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February 2005
Getting Crafty as a Feminist Statement
Book Review by Kari Tipton


Get Crafty

Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec by Jean Railla (New York: Broadway Books, 2004). $15 paperback. 160 pages.

A few years ago I decided I wanted to learn to knit. Knitting hadn’t become white-hot celebrity trendy yet, but I thought it would be something that could give me projects with a beginning, middle, and end—something I don’t get to see often as an engineer, where projects can last for years and years. I asked a friend of mine to get a good “how to” kit from her yarn store owner mother, sat down with it, stubbornly learned how to cast on, and became instantly and totally obsessed.

Before long I was drooling over knit lace patterns, buying yarn on e-bay, and joining email discussion lists. But the best thing I did was get involved with the old message boards at It started casually, with some questions about yarn substitution or maybe the best way to refinish a china cabinet I thought I might be acquiring (but thankfully didn’t), and then escalated to real-life meetings and even being included in a book written by the website owner.

Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec by Jean Railla is a thoughtful book about how to live. In it Railla combines feminist manifesto with craft tips, instructions, and introductions to many crafty ladies around the world. Railla drew much of the material for this book from her website ( and created a book that is part personal testimony, part instruction manual: Jean steps the reader through quizzes, journal exercises, and collages designed to develop a crafty sense of personal style and to help focus on each person’s perfect craft.

If I had to choose the one way the message boards most shaped my life it wouldn’t be from the incredibly helpful crafty tips, but by introducing me to so many smart and interesting women—women who weren’t afraid to use the word feminist and who thought about the issues I was dealing with: how to reconcile our need for community with our work and its demands on our time, and how to craft our lives in the direction we wanted them to go. And maybe it was being surrounded by so many strong and vocal women or maybe it is the direction my growth would take anyway, but the longer I craft, the more I think about societal issues. For example: crafting not only as a pleasant and rewarding activity, but as an inherently political activity. What is more political than giving homemade gifts during the holidays—avoiding Black Friday and conspicuous consumerism in favor of items you make as you hold the recipient in mind?

One of the big topics that I carry around with me most these days is crafting as a feminist statement. And Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec addresses many of these issues. Railla writes, “Get Crafty is a manifesto for what I call the New Domesticity, a movement committed to recognizing, exalting and most of all enjoying the culture that women have built for millennia.” In the book she explains the New Domesticity: recognizing traditional women’s work as a difficult skill set that should be appreciated and can be learned by everyone, not treated as a job for grannies and downtrodden housewives.

Basically: domesticity has been eschewed by people, including feminists, for generations. The New Domesticity considers crafting as a way for women to stand up and take back power on their own terms by valuing themselves and their work, not devaluing it as it has been in the past. This is a wonderful counterpoint to the suggestion that more women are picking up crafts and domesticity as a return to a nostalgic 50s era and a feeling of safety. I would say that crafting is not inherently safe. It involves a creation that can take a large amount of emotional investment, and that can take a long time to complete. Crafting involves walking the edge of consumerism, something that is a large part of American culture today.

Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec creates a whole-life picture of a crafty person. There are chapters on cleaning, cooking, and crafting. Recipes and instructions are given for all manner of things, from Jean’s grandmother’s madeleine cookies to ecological household cleansers, homemade beauty products, and knit bikinis. But what ties the book together are the personal experiences drawn from people of all countries and generations. I met many women in the book, as I did on the message boards, who are struggling with the same issues that I am, issues of consumption, politics, creativity, and the ever-stressful “what do I want to do when I grow up?” Having a community of likeminded women is both vital and rewarding. And even though lately I am more of the “think about it constantly and occasionally make things” variety of crafter than the “makes her own clothes, shoes, and handbags” type, I am a Crafter. By declaring myself a crafter, I am part of the movement to take back the word and the act and all it is associated with for all feminists, be they men or women. Which I must say does make me feel better when I end up gifting my creations a little bit late.

As Jean remarks in the afterward: “[being crafty] is about viewing your whole life as one big craft project.” So don’t be shy to pick up those knitting needles, crochet hooks, hot glue guns, or sewing machines, to read a new cookbook, or take pride in your home. It’s a feminist crafting revolution, and it’s about creating a better life for ourselves.

Kari Tipton is an environmental engineer focused on sustainability issues in Pittsburgh, PA. She knits, cooks, sews, and dreams of mastering the art of growing tomatoes in containers on her back porch.




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