Antislick to Postslick  Rochelle Smith


Antislick to Postslick: DIY Books and Youth Culture Then and Now
Rochelle Smith
. . . elegance is decadent—and we can’t have that during wartime—elegance is only acceptable if it’s pasted together, with spit and glue, from the detritus of a tooprosperous/too ridiculous world. (Dave Eggers) God bless the hippies; they loved anything ugly. (Garry Knox Bennett)

The material and social culture of America in the 1960s and early 1970s is a subject of persistent fascination and critical attention. Books, articles, and essays have discussed 1960s art movements, design, music, theater, and even the cookbooks produced by communes (Hartman). But craft, as practiced by laypeople as opposed to professional artisans, has remained largely unexamined. This period saw a steep rise in the popularity of making by hand, from woodworking and weaving to needlework and pottery. Now, after subsiding in popularity through the 1960s except among the deeply committed, craft is again receiving significant public attention in the first decade of the twenty-first century. As recent cover stories in Publishers Weekly suggest, American craft publishing is booming, even in the midst of recession (Martinez 24). There is an increasing body of scholarly work on craft in the new millennium, in the United States and overseas (Bratich; Parkins), but little has yet been written that compares the two time periods. Both the 1960s and the early twenty-first century upsurges in hand making are notable for their involvement of young adults, working outside of any tradition handed them by their forebears. Both gained ground in the face of war and grow-

ing energy crises, at times when the status quo in terms of resource use and consumption is often challenged. Both express a fundamental disillusionment with big structures, be they governmental or private, that comes out of war, instability, and economic uncertainty, whether Vietnam or Iraq, the Bay of Pigs, or September 11. Political activism and social criticism bubble just beneath the surface of each. These two waves also differ in meaningful ways, and the books written as instructional guides to crafts provide a useful window on the zeitgeist of each period. The 1965– 75 craft books discussed here were generally aimed at the young, and more specifically at the counterculture subset of the young; similarly, a majority of the books published since 2000 is aimed not at all knitters or crocheters or embroiderers, but the under-thirty subset that finds itself newly intrigued with recreational handcrafts (Tartakovsky 59). This is an area ripe for investigation. What are these creative impulses a response to? And how does publishing react to and reflect these waves of interest on the part of new and potential makers? The do-it-yourself books of the Flower Child era had many parents. Chief among them was the agrarian, simple-living ethos promulgated by Scott and Helen Nearing in their hugely influential 1954 book Living the Good Life, a chronicle of twenty years of rural homesteading by the couple, vegetarian political activists who took up small-scale farming in Vermont in the midst of the Great Depression. The Nearings’ life work—they

Rochelle Smith is a librarian at the University of Idaho with a background in conservation ecology, and an essayist. She is originally from Trinidad and Tobago.
The Journal of American Culture, 33:3 r 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


The Journal of American Culture  Volume 33, Number 3  September 2010

built their stone house themselves and wrote extensively about maple sugaring—stood for self-sufficiency and against mass production, large centralized economic systems, and ‘‘the yoke of a competitive, acquisitive, predatory culture’’ (Nearing xix). Later works, like Alicia Bay Laurel’s immensely popular Living on the Earth, published in 1970 (the same year renewed interest prompted a reprinting of the Nearings’ book), would interpret that ethos for hippie back-to-thelanders. Living on the Earth, a self-styled handbook for alternative living, includes instructions on pickling; hatha yoga; salting fish; growing marijuana; identifying cloud formations; wrapping a sari and giving birth at home; as well as on woodcarving; soapmaking; patchwork; making toys; moccasins, and musical instruments; weaving; and sewing simple garments.1 What the book does not include is a page of contents (though it does have a thorough index) or distinct chapters: to quote its twenty-one-year-old author, ‘‘it just grew as I learned’’ (Laurel Introduction). Seldom do Living on the Earth’s instructions, even for complex arts like pottery (or giving birth for that matter) go on for more than two pages, a blithe approach that betrays an enthusiasm for learning in the moment and a fearlessness about inexactitude and mistakes. Living on the Earth was handwritten as well as hand illustrated, and its spidery, elegant yet childlike drawings of naked gardeners and campers contribute to the gentle, prelapsarian mood it sets. Like the Nearings’ writings, Living on the Earth tapped into a yearning for the preindustrial. It was not alone in this: forging connections to an agrarian past developed into a prominent concern as national prosperity and mobility increasingly threatened to erode rural traditions. Appalachia has long served as a locus of this concern: as far back as 1899, Appalachians were being referred to with nostalgia as Americans’ ‘‘contemporary ancestors’’ (Frost 91). Rural areas experienced their own ‘‘folk-craft revival’’ during the Great Depression (Gelber 227), and Appalachia came to function as a wellspring of handmade Americana (Watkins 20), whether via craft schools like Arrowmont in Tennessee and Penland in North

Carolina, or titles like The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book. Mountain Artisans, published in 1973, intersperses quilting instruction with the history of the Mountain Artisans cooperative craft enterprise and of the women of rural West Virginia. The Foxfire books, a monograph series begun as a high schooler–produced magazine in Rabun Gap, Georgia, in 1968, are even clearer indicators of the appeal of toolkits for getting in touch with America’s rural roots. These enduringly successful volumes chronicled vanishing Appalachian folkways and also practical country skills, from weaving white oak split baskets to building log cabins, food preservation to soap making, hide tanning to gathering wild food. The valorization of the preindustrial that contributed to the late 1960s and early 1970s revival of the handmade can also be viewed in light of the political and social tensions of the 1950s and early 1960s. The first decade of the Cold War saw the arms race and the space race stir a societal cocktail of fear, competitiveness, and ‘‘technological optimism’’ which manifested in everything from synthetic fabrics and artificial foods to miracle pesticides like DDT to the design of automobiles, buildings, and clothing (Pavitt 50). Rachel Carson’s 1962 environmental critique Silent Spring helped initiate a paradigm shift, as did sobering glimpses of the perils associated with progress, like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Apollo 13 near-disaster. A distrust of slickness, artificiality, and better living through chemistry began to make itself felt (Brubach 215), especially among younger Americans, and technological utopianism was increasingly superseded by a more bucolic kind. Many dreamed of leaving the city and the strictures and corruption it represented, to get closer to nature in as unspoiled a form as possible, to ‘‘the beginning, the primal source of consciousness, the true basis of culture: the land’’ (Houriet, qtd. in Hartman 29). In Craft Paradigms Glenn Adamson describes a ‘‘mass retreat to the countryside’’ in the late 1960s, when this distrust was exacerbated by ‘‘the catastrophic political events of 1968 and the coincident degeneration and overpopulation of urban Counter-cultural areas’’ (89). This ‘‘retreat’’ was a rejection both of the

Antislick to Postslick  Rochelle Smith


danger represented by bellicose foreign policy in the age of nuclear weapons, and of the urge to dominate and colonize represented by the space race: if innovation was tied to domination, then the urge to live peaceably and harmoniously easily linked itself to the revival of the timeworn, the rustic and the patently handmade.2 The ‘‘D’’ in DIY in the 1960s and 1970s tended toward the holistic and expansive. The very idea of establishing a ‘‘counterculture’’ suggests this, incorporating the possibility of a revolutionary overhaul of middle-class life ways, from growing organic food to building a geodesic dome to giving birth in a converted school bus. The list Sam Binkley provides of topics covered by instructional books of the time in his essay ‘‘Lifestyle Print Discourse and the Mediation of Everyday Life’’ includes ‘‘exercise, home furnishing, spirituality, travel, sex, home economics, cycling, recycling, gardening, massage, home birth and Volkswagen repair’’(110). Crafts would fit well on Binkley’s list, representing as they do an aspect of DIY incorporable into anyone’s life, even if he or she had not committed to a wholly counterculture lifestyle. Adamson, who mentions ‘‘the popularity of nostalgic self-pronounced ‘impractical’ books by those in the craft movement that fetishized hand tools’’ (91), considers the ‘‘focus on crafts’’ on the part of young activists and would-be activists to have been a way to ‘‘avoid hollow idealism,’’ one more way to put ideals into practice (90). Brendan’s Leather Book, written in 1972 by Californian college student Brendan Smith, serves as an exemplar of the counterculture-influenced manuals of that time. Brendan, which provides instructions on making sandals, handbags, and other items, displays a relaxed approach to conveying information—Smith talks in the introduction about finding other leatherworkers to be ‘‘a tightlipped lot’’ (6), and for the book he draws on the experience he gained by experimenting on his own—as well as to aesthetics, both of the rougrhewn projects and of the volume itself. Its distinctiveness and charm lie both in its pen-and-ink illustrations, drawn by the author, in which tools are rendered in precise detail but the occasional

cat or human figure is folksy, almost cartoonish, and in Smith’s conversational tone. Discussing dyeing leather, he says that, after years of scrounging for information here and there, ‘‘I hope there aren’t too many gross gaps in my knowledge of this mysterious topic. Maybe I can save you from going through the same drama I did’’ (40). In the appendix, which explains how to sharpen knives, he observes that ‘‘if you’re using your good old got-it-from-my-dad pocket knife, you may make it on karma alone’’ (162). The sincerity, the rejection of authorial hierarchy that the book conveys, is palpable. Brendan and books like it that focused on individual crafts were common, but works that taught several, like the 1972 Woodstock Craftsman’s Manual, were also produced. Authored by eleven different New York State artisans, Woodstock offers instructions on skills that might have appealed to attendees at the 1969 music festival, including candlemaking, crochet, leatherwork, embroidery, pottery, beading, weaving, tie-dye, batik, silkscreen, and macrame ´ , as well as home sound recording. The book’s counterculture tone is set on its front cover, on which it is described as being not compiled or edited but ‘‘provoked.’’ Its pottery chapter is subtitled ‘‘Notes from the Underground,’’ a reference to the novella by Dostoevsky that greatly influenced socially conscious writers from Joseph Heller to Ralph Ellison. And contemporary politics, where not explicit, are implicit in its pages. The chapter on beads urges inner peace ‘‘even if Viet Nam is in a state of transitional disaster’’ (160), and Roger Sessions, the author of the chapter on silkscreen, discusses the printing of political posters and signs his name with a hammer and sickle in place of the capital R. Woodstock’s illustrations are a mix of black-andwhite photographs and drawings, and several of the chapters are entirely or partially written by hand, a design decision especially prevalent among its female authors and more traditionally ‘‘feminine’’ crafts, such as crochet, beaded jewelry and dyeing, and one shared by contemporaneous cookbooks like Mollie Katzen’s early ‘‘Moosewood’’ titles.3 The New York Times review said of Woodstock that ‘‘there is no distance at all between


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instructor and beginner, and experimentation is the word’’ (Gemming 8). It was followed a year later by The Woodstock Craftsman’s Manual 2, which includes chapters on, among other skills, sandalmaking, quilting, tipi construction, stained glass, bronzework, and songwriting. A member of the True Light Beavers commune is credited with several of the second volume’s photographs. Books like Brendan came out of small presses, ‘‘grassroots publishing ventures,’’ as Binkley calls them (116). Many of these publishers were based on the West Coast of the United States and particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and several, such as Bookpeople (distributor of Brendan’s Leather Book), Shambhala, Ten Speed Press, and Bookworks, are still in existence. Binkley describes these publishers as ‘‘self-initiated, amateur, youth-based, [and] non-New York’’ and says they formed part of a ‘‘countercultural lifestyle print discourse’’ (109), in which doing-it-yourself meant not just making the objects but writing the books about making them as well.4 A classic example, or perhaps metaexample, is the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand’s self-described ‘‘evaluation and access device,’’ which beginning in 1968, pointed readers to tools and information as they attempted to forge sounder, more sustainable ways of living. A strong proponent of appropriate technology, Whole Earth was a prime source of DIY literature. It featured and reviewed instructional works, like Living on the Earth, Pioneer Pottery, and Foxfire magazine, while also offering its own ‘‘how-to essays and articles’’ (Kirk 5). The layout of Whole Earth, like that of Living on the Earth, reflects the editorial expansiveness Binkley describes: both favor inclusivity over specialization, eschewing categorization (Kirk 2), and moving easily from topic to wildly divergent topic, metalwork to yurt construction to puppet theater to alternative schooling to handspinning. These works, concerned with self-sufficiency, closeness to the land, and comprehensive lifestyle change, resonated deeply with the tune in/turn on/ drop out generation, a generation that was reading Summerhill, Spiritual Midwifery, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and perhaps The Anarchist

Cookbook alongside their craft books. In the first decade of the twenty-first century there is no comparable groundswell of young people yearning to ‘‘get back to the garden,’’ as Joni Mitchell sang in 1970, to overhaul everything, abandon mainstream culture, and set up a city on a hill. While ‘‘urban homesteaders’’ and others may seek to introduce measures of creativity, self-reliance, and community into their lives (Fisher), few contemporary young adults evince a desire to forgo society entirely for a self-created alternative; unless that alternative is a virtual one, manifested through the Internet and other communication and entertainment technologies. Many young adults interested in craft today are also deeply invested in life online, plugged in rather than tuned in. Several authors suspect that making things by hand serves as a complement, or antidote, to life in cyberspace. Minahan and Cox (p. 8) consider whether craft may function as a ‘‘remedial response to the Information Society,’’ and Stoller concurs (11). Interpreting do-it-yourself impulses as a response to changing technologies is not new: in 1966 Newsweek cited as a reason for the ‘‘craft revival’’ of the time the fact that ‘‘we are, more and more, becoming the slaves of technology’’ (‘‘Crafting’’ 62). In that instance the technology referred to was likely mechanized manufacture, but passive entertainment, like television, may have been implicated as well. Craft on the other hand is now, as then, tangible, tactile, connected to history and to others—whether through local circles of like-minded individuals, nationwide groups like Church of Craft, blogs like Angry Chicken or Internet communities like Ravelry. These potentially international communities may provide some of the sense of shared endeavor that young people in the 1960s and 1970s found through consciousness-raising sessions or, more radically, in commune life. The two generations may be widely separated in terms of their responses to the societal issues they face, yet craft connects them in unexpected ways, as with the environment, a realm in which both craft cultures come together while also revealing striking differences. The craft movement of the 1960s and 1970s tapped into nascent public

Antislick to Postslick  Rochelle Smith


environmental concerns and consequent desires to get in touch via material culture with less industrialized societies that were perceived as living in closer harmony with the earth. The rejection on the part of counterculture young people of the sleekness and futuristic/aerodynamic style associated with the Space Age manifested itself in the aesthetics of daily life, from peasant-inspired clothing to the humble, boxy bluntness of Volkswagen buses. The things they made, and their favored materials—wood, leather, clay, bronze, glass, wool—foregrounded the rough-hewn and the maker’s hand. The author of Woodstock’s chapter on pottery, commenting somewhat skeptically on the ‘‘crude look’’ of much of the work being produced at the time, remarks that ‘‘muted colors [are] preferred [by amateur potters] because they are believed to be more natural to the clay itself’’ (122). A generalized Native American aesthetic pervaded the bead- and leatherwork of the time—moccasin patterns were ubiquitous— and batik, tie-dye, folk embroidery, and sand candles and other natural forms were also championed, as can be seen in the Woodstock books and Living on the Earth. By opting for materials perceived as natural and for preindustrial techniques, makers could show solidarity with the burgeoning ecology movement and demonstrate awareness of the beauty and fragility of the planet so recently seen from space for the first time. Many current craft projects, by contrast, bear witness to their materials and construction in a way that is quite postmodern, like the artwork made of still clearly identifiable magazine subscription cards in The Big-Ass Book of Crafts (4– 5), or Ready Made’s rug woven from upscale shopping bags (30–33), in which so little attempt is made to conceal the logos and other testaments to the origin of the materials that the finished objects form their own ironic statement about consumption. The current movement’s concerns with the environment are galvanized by a sense of Western society as existing atop a landfill; the disposability of material culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century prompts a desire on the part of makers to address the waste stream in some direct way. Writer Dave Eggers’

statement, quoted in part at this article’s outset, describes Ready Made, a 2005 compendium of DIY projects selected from the magazine of the same name, as embodying ‘‘a spirit of DIY, not just reuse/recycle, but a revolutionary sort of aesthetic ethos that allows us to make elegant objects from unelegant things. Because elegance is decadent—and we can’t have that during wartime— elegance is only acceptable if it’s pasted together, with spit and glue, from the detritus of a tooprosperous/too ridiculous world . . . for now, it’s the only tasteful way to have taste’’ (Berger, Frontispiece). Recent books like Eco Craft and 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer have therefore dealt not with pristine organic materials but rather with ‘‘upcycling,’’ reworking, and transforming what would otherwise be discarded. Deconstructing and finding new uses for thrift store items is one major manifestation of this concern. Thrift store reimaginers emphasize the use of secondhand materials in what they make, not from economic necessity as much as from a desire to make a unique statement with their possessions in a way precluded by purchasing new, mass-produced items. Several books, among them Alternation, Rip It, Generation T, Sew Subversive, and its sequel, Subversive Seamster, provide instruction on recycling and restyling clothing, particularly secondhand finds. The raw-edged, makeshift aesthetic of the projects in these books is often credited to punk subculture, which since the 1970s has spawned an ‘‘antifashion,’’ artfully reconstructed sartorial aesthetic. Young people within and beyond this subculture were engaged in DIY projects throughout the 1990s from publishing zines to making mixed tapes (Bond 20; Pentney), and many eventually incorporated more traditional crafts, like sewing, into their skill sets. As the handmade once represented rebellion against DuPont slickness, it now stands against ubiquitous branding and a species of conspicuous consumption in evidence at least since the ‘‘greed is good’’ 1980s. The act of making itself, whether the object made is a sweater, a mixed CD, or a burrito cannon (‘‘Maker’’), becomes a statement against a world in which quotidian material cul-


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ture bears little imprint of human hands (Bond 23). This was also a concern in the sixties: explaining the appeal of craft in 1966, Newsweek decried the ‘‘vast cornucopia of standardized, machine-made goods—a faceless inventory of consumer products whose distinctiveness exists only in the advertising slogans that peddle them (‘‘Crafting’’ 62). But the current level and reach of corporate branding, as well as the big-box stores filled with disposable, anonymous foreignmade goods, were as yet unimaginable. Minahan and Cox suspect that needlework may represent ‘‘a small effort to refute the ubiquity of the Nike sweatshirt’’ (11). Several craftspeople concur: author Share Ross expresses this rebellion when she says in Punk Knits: 26 Hot New Designs for Anarchistic Souls and Independent Spirits; ‘‘knitting is an amazing way to make a truly anarchistic statement . . . what is more rock ‘n’ roll than making your own fashion statement and snubbing the corporate entities that tell us how to look?!’’ (S. Ross, Frontispiece). And, discussing the public’s eagerness to patronize craft entrepreneurs in a 2007 article in Metromode, artist and independent publisher Mark Maynard declares, ‘‘People are kind of pissed off [at] having to buy everything from Wal-Mart’’ (Chou). Distrust of government in the 1960s and 1970s, playfully manifested in Woodstock’s silkscreened hammers and sickles, stands in contrast to current distrust of multinational corporations. This distrust may point to another reason why craft does not currently manifest as part of a larger and more revolution-bent social movement. The focus on the corporate rather than the governmental means that making something, and thus modifying one’s relationship to the marketplace—in however peripheral a way—may feel like an apt and sufficient response, obviating the need to found an entire alternative society, as when governments (and older generations) are perceived as the opponent.5 Betsy Greer, author of Knitting for Good and creator of the website Craftivism, says that ‘‘atrocities are happening in our front yards and on our televisions’’ and suggests that craft can provide a means to ‘‘react against what is happening without either giving up or exploding’’

(Greer). In the case of makers like Cat Mazza and her website microRevolt, concern over international sweatshops and the conditions endured by garment factory workers form an element of this ‘‘soft’’ activism6 (Bratich 4). Mazza uses her knitting projects, which incorporate logos from companies like Nike and Mattel, as ‘‘a way of crafting commentary on corporate labor exploitation’’ (Gschwandner, ‘‘MicroRevolt’’ 6). The connections between current craft practice and political or social statement can be seen in acts of public art undertaken by craftspeople. ‘‘Guerilla knitting,’’ as practiced by groups like Knitta, a group of anonymous knitters based in Houston, Texas, mingles art and social commentary, encasing trees, lampposts, and other public objects in handknit fabric. In Sabrina Gschwandner’s 2007 book Knit Knit: Profiles1Projects from Knitting’s New Wave, one of the anonymous Knitta ‘‘taggers’’ speaks of wanting to demonstrate ‘‘that disobedience can be beautiful and that knitting can be outlaw’’(92). Individual artists like Lacey Jane Roberts also utilize knitting. Her installations, including one of pink-knitted barbed wire fencing, aim to ‘‘dismantle systems of power through a soft medium usually associated with warm, homey comfort’’ (Gschwandner, ‘‘Lacey Jane Roberts’’). It is no accident that knitting is often the chosen medium for women (and men) who seek to question received power structures. Several of the manuals utilized by this new generation of makers deal with mechanical projects, like those found in Make magazine, which owe a debt to the Popular Mechanics school of workshop-based home technology (Gelber 208), but the more significant uptick in craft publishing has come from works teaching traditional ‘‘feminine’’ skills like crochet, sewing, beadwork, embroidery, quilting, and particularly, knitting. Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ’n Bitch stands in the vanguard of the new how-to books that take as their subject traditional women’s crafts. Published in 2003, Stitch ’n Bitch aimed to ‘‘take back the knit’’ by contextualizing knitting within feminist practice, while providing instructions for making such whimsical items as a Wonder Woman bikini and a Ribbed-for-Her-Pleasure scarf. In her prefatory

Antislick to Postslick  Rochelle Smith


essay, Stoller, a founder of BUST magazine, discusses her own journey back to knitting after initially rejecting the craft as antithetical to feminist aims, concluding that ‘‘all those people who looked down on knitting—and housework, and housewives—were not being feminist at all. In fact, they were being antifeminist, since they seemed to think that only those things that men did, or had done, were worthwhile’’ (7). She decided to ‘‘do everything in [her] power to raise knitting’s visibility and value in the culture’’ (9). The raising of consciousness is very much in evidence in this book, much as for the communebased books of the 1960s. Stitch ’n Bitch has been followed by hundreds of titles, from Alterknits to Pretty in Punk, many of which valorize traditional crafts while approaching them with what Minahan and Cox call ‘‘playful, ironic comment and an unbundling/re-forming or even implosion . . . of traditional associations between time, place and gender’’ (Minahan 17). The use of the word subversive in the titles of two of the sewing manuals discussed earlier is noteworthy: many craft books aimed at a young audience strenuously seek to distance themselves from any connection crafts may have to the quaint, the nostalgic, or the past—except perhaps the very recent, ‘‘rebellious’’ past, as with Punk Knits or AntiCraft: Knitting, Beading and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister—which describes itself as focusing on ‘‘the darker side of craft,’’ taking ‘‘an approach much sought after by the growing audience of hot publications like BUST, Ready Made and Craft: transforming traditional crafts into quirky wearable fashion’’ (Rigdon, Frontispiece). Building on Stitch ’n Bitch’s revivalist agenda but more aggressive in tone, these books adopt a confrontational stance against needlework’s nineteenth-century middle-class associations with sedateness, meekness, and quiet feminine industry. Jennifer Stafford’s Domiknitrix concerns itself primarily with promulgating exacting standards of workmanship for knitting projects, but the book’s prose expresses that work ethic in the fetish terminology of Bondage and Discipline (‘‘I am the Domiknitrix. I discipline my yarn. I force it into the form I want it to take . . .

the knitter is the mistress or master who whips the stitches into shape.’’ [8–9]). Hosegood notes that knitting books like Domiknitrix and Naughty Needles: Sexy, Saucy Knits for the Bedroom and Beyond strive to ‘‘construct knitting as not only a worthwhile and altruistic pastime but also as a decadent, self-indulgent, and subversive action’’ (149). At the same time, these titles reside on bookshelves alongside sewing manuals like A is for Apron and The Apron Book, postfeminist celebrations of the trappings of prefeminist female domesticity. According to the latter, its ‘‘bright and sassy contemporary aprons confirm that nesting is all the rage’’ (Geisel, back cover). Even feminist BUST cheerfully included instructions for making an apron in its December/January 2009 issue (‘‘Tie One On’’ 21). The exoticism privileged in 1960s crafts like tie-dye and batik moved the maker far from the avocations of that generation’s parents in the safety and homogeneity of the suburbs. Forty years on, temporal distance from homemakers of the postwar era and from women’s subsequent struggles to be recognized in the workplace can render the skills of those homemakers, like sewing and knitting, attractively exotic in their own right, while making it possible to perceive the loss of knowledge of hand skills as a deprivation and a birthright forfeited. (On her website Heather Ross, author of Weekend Sewing, describes the current generation of young women, the first generation for whom home economics classes were not required, as in need of ‘‘empowerment’’ [H. Ross].) It is difficult to imagine a contemporary craft book author casually saying ‘‘we all know what darning looks like,’’ as Nell Znamierowski does when explaining the structure of plain weave in 1967’s Step-ByStep Weaving (7). Those seeking to create by hand in the 1960s and 1970s were closer in time to a tradition of making and fixing that was passed along in families as well as through formal education. Just as household machines, like toasters and radios, were easier to tinker with in an analog age, many people, even the relatively well off, sewed their own or their children’s clothes, kept a workshop in the garage, could repair their own


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car, and subscribed to make-it and fix-it magazines like Popular Mechanics (Gelber 290; Kirk 5). The 1950s saw its own DIY movement (Gelber 268–94), which meant that Baby Boom young people grew up familiar with household carpentry, needlecrafts, model building, and other handwork. Thus 1960s and 1970s counterculture craft books tend to provide guidelines and basic information but almost no specific projects. In fact, they reject the idea of being imposed upon by someone else’s aesthetic judgments and decisions, even the authors’, and instead champion ‘‘being on your own trip’’ creatively. The author of the embroidery chapter in The Woodstock Craftsman’s Manual laments being born into a ‘‘kit-generation’’ (79) and advocates freeing the designer within.7 Brendan’s Leather Book’s introduction states emphatically that ‘‘there are no fold-out letter-by-letter projects in here’’ (Smith 6). These books drew on the basic knowledge that their readers would have likely already possessed while shunning conformity in terms of how craft projects ‘‘should turn out.’’ Twenty-first-century craft books confront a very different set of conditions, in which few skills can be assumed and letter-by-letter directions are welcome if not vital. Their pedagogical model is one of very detailed plans for clearly defined and named projects, with perhaps the occasional nod into branching out on one’s own, as in Alterknits, which includes ‘‘creativity exercises’’ along with its patterns. Instructions for replicating a single pictured item may go on for several pages. The ‘‘disempowerment’’ Ross alludes to makes this crucial; it also means that each generation of books is speaking of something very different when it talks of the satisfaction of making by hand, of where the ‘‘self’’ in do-it-yourself resides, whether in the originating of a creative concept or in the execution of manual tasks. This investigation represents only a beginning in addressing this topic. Much more remains to be written, including comparative analyses of the aesthetics of craft books from the two periods, and further examinations of second and third wave feminism and postfeminism’s impacts on amateur craft work in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere (Pentney). Links

between handcrafts and the 1960s and 1970s appropriate technology movement are there to be explored, as well as links between twenty-first century craft practice and concerns over sustainability, both in terms of the acquisition of useful skills and of knowing the origins and conditions of manufacture of yarns, fabrics, wood products, and other materials (see Knight, qtd. in Gschwandner, Knit Knit 87). The meaning and value craft takes on as a form of resistance to industrialized life has endured for well over a century, but its precise significance to different groups at different times is complex and multivariate. Young makers, at once embracers of new paradigms and hapless recipients of conditions they did not create, have the potential to shed much light on these societal shifts. The books they use as guides merit close attention.


1. Sewing is not always classified as a ‘‘craft’’ rather than being placed in a category of its own. It is included here partly because several 1960s books include this skill, and also because periodicals that track publishing frequently include books on sewing in their discussions of craft (Martinez 28). Additionally, amateur craftspeople themselves seldom set up great distinction between, say, using a sewing machine or hand sewing needle to make a quilt or a skirt (Stalp 205). 2. It is easy to see how this impulse leads in a direct line back to the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in which alienation from both handmade processes and products, spawned by the Industrial Revolution, led to a revival of handcrafts and of an aesthetic associated with the handmade. 3. There is a parallel history to be examined that concerns the cookbooks of the same era, as begun by Hartman. Around the time that Diet for a Small Planet appeared in 1971, counterculture cookbooks, often providing guidance on a vegetarian lifestyle, began to emerge, such as the Moosewood books, the Tassajara books (Binkley 122–23) and Laurel’s Kitchen. The design of these books, from Laurel’s woodcut illustrations to Moosewood’s hand script and Tassajara’s drawings and gentle sepia tint, places them firmly in the same tradition as Living on the Earth and the Woodstock manuals. 4. The decentralized, grassroots approach to publishing that saw the launch of some of the earlier wave of books via West Coast publishing may have its counterpart in Internet-initiated publishing now, as with the very successful six-titles-and-counting ‘‘Yarn Harlot’’ series of knitting advice books by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, who began as a knitting blogger in early 2004, or Mason-Dixon Knitting and its sequel, which originated in epistolary blog entries by two knitters from the northeastern and southeastern Unites States. The Internet provides unprecedented opportunities to build a reader base before approaching the publishing establishment.

Antislick to Postslick  Rochelle Smith


5. Indeed, as the online craft marketplace Etsy demonstrates, people are more than willing to support market ventures they perceive as ‘‘alternative’’(Miller). 6. Out of the same impulse have come Dumpster divers and Freegans, who are not necessarily in dire economic need but who see their activities as ethical and political as much as practical (Kurutz). Rather than being motivated by personal or community poverty, they are responding to living in a wealthy and wasteful society. This implied critique of capitalism links Freegans to groups like the Diggers, the 1960s anarchist street theater troupe in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, which among other community-focused actions operated ‘‘free stores’’ in which everything was given away, often after having been scrounged for free in the first place (Howard 46; Laurel 52). 7. Steven Gelber discusses the use of craft kits in the 1950s at length in his book Hobbies, and though his study ends in that decade he briefly mentions the ‘‘resurgence of high quality handicrafting that accompanied the cultural upheaval of the 1960s,’’ considering it ‘‘a return to the romantic notions of the arts and crafts era and an explicit rejection of the overly commercialized hobby activities of the 1950s’’ (299).

Gemming, Elizabeth. ‘‘How to Make and Sell a Candle.’’ New York Times Book Review 2 July 1972: 8. Greer, Betsy. ‘‘What is Craftivism, Anyway?’’ 24 July 2003. 12 Jan. 2010. h i . Gschwandner, Sabrina. ‘‘MicroRevolt: Knitting as Resistance to Sweatshop Labor.’’ Interweave Knits, Winter 2006: 6. — — —. Knit Knit: Profiles1Projects from Knitting’s New Wave. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2007. — — —. ‘‘Lacey Jane Roberts: Dismantling Systems of Power.’’ Interweave Knits, Winter 2008: 8. Hartman, Stephanie. ‘‘The Political Palate: Reading Commune Cookbooks.’’ Gastronomica 3.2 (2003): 29-40. Hosegood, Betsy. ‘‘Whip Your Hobby into Shape: Knitting, Feminism and Construction of Gender.’’ Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 7.2 (July 2009): 148-63. Howard, John Robert. ‘‘The Flowering of the Hippie Movement.’’ Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 382 (March 1969): 43-55. Keneas, Alex. ‘‘Crafting Their Own World.’’ Newsweek 21 July 1969: 62–67. Kirk, Andrew G. Counterculture Green: the Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 2007.

Works Cited
Adamson, Glenn. ‘‘Craft Paradigms: The Studio Craft Movement and the Avant-Garde, 1966–72.’’ Diss. Yale University, 2001. Berger, Shoshanna. Ready Made: How to Make (Almost) Everything: A Do-It-Yourself Primer. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2005. Binkley, Sam. ‘‘Lifestyle Print Culture and the Mediation of Everyday Life: From Dispersing Images to Caring Texts.’’ Historicizing Lifestyle: Mediating Taste, Consumption and Identity from the 1900s to 1970s. Eds. David Bell and Joanne Hollows. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2006. Bond, Gwenda. ‘‘A Nation of Crafters.’’ Publishers Weekly 11 Aug. 2008: 20–24. Brand, Stewart. The Last Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools. Menlo Park, CA: Portola Institute, 1971. Bratich, Jack, and Julie Brush. ‘‘Craftivity Narratives: Fabriculture, Affective Labor, and the New Domesticity.’’ International Communication Association, 2007 Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA. Conference paper. Brubach, Holly. ‘‘Fear and Clothing: How the Cold War Sent Fashion into the Stratosphere.’’ New York Times Magazine Fall 2008 Style: Women’s Fashion: 214–15. Chou, Kimberly. ‘‘DIY Design.’’ Metromode 22 Mar. 2007. 16 July 2009. h i . Fisher, Adam. ‘‘Urban Homesteaders.’’ New York Times 12 Oct. 2008 (retrieved from Lexis Nexis, 22 July 2009). Frost, William Goodell. ‘‘Our Contemporary Ancestors in the Southern Mountains.’’ Appalachian Images in Folk and Popular Culture. Ed. W. K. McNeil. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989. 91–106. Geisel, Ellynanne. The Apron Book: Making, Wearing, and Sharing a Bit of Cloth and Comfort. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2006. Gelber, Steven M. Hobbies : Leisure and the Culture of Work in America. New York: Columbia UP, 1999.

Kurutz, Steven. ‘‘Not Buying It.’’ New York Times 21 June 2007. 10 Jan. 2010. h . Laurel, Alicia Bay. Living on the Earth: Celebrations, Storm Warnings, Formulas, Recipes, Rumors, & Country Dances. New York: Random House, 1970. ‘‘Maker Workshop: Burrito Blaster.’’ 10 Jan. 2009. Make: Technology on Your Time. 22 July 2009. h 2009/01/maker_workshop_burrito_blaster.html i . Martinez, Juan. ‘‘Getting Crafty—Beating the Economy.’’ Publisher’s Weekly 9 Feb. 2009: 24–28. Miller, Claire Cain. ‘‘For Craft Sales, Recession is a Help.’’ New York Times 23 Dec. 2008: B1. Minahan, Stella, and Julie Wolfram Cox. ‘‘Stitch ’n Bitch: Cyberfeminism, a Third Place and the New Materiality.’’ Journal of Material Culture 12.1 (2007): 5-21. Parkins, Wendy. ‘‘Celebrity Knitting and the Temporality of Postmodernity.’’ Fashion Theory 8.4 (2004): 425-42. Pavitt, Jane. Fear and Fashion in the Cold War. London: V&A Publishing, 2008. Pentney, Beth Ann. ‘‘Feminism, Activism, and Knitting: Are the Fibre Arts a Viable Mode for Feminist Political Action?’’ Thirdspace: A Journal of Feminist Theory and Culture 8.1. h http:// i. Ross, Heather. ‘‘About Heather.’’ 10 Feb. 2010. h i . Ross, Share. Punk Knits: 26 Hot New Designs for Anarchistic Souls and Independent Spirits. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2007. Smith, Brendan. Brendan’s Leather Book. Cotati, CA: Outer Straubville Press, 1972. Stalp, Marybeth C., and Theresa M. Winge. ‘‘My Collection is Bigger than Yours: Tales from the Handcrafter’s Stash.’’ Home Cultures 5.2 (2008): 197-218. Stoller, Debbie. Stitch ’n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook. New York: Workman, 2003. Tartakovsky, Flora. ‘‘That Clicking Sound.’’ Time 31 Jan. 2000: 59.


The Journal of American Culture  Volume 33, Number 3  September 2010

Watkins, Charles Alan. ‘‘Weaving Day at Penland: A Photographic Analysis.’’ NWSA Journal 11.3 (1999): 18-23. Young, Jean. Woodstock Craftsman’s Manual. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972. Znamierowski, Nell. Step-by-Step Weaving. New York: Golden Press, 1967.

Mornu, Nathalie. A is for Apron: 25 Fresh & Flirty Designs. New York: Lark Books, 2008. Nearing, Scott, and Helen Nearing. Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. New York: Schocken Books, 1970. Neill, Alexander Sutherland. Summerhill: a Radical Approach to Child Rearing. New York: Hart Pub. Co., 1960. Nicolay, Megan. Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt. New York: Workman, 2006.

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Pearl-McPhee, Stephanie. Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2005. Okey, Shannon. Alternation: Transform, Embellish, Customize. Cincinnati: North Light Books, 2007. Powell, William. The Anarchist Cookbook. New York: L. Stuart, 1971. Radford, Leigh. Alterknits: Imaginative Projects and Creativity Exercises. New York: STC Craft, 2005. Rannels, Melissa, Melissa Alvarado and Hope Meng. Sew Subversive: Down & Dirty DIY for the Fabulous Fashionistab. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 2006. — — —. Subversive Seamster: Transform Thrift Store Threads into Street Couture. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 2007. Rigdon, Rene ´ e, and Zabet Stewart. Anticraft: Knitting, Beading, and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister. Cincinnati: North Light Books, 2007. Robertson, Laurel, Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey. Laurel’s Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition. New York: Bantam Books, 1976. Ross, Heather. Weekend Sewing. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009. Sarafan, Randy. 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer (And Other Discarded Electronics). New York: Workman, 2010. Stafford, Jennifer. Domiknitrix: Whip Your Knitting into Shape. Cincinnati: North Light Books, 2007. ‘‘Tie One On.’’ BUST Dec./Jan. 2009: 21–22. Wasinger, Susan. Eco Craft: Recycle Recraft Restyle. New York: Lark Books, 2009. Wiggington, Eliot. The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing; Log Cabin Building; Mountain Crafts and Foods; Planting by the Signs; Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing; Moonshining; and Other Affairs of Plain Living. Garden City: Doubleday, 1972. Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.

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