to nonhuman
forms, “an ageless art” that “forms strange alliances preceding the human
frontier . . . an immemorial link to the simulations, tricks, and disguises
that certain plants and  shes execute with extraordinary virtuosity.” The
clash of these operations belongs to “the domain of the living,” surpass-
ing settled institutions as well as consciousness, “from the depths of the
seas to the city streets” (De Certeau , ). If we place fabriculture
within this notion of popular culture, we could claim that craft-work is a
material practice that weaves in human form something that precedes and
exceeds it—arachnids, for sure, but even more: the very practice of pattern
formation . Just as network studies links ant colonies to software culture
(Johnson ), so, too, does fabriculture preserve and extend a relation
to the nonhuman (Weigle ). So whenever we are tempted to say that
crafting produces new modes of subjectivation, we also ask, How new is
this webbing?
The Warp of Activism
Is the popularization of craft-work and fabriculture another case of incorpora-
tion, a corporate capture of DIY ethos into a commodity? This would seem
to marginalize the craftivist dimension to the more explicit forms. We want to
argue that crafting was not incorporated, because it never emerged from an
outside position, like a subculture.
To return to the argument in our opening section, craft-work was
split, interrupted, and bifurcated at capital’s inception; it was the target of
a break by capital. Capital, in this formulation, can be seen as an interven-
tion, as a subject de ned by expropriation and exploitation. From the perspec-
tive of capitalist value-making, craft was in the shadows, the sewing rooms,
the subterranean streams of knowledge, the spaces of the amateur. While
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 252UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 252 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
crafting is a paradigm case of capitalist subsumption, as social value it is
irreducible to these subsumed forms.
Here we can point to another meaning of craft, the one that ends up in
the German language as power ( kraft ) and in Italian as abilita . Power here
is not equivalent to hierarchy and domination ( potere in Italian; pouvoir in
French) but more like capacity or ability ( potenza and pouissance ). We can
think of English versions like tradecraft, statecraft, spycraft, and witchcraft:
the set of skills and practices that have systematic e ects in the world.
Interventions of severe and prolonged violence, the massive decompo-
sition of women’s knowledges and skills, the expropriation of powers and
wisdom, the destruction of bodies, the marginalization and diminution of
practices into tri ing spheres—all of these were encountered by craft-work.
And yet, we see persistence, the preservation of knowledge, the transmission
of skills and wisdom across generations of a nity circles, the recomposition
and extension of craft into new spheres. Activism can ground itself in and
draw strength from this resilient subjective process.
Elsewhere one of us has argued that craft-work complicates contempo-
rary notions of activism based on digital or immaterial labor (Bratich ).
Fabriculture is not only a type of labor but a type of subjectivity—it has an
ontological quality. It withstood capitalism’s founding violence. Its current
popularity is a sign of its strength, not in its incorporation into new modes of
value creation but in its endurance despite capitalism and patriarchy. Its resur-
gence is a moment in a cycle, a warp and woof in the rich tapestry of species
history. It thus makes more sense to de ne activism as the preservation and
expansion of craft against breaks.
Moreover, craftivism also alters a commitment to conventional notions
of organizing. In the tradition of unions and armed uprisings, organizing
involved a disciplined subjectivity collectivized through hierarchy and lead-
ership (e.g., the party). It often took place at the hegemonic space of pro-
duction, be it on the factory  oor in industrial capitalism or in the social
factory of Post-Fordist immaterial labor. Organizing of this sort depends
on a particular type of potential revolutionary subject—either the industrial
worker in the factory or the immaterial laborer in the digital sphere. In each
case the revolutionary subject is the (typically) male hegemonic fraction of
the labor force.
But if we begin with the social home (discussed above), the space and
form of activism change. This meshwork does not require “organizing” as a
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 253UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 253 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
separate activity (political) since it emerges from everyday life practices and is
tied to the DIY ethos and subcultural practices more generally. And the sub-
ject, as mentioned above, is a resilient ontological one, not necessarily shaped
solely in the advanced sector (though in the crafter’s case, we have seen that
the digital sphere is crucial to contemporary crafting).
J. K. Gibson-Graham () gives us another way to think about collective
practice.  They argue that the historical composition of feminism operated
through spaces by “link[ing] feminists emotionally and semiotically, not pri-
marily organizationally” (, xxiii). Eschewing an external organizational
mechanism (as in the traditional leftist party or union), feminist politics and
imaginaries took hold via an “ontolog ical substrate: a vast set of disarticulated
‘places’—households, communities, ecosystems, workplaces, civic organiza-
tions, bodies, public arenas, urban spaces, diasporas, regions, government
agencies, occupations—related analogically rather than organizationally and
connected through webs of signi cation.” Ethos and a ect are at the founda-
tion of the economy, and thus transformation is based on “ubiquity rather
than unity” (Gibson-Graham , xxiv). Organization means  nding a nity
circles and social networks, now not just a purely political ( polis as space of
public and city) or economic one ( oikos as household) but one that is ethi-
cal ( ethos as interpersonal interactions, gift economies, community-making).
Fabriculture, inextricably linked to gender, space, and history, thus challenges
not only the hegemonic forms of domination but also the hegemonic forms
of opposition and antagonism.
The resurgence of craft culture thus pushes us to rethink a number of basic
bifurcations: a space divided into private/public, a time divided into past/
present, and a technology divided into old/new. Crafting foregrounds and
hooks together other binaries, as well (masculine/feminine, technology/
craft, folk/popular, production/reproduction, innovation/repetition, ama-
teur/professional, network/web, art/craft, teacher/student, and producer/
Most importantly, fabriculture brings with it a recon guration of
political activism. We still  nd moments of classically de ned struggle, but
moreover we can locate other rhythms and accumulations. As we have noted,
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 254UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 254 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
fabriculture attaches to, and weaves into, a variety of political forms, from
street action to policy in uence to the cultures of everyday life. Crafting
exists as the spectacularly visible (pop culture) as well as hidden and innocu-
ous (sometimes also in popular culture). Fabriculture complicates the  xation
on digital media activism (like hacking, modding, social media mobilizing).
While tactical media are usually equated with online and digital action,
craft culture shows that digital media are not only a disembodied a air—
they are tactile. Conversely, that which is considered unmediated material is
embedded with codes and communication (both on the fabric and in the fab-
rication). Craft-work’s communal quality (even when done by an individual),
recon guration of time (as new, retro, reversionary), and reappropriation
of spaces (domestic spheres, the back rooms of craft stores, commercialized
and public spaces) also provide a rich tapestry for rethinking media and the
activism it promotes.
In the ubiquitous crisis called capitalism, new utopias not only are
needed but are being enacted (as pre gurative politics). The persistence of
crafting despite the catastrophic decomposition called capitalism reminds us
of ontological accumulation whose strength establishes the base for utopian
projects. The ongoing crisis opens  ssures wherein resurgences and recom-
position take place, where experiments in community, economies, and value
production begin to take root.
 Some experiments are new, but some are
also a type of restoration, a renovation. Amid these ruins, the old cracks begin
to widen, the occulted circles reach out beyond the sewing room to weave
their fabric again. Fabriculture and craft-work return, having gone through
a bifurcation that could never become a full- edged separation, only a / or
knit/purl that opened up to another future. This meshwork tangles in front
of us and behind us as challenge and promise.
. For some basic introductions to the resurgence, see Craft Yarn Council of America
; Higgins ; Sabella .
. There is also a hidden joke about old/new media here, as Kraftwerk was a band
from the s famous for its pioneering work in synthesizer-driven sound and overall
computer aesthetic. For a discussion of crafting as digital and immaterial labor, see
Bratich .
. Let us remember here that the early antitechnology saboteurs, the Luddites,
focused on textile machinery.
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 255UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 255 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
. In traditional cultures wherever spinning is common, there is a “permanent tension,
and even con ict, between the groups of young spinning girls and the men’s secret
societies. At night the men and their gods attack the spinning girls and destroy not only
their work, but also their shuttles and weaving apparatus” (M. Eliade, in Plant , ).
. Detournement is the Situationist-inspired practice of rewriting and “re-turning” an
image or signi er in order to give it a new political charge and empty it of its original
. We note here that “opening up” the private and the domestic are circulating in
other media forms, notably reality TV. See Andrejevic ; McCarthy ; Ouellette
and Hay .
. This follows from the autonomist notion of the “social factory,” in which the
procedures and mechanisms of factory discipline begin to permeate everyday life.
. For an online discussion of feminism and domesticity with regards to crafting,
see the forums at .
. For ethnic sewing circles, see Christine Lamb’s chilling  book recounting her
travels through Afghanistan, The Sewing Circles of Heart .
. Obviously there are too many sites to mention, but a good starting list can be found
at .
. The social networking of digital online media thus has a predecessor in the tactile
media of craft-work. The familiar claim about the radical potential of the digital Web—
interconnection, collaboration, producing and reproducing relationships—has a long
history in other kinds of networking.
. Indeed, some blogs now function solely as a repository for exposing secrets: Post-
Secret,, and allow anonymous users to disclose their
transgressions for all the blogosphere to see (see Boxer ).
. And here we note the particular demographics of the fabriculture resurgence.
The most visible versions (in mediated form) are composed largely of white women,
and those with the time and resources to make clothing by hand. But before losing the
argument in a spiral of shame surrounding privilege, we should also note the longer
tradition of craft-work among those with fewer resources (as repair, as gift). And the
cost-consciousness permeating much of mainstream crafting also situates this claim
about a particular sector of fabriculture.
. Most prominent in reality TV are scavenger-hunt game shows like The Amazing
Race and Treasure Hunters , but this could also include programs that involve remote
commands conveyed via mobile technologies, as in Real World/Road Rules Challenge
and ToddTV . In a further overlay, the very programming format of shows like Parental
Control and Next resembles the interface logic of digital culture.
. Among the groups and outlets are Cyberfeminists International, VNS Matrix,
the zine geekgirl , Nerdgrrl!, Homegurrrl, and Cybergrrl Webstation.
. For example, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality
(Greene ); The Fabric of Reality (Deutsch ); and various books on string theory.
. Interestingly enough these looms were also primary targets for Luddite sabotage.
New forms of sabotage like viruses (which Gilles Deleuze [] calls the new form of
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 256UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 256 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
sabotage in control and communication societies) also  nd their way into fabriculture
(Buiani ).
. Craft has an ambivalent status in the history of radical labor analysis (it is both
precapitalist production and highly skilled labor).
. Sometimes these a ective communications are also woven into the fabric. As
conveyed to one of us by Wiccan seamstresses, the original Harris Tweed was a
sherman’s protective fabric in which the wives would sing songs of safeguarding into
the weave as they made it.
. Devalued here from the perspective of youth-oriented commercialized
fabriculture, as in the phrase “not your grandmother’s craft club” (CBS Radio, cited in
Craftster ). Also, in Craft Corner Deathmatch ’s opening theme montage, among the
signi ers in the urban gra tied landscape, the word quilts is displayed with a negating
circle with a slash.
. As important as the  nal product was, the relationship to the process was key. One
hears this often with quilters and other crafters: the phenomenology of the practice—
frustration with completion, undoing an almost  nished product numerous times,
sometimes leaving it un nished altogether.
. The weavings of Penelope provide insight into relationships between craft and
cunning. However, as queen she had the luxury to engage in nonproductive weaving: She
weaves, and she unweaves . On the other hand, the many women in her household would
have been producing the cloths to support her and to increase the wealth of the house.
. For a more extended version of the following argument, see Bratich . For
some excellent introductions to the contested notions of a ective, immaterial, and
digital labor from autonomist perspectives, see two special issues of ephemera (Dowling,
Nunes, and Trott  and Burston, Dyer-Witheford, and Hearn ).
. Leopoldina Fortunati () argues that the immaterialization of waged labor
processes is the expansion of traditionally feminized domestic labor into the waged
sphere. Once this key insight is taken seriously, there is no need to talk about an
“advanced” labor sector, as the processes of immaterialization have come not from
capital as its innovation in the waged sphere but from (occulted) labor and its history
of preservation and struggle.
. This is a pseudonym that combines the names of two authors.
. For a contemporary analysis of these emergent forms of organization, see Van
Meter, Hughes, and Peace .
Works Cited
Andrejevic, M. . Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched . Lanham, Md.: Roman and
Little eld.
Boxer, S. . “Bless Me, Blog, for I’ve Sinned.” New York Times Online , May . Accessed
April , ,///arts/design/boxe.html?ei=
&en=af .
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 257UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 257 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
Bratich, J. . “The Digital Touch.” ephemera :–.
Buiani, R. . “Viruses: That Intricate Yarn.” Digipopo/Public , http://www.digipopo.
org/content/viruses-that-intricate-yarn .
Burston, J., N. Dyer-Witheford, and A. Hearn. . “Digital Labour: Workers, Authors,
Citizens.” Special issue, ephemera: theory and politics in organization (/), .
Campbell, C. . “The Craft Consumer: Culture, Craft, and Consumption in a
Postmodern Society.” Journal of Consumer Culture :–.
Clover, D. . “Sewing Stories and Acting Activism: Women’s Leadership and Learning
Through Drama and Craft.” ephemera :–.
Craft Yarn Council of America. . Accessed August , , .
Craftster. . Accessed April , , .
De Certeau, M. . The Practice of Everyday Life . Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
———. . Heterologies: Discourses on the Other . Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.
DeLanda, M. . “Meshworks, Hierarchies, and Interfaces.” In The Virtual Dimension ,
ed. J. Beckman. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, http://www.t.or.
at/delanda/meshwork.htm .
Deleuze, G. . “Postscript on Control Societies.” In Negotiations , trans M. Joughin,
–. New York: Columbia University Press.
Deutsch, D. . The Fabric of Reality . London: Allen Lane.
Dowling, E., R. Nunes, and B. Trott. . “Immaterial and A ective Labour: Explored.”
Special issue, ephemera: theory and politics in organization (), http://www.-/-index.htm .
Federici, S. . Caliban and the Witch . Brooklyn: Autonomedia.
Fernandez, M., and F. Wilding. . Domain Error! Cyberfeminist Practices . Brooklyn:
Fortunati, L. . “Immaterial Labor and Its Machinization.” ephemera (): –,-/-fortunati.pdf .
Franklin, J., ed. . Women and Social Capital . Families and Social Capital ESRC
Research Group. London: London South Bank University.
Gajjala, R. . “Epistemologies of Global Marketing: Inter-weaving Handloom
Design into Global/Local Markets.” Paper presented at the Fourth Annual
Meeting of the Cultural Studies Association, Washington, D.C.
Gajjala, R., and A. Mamidipuni. . “Gendering Processes Within Technological
Environments: A Cyberfeminist Issue.” Rhizomes, 04 . Accessed September ,
,/gajjala.html .
Gibson-Graham, J. K. . A Postcapitalist Politics . Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.
Greene, B. . The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality .
New York: Knopf.
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 258UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 258 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
 .    . : Fabricating Activism
Greer, B. . “Craftivism in Three Parts.” Accessed September , , http://acechick. .
Grossman, C., dir. . Woman’s Work: Making Quilts—Creating Art . Motion picture.
San Francisco: CGPP.
Haraway, D. J. . A Cyborg Manifesto. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women . New York:
Higgins, C. . “Political Protest Turns to the Radical Art of Knitting.” The Guardian ,
January . Accessed September , ,
uk_news/story/,,,.html .
Homer. . The Odyssey . Trans. R. Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Johnson, S. . Emergence . New York: Scribner.
Kimokeo-Goes, U. . “The Quilt Speaks.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of
the International Communication Association, May, San Francisco.
Klein, N. . No Logo . New York: Picador.
“Knitting Addiction.” . Etherknitter Blog. Accessed April , , http://etherknitter.//knitting_addict.html .
Lamb, C. . The Sewing Circles of Heart . New York: HarperCollins.
Levy, P. . Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age . Trans. R. Bononno. New York:
Plenum Trade.
Lovink, G. . Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture . Cambridge: MIT Press.
Matthews, G. . Just a Housewife: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America . New York:
Oxford University Press
McCarthy, A. . “‘Stanley Milgram, Allen Funt, and Me’: Postwar Social Science and
the First Wave of Reality TV.” In Reality Television: Remaking Television Culture ,
ed. S. Murray and L. Ouellette, –. New York: New York University Press.
MicroRevolt. . Accessed September , , .
Minahan, Stella, and Julie Wolfram Cox. . “Stitch’nBitch: Cyberfeminism, a Third
Place, and the New Materiality.” Journal of Material Culture (): –.
The Penelopey: A Tale of Emotional Wanderings . N.d. Accessed April , , http://www. .
Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. . Better Living Through Television . New York:
Plant, S. . Zeros and Ones . New York: Doubleday.
“Public Displays of Knitting.” . Etherknitter Blog. Accessed April , , http:////please_picture_.html .
Robertson, K. . “How to Knit an Academic Paper.” Digipopo/Public . Accessed May ,
, .
Sabella, J. . “Craftivism: Is Crafting the New Activism?” Columbia Chronicle (Online
Edition). Accessed September , ,
paper/arts.php?id= .
Scott, J. W., and D. Keates, eds. . Going Public: Feminism and the Shifting Boundaries of
the Private Sphere . Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 259UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 259 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
Utopian Studies 22.2
Smith-Rosenberg, C. . “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between
Women in Nineteenth Century America.” Signs :–.
Spender, D. . Nattering on the Net . Melbourne: Spinifex Press.
Terranova, T. . Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age . London: Pluto
Van Meter, K., C. Hughes, and S. Peace. . Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements,
and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States . Oakland: AK Press.
Wark, M. . A Hacker Manifesto . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Weigle, M. . Spiders and Spinster: Women and Mythology . Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico Press.
Wilding, F., and the Critical Art Ensemble. . “Notes on the Political Condition of
Cyberfeminism.” Accessed September , , http://subsol.c.hu/subsol_/
contributors/wildingtext.html .
UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 260UtS 22.2_03_Bratich.indd 260 09/09/11 11:03 AM09/09/11 11:03 AM
... Several writers have extended the conceptual definition of making to include cognitive processes such as thinking, analysing and creativity (e.g. Bratich & Brush, 2011;Gauntlett, 2013;Orton-Johnson, 2014;Ratto & Boler, 2014), whilst others have located making within more traditional activities such as construction, production, prototyping and tinkering (Bevan, 2017;Lock, da Rosa dos Santos, Hollohan, & Becker, 2018). Making has also been described as an attitudinal state linking practices and skills to wider notions of citizenship, participation and engagement (Ratto & Boler, 2014). ...
Full-text available
Learning through making has emerged as a critical form of pedagogy in the digital era of higher education, supporting active learning, students as co-creators and co-designers of their own learning and accessible forms of experiential education. Much of the existing literature and practice in making focuses on how to embed maker pedagogy within STEM fields and arts and media practice. This paper will explore the unique nature of making in social science education and role of technology rich spaces that were designed and deployed at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom played in supporting students to engage in social science making connected to assessment, teaching and as ways of navigating their own pathways through and inside their own village of learning spaces.
While the home has a history of being overlooked as a site of great social impact, this is clearly shifting as it becomes a site for diverse and significant social participation. Technological connectivity is reshaping the household towards an increasingly public life, remarkable for a domain that until relatively recently had been thought of primarily in terms of privatised care and leisure. This article brings together literature from creative industries, feminist and new domesticity fields with empirical data from interviews with home-based creative practitioners to generate insights into new work models, the coincidence of paid work and unpaid care work, and creative work at home as a locus for connecting to surrounding communities and natural environments. These lived examples are explored as signs of an altering domestic space where paid work and non-economic values are more balanced and the home itself is moving from the periphery towards the centre of social life.
Geographical scholarship on making has established the interrelations between makers, materials and space. With this paper I explore how this scholarship can be developed to incorporate time through paying close attention to the time of making. Drawing on Karen Barad’s (2003) theorisation of multiple and entangled temporalities and materialities; the time of making is interpreted as a constituent of making rather than a homogenous vessel within which making occurs. Using an autoethnographic study of upcycling used domestic textiles into bags, I assemble the practices of making and distribute these into its constituent parts of heterogenous materials, tools and skills. The time of making is studied through autoethnographic reflections on the iterative interactivity between these constituent parts. My reflections on the time of making develop in two ways. First, I consider how the temporal heterogeneity of making segues the (de)stabilising skills of sewing with moments of hesitation, preparation, undoing, repetition and organisation. Second, I detail how the life histories of materials and makers are remade through making. In particular the case study of upcycling reveals how the potential of materials can be realised through re-orientating the skills and practices of makers towards (re)making the life history of materials.
K-pop poses several conundrums to international business and marketing specialists regarding its global success. This paper tests two hypotheses drawn from branding theory, feminist theory and fandom studies to corroborate the argument that cultural branding is a key to the success of K-pop. Cultural branding is the most prominent of all branding strategies in the 21st century as its success is anchored in the creation and dissemination of a performing myth that can challenge ongoing contradictions in society, including sexism. What K-pop tries to convey to its fans all over the world is this performing ideology of gendered melancholia that is commonly shared among women due to sexism. However, no previous study has tested this theoretical implication from branding and feminist theories, which are also beneficial to business studies. Using survey data collected from 15 countries, we employ a logistic regression method to corroborate a hypothesis that gendered melancholia motivates women in all parts of the world to participate in the fandom of Hallyu and K-pop, or Korean pop culture.
Headlines about the negative impact of Instagram on women’s mental health abound in public conversations. Yet, in a neoliberal context of limited care services and gendered pressures to “control” one’s emotions, many women are also turning to Instagram for dealing with the disabling effects of mental illness. Looking at how women use Instagram for creating and finding resources, this article complicates the general assumption that “bad” social media habits maintain psychological status quo. It considers, instead, the complex role that digital habits play in women’s experience of mental illness. Making a feminist media studies intervention into the study of mediated care, it argues that women's use of Instagram for mental health shapes their experience of mental illness through what the author calls digital habituation. The article focuses on the stories of three women—collected through in-depth interviews and media go-alongs – to demonstrate that however contradictory their digital habits may be, at times participating in postfeminist self-regulation, they simultaneously provide soothing affects. While popular discourses around gender, social media, and mental illness are tainted with moral panic, digital habituation offers a capacious framework for considering the potential and limits of using social media for women’s health.
Full-text available
There is tremendous excitement around makerspaces for deepening and enriching curricula across subjects, as well as engaging traditionally marginalized learners in new ways. To address the lack of translation of maker education projects to mathematics learning, we propose that educators aspire to create a “Mathland” when designing maker educational activities. Mathlands are environments envisioned by Seymour Papert where mathematics are learned alongside ways of doing mathematics in self-selected contexts, leading to an epistemology and natural language of mathematics that pervades all experiences. To imagine a Mathland where women’s participation in mathematics is lifelong and lifewide, we explore traditionally female-dominated fiber crafts where long-term engagement, mathematics, and heritage intersect. As part of a longitudinal embedded multi-year ethnographic study, we conducted cohort analyses as well as grounded, iterative, and thematic coding of semi-structured interview data, augmented with crafting artifacts from 65 adult fiber crafters. Using qualitative analytical techniques, we asked: How does math occur in craft? How do crafters observe the intersection between math and craft in process? Fiber crafts were found to present a “Mathland,” a lifelong context for immersive math engagement. We present crafters’ math insights in the craft, as well as multiple aspects of the crafts and surrounding communities that supported the crafters in sustaining their engagement with mathematics throughout their lifetime. This study has implications for the design of inclusive and lifelong maker educational environments for mathematics learning.
Full-text available
This paper explores the effect of yarn-bombing on the cultural value of knitting. While it has been suggested that such acts of craftivism may help to broaden the public view of knitting, beyond its oft perceived limitations of the domestic and the feminine, I argue the opposite. For yarn-bombing to be the effective tool of political activism it is so often intended to be, it is necessary for knitting to maintain strong associations with women and the home. In such a way, yarn-bombing only serves to further constrain knitting within this firmly established narrative and such a narrative causes knitting to continually be undervalued as a way of making. Using discourse analysis as a method, this paper will consider two yarn-bombs and how, through their reliance on such associations, they continue to “enable, constrain, and constitute” (Storey 2018, 133) the public perception of knitting today. Exposing this narrative, to begin to challenge it, is key to changing the public’s perception of knitting and encouraging its wider use in innovate manufacturing solutions of the future.
This article considers artistic engagements with string figure performance and collection as ‘imaginary’ articulations of digital media. As an object of anthropological inquiry, the string figure emerges in 1888 with a short paper by Franz Boas. Encouraged by more mainstream publications by Caroline Furness Jansen (2008) and Kathleen Haddon (1930), over the course of the 20th century the string figure would become a model through which largely western writers and artists have explored both the anxieties and dreams of ideal, embodied and networked communication technologies. The present article explores, specifically, the collecting projects and films of Harry Smith in the 1960s and 1970s; the video-performance piece of 1974, titled String Games: Improvisations for Inter-City Video, by the interdisciplinary artist Vera Frenkel; and the string figure exhibit at David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California. Through a media-archeological lens, the history of string figure fascination takes shape as a repository of dreams about (digital) communication, which, it is additionally suggested in a final section, might yet allow for the expansion and enlargement of conceptions of both digitality and media.
Based on ethnographic work with several women’s textile making collectives in Colombia, this article approaches their crafting practices as everyday doings of socio-ecological reparation, in the midst of social and environmental devastation caused by the armed conflict. Rather than focusing on the relevance of their activities for political activism and historical memory, an ecological perspective allows us to emphasise their work as a mundane, more than social process of communal regeneration. We discuss how women in these collectives, after painful and violent displacements, craft new ecologies of existence: relations and interdependencies within more than human worlds that cultivate new modes of care and attention, values and sensibilities in precarious living spaces. Ecological reparation is an everyday, vital, ongoing practice essential for community resurgence and for re-establishing collectivities that sustain liveable worlds.
Full-text available
“The tragedy of the commons” is a well-known phrase that has captured people’s imaginations for generations. Unfortunately these few but powerful words have been used to justify the enclosure and erasure of many well-functioning commons that benefit both people and the environment. Less well-known is Garrett Hardin’s qualification in 1998—some 30 years after he coined the original phrase—that "To judge from the critical literature, the weightiest mistake in my synthesizing paper was the omission of the modifying adjective 'unmanaged'" (682). What Hardin had presented in his original work was an open access and unmanaged pasture where there was no community that cared for the fields, took responsibility for them, organized herder access, negotiated grazing use and oversaw the distribution of benefit to community members (1968). It would be fair to say that Hardin’s pasture bears little resemblance to the commons that researchers such as Elinor Ostrom (e.g. 1990) have meticulously documented, commons that have rules or protocols for access and use, and are cared for by a community which takes responsibility for the commons and distributes the benefits. Today the planet faces a genuine tragedy of the unmanaged “commons.” For decades an open access and unmanaged resource has been treated with the same sort of disregard as Hardin’s pasture was treated. The planet’s life-supporting atmosphere has been spoiled by “‘help yourself’ or ‘feel free’ attitudes” (Hardin 1998: 683). We are now faced with the seemingly impossible task of transforming an open access and unmanaged planetary resource into a commons which is managed and cared for. With the cause and impacts of global warming now beyond debate, we are being pressed to take responsibility and to act in new ways. But how are we to do this? What type of politics is called for? In this chapter we explore how the process of commoning offers a politics for the Anthropocene. To reveal the political potential of commoning, however, we need to step outside of the ways that the commons have generally been understood. One predominant framing positions the commons in relation to capitalism, as Kevin St Martin writes: "It would seem that all of our stories of the commons revolve around a capitalist imaginary: capitalism’s origin in the enclosure of the commons, capitalism’s commodification of natural resources, capitalism’s expansion and its penetration of common property regimes globally, and capitalism’s most recent push to privatize remaining common property resources via neoliberal policies at a variety of scales" (2005: 63). We discuss this capitalocentric framing of the commons in the first section and raise concerns about how this framing limits the potential of commoning as a politics for the Anthropocene. In the second section we discuss a second predominant framing of commons as a “thing” that is associated with publically owned or open access property. Instead we argue that commons can be conceived of as a process—commoning—that is applicable to any form of property, whether private, or state-owned, or open access. We then turn to three examples from the past and the present that provide insights into ways of commoning the atmosphere. We reveal how a politics of commoning has been enacted through assemblages comprised of social movements, technological advances, institutional arrangements and non-human “others.” In the final section we discuss the implications of this understanding of politics and particularly what it means for understanding how transformation occurs.
This article proposes that social scientists should explicitly recognize the existence of consumers who engage in ‘craft consumption’ and, hence, of an additional image of the consumer to set alongside those of ‘the dupe’,‘the rational hero’ and the ‘postmodern identity-seeker’. The term ‘craft’ is used to refer to consumption activity in which the ‘product’ concerned is essentially both ‘made and designed by the same person’ and to which the consumer typically brings skill, knowledge, judgement and passion while being motivated by a desire for self-expression. Such genuine craft consumption is then distinguished from such closely associated practices as ‘personalization’ and ‘customization’ and identified as typically encountered in such fields as interior decorating, gardening, cooking and the selection of clothing ‘outfits’. Finally, after noting that craft consumers are more likely to be people with both wealth and cultural capital, Kopytoff’s suggestion that progressive commodification might prompt a ‘decommodifying reaction’ is taken as a starting point for some speculations concerning the reasons for the recent rise of craft consumption.
The group who will meet in Kassel is united by a desire to explore how women are working with technology, influencing its development, and getting their hands dirty in the codes and hardware of information technology. This diverse group of over forty women have very different backgrounds—from programmers to web mistresses, from artists to theorists. Within the context of the world's largest art exhibition, documenta, they will develop strategies that ensure digital savvy women have a presence not only in the art world but in all spheres of technological life.