Commentary: The changing relationship between crochet and femininity

How this once “domestic” activity is being recovered and becoming more popular

By CORALIE LOON — arts@theaggie.org

Crocheting, a textile technique that involves using a crochet hook to turn loops of yarn into intricate fabric patterns, has been around for centuries, but thanks to social media it has had a recent resurgence in popularity. Although it is still a gendered craft, the relationship between crochet and femininity has changed in important ways.

According to a Article by Martha StewartMiss Riego, often referred to as the “Mother of Crochet”, published the first book on Irish crochet in 1846, which inspired a push for crochet in Ireland and England before it expanded to America.

With the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century, crocheting became a popular hobby as middle and upper-class women had more free time to twiddle their thumbs. Thus, the image of a Victorian housewife busy crocheting clothes for herself and her children was born.

Tasks such as quilting, sewing, crocheting or tailoring have traditionally been linked to domestic conceptions of femininity. The portrayal of a woman doing meticulous craftsmanship is not only prevalent in historical media, but intrinsically linked to definitions of femininity who matter on the notions of service, domesticity, delicacy and beauty.

1875 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir The painting“Woman Crocheting”, depicts the soft, romanticized figure of a woman doing exactly what the title suggests – crocheting, but also posing for the man who theoretically paints her, as if fulfilling his expectations of femininity.

Of course, a lot has changed between yesterday and today. Like a Reno news and review article explains, crochet fell into disuse with the rise of second-wave feminism, abandoned as an old-fashioned remnant of patriarchy. Women were rewriting femininity, seeking new places in the workplace that had been denied them for so long, and staying home and crocheting colorful blankets seemed to have lost its previous appeal.

Femininity, however, is still being rewritten. Like the backlash of recent redesign of M&Min which the famous green M&M’s boots were replaced by sneakers, showed us that the abandonment of traditionally “feminine” elements in favor of traditionally “masculine” elements is a questioned feminist tactic, and the centralization of crochet could be an example of this.

Hook experienced a spike in popularity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: a few searches on YouTube or TikTok and you’ll inevitably find a tutorial on how to crochet all kinds of items, from bags to gloves to water bottle holders. Ironically, for many, the onset of lockdown mimicked the historical experience of many middle-class European and American women: stuck at home with no traditional work and minimal social life.

As then, modern crochet trends are deeply tied to femininity. The community of crochet designers (whether they sell their wares on Etsy, write crochet patterns, or post video tutorials) is dominated by women who create mostly women’s pieces, as popular crochet garments sold on Etsy tend to to be cropped, bikini tops, skirts and the occasional cardigan.

Despite this, craftsmanship has a very different relationship with femininity than it once did. Male or gender-nonconforming crocheters (and customers) are shattering the perception of who can participate in traditionally female activities, and items such as oversized sweaters, bucket hats and beanies are popular in part for their gender neutrality . More importantly, young people today are exploring the world of crochet not because it is expected of them, but because they enjoy it and because it is a creative form of expression of self that counteracts the suffocation of participating in a traditional workforce.

It is not surprising that younger generations, increasingly familiar with the grip of capitalism on social attitudes, find value in art or traditionally “domestic” activities as they wonder why these activities have been undervalued by the company.

While current crochet trends could benefit from greater gender inclusion, the practice serves to reclaim and rewrite “femininity” as something useful for all genres and anyone interested in expanding creative autonomy.

Written by: Coralie Loon — arts@theaggie.org