Friday, August 8, 2014

Slow Stitching: New Mindset or Elitist Club?

If you are a fan of cooking or fancy yourself a foodie, you have probably heard of the Slow Food Movement.  Begun in 1986 after the founder was dismayed to hear a McDonalds would be opening in Rome, the movement has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.  It advocates from-scratch home cooking, unprocessed ingredients, the preservation of local food ways, and taking the time to enjoy what we eat.  It is probably one of the biggest influences in modern cuisine in the past several decades.

Now quilter Mark Lipinski wants to apply those principles to the fiber arts.  The Slow Stitching movement is for yarncrafters and needleworkers who want put more time into their crafting, for people who want to focus more on the process of crafting instead of the end result.  By doing this, the movement's founders believe that crafters can experience the following benefits:
  • Approach your creative art-making in a totally different way.  
  • Recharge your passion for the needle fiber arts .
  • Engage the connection between your body, your quilts, and your legacy.        .
  • Expand your creativity, self-esteem and even your spiritual journey.
  • Tap your right brain, to train and develop your imagination.
  • Find the creative genius in you.
  • Implement your creative thought in today’s too-fast world.
  • Heal your life, emotions and boost your physical health.
  • Create groups and habits to support your creative vision.
On the surface, I think this idea is a welcome change to the instant-gratification obsessed mindset that can inhabit some crafting circles.  When I went to the state fair last year, my friend Angela was deeply impressed with many of the handcrafted items in the 4-H exhibits.  The teenagers who competed not only made exquisite-looking cabinets, benches, and other items, but they had to document their progress in a booklet.  They had to explain their reasons for the materials they picked, the construction methods they used, and the decoration they added.  They took pictures of their project at every step of the process.  Some of the projects took two years to complete!  That seems like a long time for adults, much less teenagers with short attention spans.  Obviously, not every project can take a luxuriously long amount of time, but I bet that the teens learned a lot about their chosen craft--and themselves--by having to go through an extended and thoughtful process.

Unfortunately, my interest in this new approach is tempered by what I have seen from the other "slow" movement.  Slow Food has a lot of laudable goals, but the people behind the movement often have ideas about food that are elitist.  They ignore the fact that cooking "slow food" requires access to fresh ingredients and time to prepare it, which are resources that lower-income populations do not have.  Frankly, a lot of them harbor sexist beliefs.  They talk about the declining quality of American food, but if you converse with them long enough, the root of their beliefs eventually comes out--that they believe home cooking got worse because women started working outside the home and no longer had time to prepare "good, wholesome" food for their families.  This ignores all of the political, economic, and cultural factors that influenced the rise of processed food well before two-income households became the norm.  (Also, have any of these people actually looked at a cookbook from the 1950's?  The one I have from a great-aunt has an entire chapter devoted to dishes made from canned foods.)

Food and crafts are inherently different matters.  Everybody needs to eat, but today very few people have to rely on crafting for daily needs.  Crafters are already a self-selecting group of people, ones who can afford the supplies and have enough free time to hone their skills.  I try to be aware of this and acknowledge that I have the luxury of learning how to use a sewing machine for fun when people around the world and in recent history relied on it for income.  (This includes a great-grandfather of mine who died of a heart attack at his sewing machine in a factory.)

Even though the Slow Stitching movement is very new and has time to avoid the pitfalls of the Slow Food movement, I fear that it is already embracing elitist ideas.  This is most obvious in their blog post about how to create a "Slow Stitching Salon."  Modeled on the philosophical and intellectual gatherings popular in 17th and 18th Century France, the Slow Stitching Salon is a time for crafters to get together to discuss their projects and craft-related topics.  The environment fosters inspiration and creative growth.

Nothing about this idea sounds inherently wrong, but I winced when the article emphasized that salons are NOT quilting guilds or sewing circles, which are "just giant clubs."  What is wrong with these types of gatherings?  These types of groups have provided a sense of purpose and camaraderie to women for centuries.  They also said a stitching salon is about discussion--no actual crafting occurs, and you only bring projects for Show and Tell purposes.  The very idea of a craft-related gathering without any actual crafting makes my fingers itchy.

The article also emphasizes keeping the salon artificially small in numbers, no more than 10.  Keep it limited to "like-minded" and "creative people" to foster "intelligent discussion."  If you run your own salon, you can hand-pick the guest list!  Deny invitations to "casual" crafters or people who have a personality that doesn't mix with the rest of the group.  Decide for yourself if members are allowed to bring friends.

The article claims this is just to make sure the discussion flows more easily, but where does it end?  Who is a "casual" crafter?  Maybe some people would define that to include people who work long hours and can spend only a small amount of time to engage in a craft they deeply love.  Maybe some people would define it as someone who can only afford to get their supplies at Walmart.  If your goal is to keep numbers low and define for yourself who can participate, a lot of people are left out of what can be a great experience.

I believe that crafts can be great art, and I am astounded at the ways that people can use needlework to create. I also treasure needlework as a folk art.  It was done by ordinary women who used it to express themselves at a time when they had limited options.  There are ways to elevate appreciation for needlework and its artistic possibilities without shutting out most of the people who do it.

Amanda from Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery wrote an interesting blog post a few months ago about how she is changing her approach to creating.  Many of the tips she has are similar to the tenets of Slow Stitching, advocating that people take time to enjoy the process.  She also emphasizes the importance of doing what you enjoy, and not judging other people for how they choose to spend their time.  I think her tips get to the essence of Slow Stitching while remaining inclusive to the wide variety of crafters out there.  No matter how expensive our materials are or how much time we have to devote to it, let's celebrate that people are still crafting in a mass-produced world.


  1. Wait, there's anyone in the world who thinks that hand-knitting a sock is too fast a way to get a sock? For heaven's sake, people, we are already doing things the hard way.

  2. Good point. I guess the Slow Stitch version of fast food would be to buy socks at Target, but we are already electing to do things a slower way. Maybe machine knitting isn't allowed, but I can't tell if sewing machines are acceptable.

  3. And the self-congratulatory circles of people talking about how good their projects are, but not working on them-- what are you supposed to do with your hands? I'm not as busy-handed as you are, but I'd definitely have something to do.