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Gertie at STC Craft: It's Not Your Grandma's Crafting (Or Is it?)


Hi everyone, I'm back! I got a little bogged down in other work for awhile (including finishing my book!) but I'm back to posting here on a regular basis (I don't want to make any promises that I can't keep so I'll keep it a little vague). I thought I'd jump back in with a discussion of the generational aspects of crafting. I know there are strong opinions on this matter, so I hope we can have a spirited conversation here!

It’s not news that there’s been a resurgence of young women getting involved in crafting for the last decade or so. (I just turned 33 so I feel like I'm smack dab in the middle of the whole thing) Hip knitting books, tattoo-style embroidery kits, and sewing patterns by Project Runway stars all speak to a new generation of DIYer. My personal blog has resonated with lots of twenty-something women, and if I can get them to start sewing, then I’m happy. But one thing bothers me about the young crafting movement: namely, the “it’s not your grandma’s sewing/knitting/embroidering!” mentality and marketing strategy. Because, well, it is your grandmother’s sewing, knitting, or embroidering. (And because I work with vintage sewing patterns and books, this is quite literal to me.)

Whether you’re knitting tea cozies or a skull motif sweater, you’re using the skills that have been passed down among generations of women. Crafting may have gotten a hip makeover, but there’s nothing new when it comes to hand crafting technique—and we have our grandmothers to thank for sharing these skills. Also, we have a responsibility to pass them on to the next generation ourselves. (I’m sure our granddaughters will think skull sweaters are so 30 years ago!)

But perhaps this distancing of the older generation is what it takes to get the young folk interested in crafting. I’ll readily admit to sometimes being drawn to hipster embroidery transfers and other products marketed to the under-35 demographic. But there must be a way to draw in that demographic without alienating our grandmother’s generation.  My Grandmother’s Knitting by Larissa Brown is a great example of this concept at work: it’s a collection of stories about the tradition of knitting in families, paired with patterns that appeal to the modern knitter.

Since we’re coming up to Mother’s Day, now seems like an appropriate time for this discussion. What do you think of this issue? Do slogans like “it’s not your grandmother’s knitting!” bother you? Or do you think it’s a necessary step forward for the craft movement? Please share!


Reader Comments (44)

It's not my grandmother's knitting really means that there isn't just acrylic yarn! That's what my grandma used for her blankets and slippers. It's a bit itchy stuff. There's a lot more out there...interestingly, I'm thinking there's more fingering weight yarn out there than there's been in decades. My grandmother used a lot of worsted weight yarns. More fingering weight yarns means I can use the vintage patterns from the 1930s and 1940s, my grandmother's era. She must have knitted then but I don't have any pictures of her with her knitting needles, sad to say. That would be such a great connection now.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMB@YarnUiPhoneApp

I agree - I find the statement off-putting, for much the same reason as you. It IS my mother's sewing, I learned how to do it sitting on her lap. I never really knew my grandmother, as she died when I was young, but she was an avid knitter, and if I ever do learn to knit, it will be primarily to find some connection with her. We should be embracing what our grandmothers can teach us, not acting as if we're somehow better than them. In many cases they sewed, knitted, and made from scratch because there was no other way to do it. In the 30's, sewing a feedsack dress was the only way to get something to wear. We need to honor that, not denigrate it by acting like we're so much cooler/hipper/whatever.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrenna

I agree, too. My first memory of knitting was my grandma and my aunt Luise sitting at the table in wintertimes and knitting, mostly socks, mostly for the men in our family. And I got a gorgeous jacket in raspberry pink with wonderful knobs. They both teached me to knit and krochet before I was taught in school later. My grandma was also a great sewer, but unfortunately I didn't learned it from her but later in my early twenties. For them it was the only way to get clothes, even after the war (I'm from Germany).
It bother me when girlies don't think about the handcraft skills of our mothers and grandmothers, just wanting to be the hippest in town. The skills don't change, even the fabrics, fibres, designs or maybe colours. Last week I finished a granny square blanket (notice the name), a similar my grandma even uses and she have it for decades. The only difference are the colours, her is a brown-yellow one, mine is multicolored. But the style is the same and it's so oldfashioned that it's already modern again.
So, please honor the old ladies.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

I was just saying that the other day! That the beauty of knitting is that very little has changed in many generations. The styles have changed a little bit with more 'trendy' pieces going into & out of favor but the basics haven't.
I love that it's something that connects us with our collective past. Not only is it my grandmother's knitting but it's Eleanor Roosevelt's knitting & Queen Elizabeth I's knitting!

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJill

It is just a marketing slogan. I'm sure it works for some youngsters, rebelling from what went before. But the older you get the more you appreciate the previous generation, and their skills. My grandmother taught me to knit, and my mom taught me to sew. I'm incredibly lucky to have had that as my first crafting experience. Having that introduction gave me the confidence to continue. I go to older ladies I know who sew for help/advice on a regular basis. To me, it is just a marketing ploy. It doesn't change how I feel about my grandma. :)

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelina

My great grandmother and grandmother taught me sewing, knitting, crochet and many other things growing up. One element that has drastically changed is the availability of materials. Our older generations had to "make do" with, and be creative with, whatever was on hand. When I bought fabric for a quilt I was making, I almost sent my grandmother into a heart attack. In her mind, the whole purpose of quilting was to take fabric scraps and "worn out clothes" and turn then into something beautiful and have a new life with new uses. So...while some of my inherited afghans have colors that make your eyes cross I get under them and know how much time and skill it took to "make do" after a long day working on the farm for her family.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersewky

A lot of crafters now are largely self-taught. Their mothers didn't craft, and their grandmothers may or may not have. They have learned their crafts from blogs or websites their grandmothers could not even have imagined. For them, sewing/knitting/embroidering really isn't their gradmothers'; it's something that belongs exclusively to them.

I am self-taught in some areas, and taught by my mom in others, but either way, I feel like crafting connects me to my mom and my grandparents in a way that few other things could. My dad's mom was a quilter who sewed little toys for us when we were small and who apparently sewed some of her own clothing as well. My grandpa on that side recently started passing on some of her old things, and sewing with her thread and seam allowance ruler and fabric connects me to her in a way I couldn't connect when she was alive because I was simply too young. My mom's dad apparently sewed a bit as well, hemming pants and sewing on buttons, and he owned a little machine. My mom sews for a living, making window treatments, and she sewed us costumes and pjs and dresses when we were little. She taught me how to crochet and cross-stitch, but I showed no interest in sewing, so when I wanted to start sewing my own clothes a few years ago, she excitedly loaned me her sewing machine (which has since gone from loan to gift). She didn't teach me directly, but I'm sure I absorbed a lot of the basics just by watching her work every day.

I don't really mind the "not your grandma's crafting" phrase. It just sounds a little strange to me, because sewing, knitting, crocheting, and embroidering, especially with supplies that belonged to my grandparents, links me to them. I relish the idea of wearing something that my grandmother held and thought about and planned projects for. I love thinking that, several years ago, my grandpa was learning how to hem pants like I'm learning now. A sewing machine running through a length of fabric sounds like home to me.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAbby

I'm with you! My grandmother was extremely influential to me. Her father, whom I was never privileged enough to meet, was a tailor. Coming from a family of mixed-up immigrants, I have very little in the way of family tradition, and I feel that these skills which HAVE been handed down are extremely precious to me! I think it's not so much people who already do crafts who need this tagline, but those who don't. They are the ones who only remember their grannies crocheting green and orange afghans, and who need to be shown that it can be updated. So the question is: how do we say it without belittling grandma?

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

in my case, crafting has never been rebellion. mama, both grandmothers, and granddaddy all quilted. my sisters and i never questioned sewing for gifts and for our own use.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteranne jewell

I love Larissa Brown's book as a pushback against the "it's not your grandmother's knitting/whatever" way of marketing. That said, it was Stitch & Bitch, and specifically the bikini pattern in that book, that got me back into knitting. (To this day, I'm not sure why I was so mystified by that pattern, but I still think it's a good way for beginners to learn shaping!) Now, I'm more drawn to traditional or vintage-type patterns than things that are edgy or punky, but I came around to that gradually. Who knows if I would be into crafting (and working at an awesome yarn and fabric store) if not for Stitch & Bitch and feeling like what *I* was knitting was somehow subversive?

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEloise

I'm not necessarily offended by the statement...I see it mostly as a marketing ploy. My wish is that those doing the marketing would focus on the facts that some materials are different or have more variety than before. As you say, the techniques are not new and have been passed down. As with life, you cannot chart your future course without knowing where you've been. There must be a way to recognize and appreciate what has been passed down (the "old") and merge it with the increased variety of materials (the "new") in a way that is appealing to most.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

I made my first quilt with my grandma (and with help picking fabric from my future husband) when I was 18 or so. I have some of her crocheted lace doilies in my house now, and remember her when I look at them. My mom taught me to knit and crochet as a child, and sewed my favorite formal dress for a high school dance. Both of them crafted partly out of necessity when it was still less expensive to do so than buy factory made items. I think that's probably part of the reason my mom doesn't do any apparel sewing or knitting anymore - she probably associates it subconsciously with harder economic times in her life. So while I think disparaging older generations' work is not the way to go, I also think that there is a distinction to be made. I owe my skills in part to them, and some of my aesthetics draw from vintage styles, but my motivation and materials are qualitatively different. We just need an advertising genius to come up with a better slogan to encapsulate that!

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChrissyJ

If the phrase was changed to "it's not your grandmother's cooking", what would be the response? I can hardly imagine it would be a positive one. For some, I can imagine it would result in their completely avoiding the TV station, magazine, chef, etc. that was trying to use this campaign to promote their product or brand. Even though there may be some recipies passed down in our family that we personally wouldn't choose to make, or some ingredients that we now have access to that our grandmothers didn't, does that make us better cooks than our grandmothers? Even if we manage to amp up our culinary skills beyond those of our fore-mothers, food and the traditions that come with our family eating rituals usually lead to a certain amount of respect and nostalgia for grandma's cooking.
Why should it be any different with other "homemaking" skills? Why is it ok to run down grandma's knitting, crochet, dressmaking, or millnery skills? OK, so maybe not everything grandma made would be worth duplicating now (ready-to-wear pastel sweatshirt customized with appliqued country ducks framed in eyelet lace with a knit collar sewn into the top to make it look like one is wearing an ill-fitting polo shirt beneath, its the crafting equivalent of lime jello "salad", the kind with the shredded veggies atop). There were plenty of other things my grandmother's made, and their mothers before them, and their mothers before them that are completely worth saving, remaking, and bringing into the present.

I'm sure that those behind ad campaigns saying "its not your grandmother's craft" are trying to let the younger generation know that if they get involve in this craft, none of the instructions are going to lead them down a path that ends with a sweatshirt full of dusty rose colored ducks. It would be nicer though, if the ads focused a little less on being "modern" and a little more on keeping up family traditions, and the ability to learn how to make something worth keeping. After all, the clothing made now, if it is made well, will be the highly sought after vintage-wear of the 2040's and 50's.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

I read this with interest, as I fully understand where my sewing skills have come from. My gran was a gifted tailor, she in turn taught my mum, and when I was a teenager, my mum passed on the skills she had learnt. I was ready to tackle anything and difficulty didn't phase me.

however I know that some have very different experiences. A friend of mine, Ruth Robinson, took the learning of a skill from her granny as inspiration for her fine art film as part of an MA in Fine art & Education. I know it was an interesting journey for her and her Gran. you can find out a bit more about her

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterclaire cooper

I couldn't agree more Gertie; thank you! Every single time I see "not you grandmother's..." I grind my teeth. My grandmother (well, my great-aunt actually) was the first person to put a needle in my hands when I was five, and I am deeply garteful to her. Changes in available materials and in aesthetics come and go, and have little to do with the value of craft across generations. And one of my many questions about why this phrase is necessary is, where's the "not your grandfather's..." applied to areas of making dominated by men? Young men tricking out steampunk cars and keyboards aren't being marketed books as "not your grandfather's soldering." For all our (post)feminist reclaiming of traditional crafts we seem awfully reluctant to embrace the women who are our closest link in a line of makers stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years. Or at least, that's what a lot of marketers seem to think.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRochelle

I agree with Gertie and with Brenna, I think my grandmother was hip and cool in her day, she wore dresses and shoes I still remember and women still want. She taught me how to darn a sock with an egg : ) My friends mother taught me how knit and crochet and I'm grateful for that. I learned to sew in Home Economics which I wish they still had in our schools , that class was great, I loved Home Ec. I only have sons but one of them was interested in sewing, he wanted new curtains for his room so he borrowed my machine and made them himself. I was really impressed, they look great. He's made messenger bags, dog clothes and can take in his own pants. I love that sewing and crafting is back in a big way but I like the grandma connection.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Yes, the slogans bother me because it absolutely IS my grandmother's sewing! I learned most of what I know about sewing from her, not least about how one finds inspiration to make things.

But here's the thing: my grandma made VERY stylish things out of very creatively sourced materials (mostly recycling older pieces of clothing, decorator fabric, sheets, anything she could find) and in no way would her sewing ever have qualified as boring and outdated. Then again, I grew up in Hungary, and if my grandma really wanted to be stylish when she was a young woman, she had to make her clothes herself, with creatively sourced materials, because fabrics etc. weren't as plentiful in Hungary back then, and my family also didn't have a whole lot of money.

So to me, being a part of that tradition is a wonderful thing. It was way more modern than we realize and in any case I don't like to pretend we can't anything from the past: just look at how many of today's clothing styles are contemporary takes on vintage shapes & cuts, 100-year-old styles of embroidery, and so forth.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkata

This is such a thought-provoking question. I wonder how the younger generations of woman back in the earlier part of the 20th century felt about their grandmother's crafts? In the roaring 20s, did they feel what their grandmother's would have knit/sewn/crafted were stuffy and out of mode? Would they have wanted to distance themselves, or make the gap closer?

I wonder if age/mental age has something to do with it. I feel like the 22-year-old crafter me might have been (and probably was) more apt to latch on to "not your grandmother's blah blah" slogans, when I was still trying to find myself and figure out who I was in the world. Not that the 35-year-old crafter me has all the answers, but I'm much more sure of myself. I would be happy to be associated with anyone's grandma's crafts! I'm thrilled to sew and knit with vintage patterns and soak up as much knowledge as I can from previous generations. They are indeed my grandma's crafts.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTasha

I know I wouldn't have discovered sewing if it hadn't been for my Grandmothers. Almost every single one (going back a few generations) sewed, knitted, crafted, etc. Because of them my family always encouraged my creative exploits. I think we should all be able to appreciate a modern style without dissing on the Grandma's. Mine encourage me constantly, and I admire the skills they have honed and passed on to me. It would be amazing to sew with Grandma's skill.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I certainly understand the impulse to distance oneself from stereotypes...or to try to reclaim crafty obsessions that for so long were seen as uncool or even matronly. But I think the ultimate feminist gesture is to show respect for the creativity and hard work of past generations of women -- even if our own aesthetics and style choices differ.

Having said that, it certainly is easier to align oneself with grannies when there are LOTS of young women doing the same. (Granny chic, anyone?) When I started knitting in 1981, at the age of 13, and as I knit obsessively through my teens and twenties, I felt like I was pretty much on my own. It's so nice to see so many people in their 20s and 30s knitting and sewing -- and gaining an appreciation for the handiwork of generations of women (and men, but we're largely talking about forms of expression and work associated with women and girls, so I'll leave that whole issue to someone else).

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

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