Not Your Grandmother’s…

You see it all over. Not your grandmother’s cross-stitch! Not your grandmother’s knitting! Not your grandmother’s [insert craft here]!

Black and white photograph of a smiling older woman, knitting with at least three long needles. WIthout looking.
Not my grandmother…but probably someone’s.

And it gets on my wick. There’s the note of triumphant rebellion, the unspoken yet heavily implied superiority to the grandmother. It was bad enough that the skilled craftswomen of the past had their work looked down on at the time; it is even more aggravating that some of those who are reclaiming these sidelined crafts are joining in the denigration of their predecessors and their work.

Let me tell you a thing or two about my grandmother, and her crafts. Twenty years ago this week, I arrived in New Zealand to stay. My grandmother was waiting at the airport with a big bag of warm things she’d knitted for us. What she’d knitted for me included a guernsey which I am wearing as I type this. It’s needed a mend in the two decades since I started wearing it, but it’s still in good condition, and its been keeping me warm every winter for more than half my life.

My grandmother spent a while as an itinerant dressmaker in her youth. When one of her sisters married, the bride-to-be pointed out a dress she liked in a magazine, and my grandmother figured out the construction and made it for her, along with bridesmaid and flower girl dresses. (Family tradition says that my grandmother showed the finished work to her sister the night before the wedding, and informed her that if the groom did a runner she was going to go after him and drag him back, as she hadn’t gone to all that trouble for nothing.)

Black and white photograph of a wedding party. The bride's dress has a long train. The three bridesmaids and flower girl are wearing dresses with full gauzy skirts and standing collars.
Not my grandmother’s family but the Bike family. Bike Family Collection, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In later years, my grandmother was a one woman garment factory, churning out knitwear and sweatshirts and swimsuits and goodness knows what else, largely for her children, children-in-law, and tribe of granddaughters. The garments she made were of such good quality that grandkids grew out of them before they wore them out.

Knitting and sewing were her main crafts, though I know she went in for bookbinding too, and I have recently learned that she also tatted – too fast for the onlooker to see how it was done. I wouldn’t care to bet on her not having mastered any other craft you care to mention.

So when I hear voices trumpeting that this is “not your grandmother’s [insert craft here]” I’m not hearing that it’s totally cool and modern and edgy. I’m hearing that it’s made with mediocre materials and minimal skill, and not likely to last. Frankly, that’s not aspirational. I’d rather create things that are like my grandmother’s – made with proficiency and lastingly useful.

4 Replies to “Not Your Grandmother’s…”

  1. I love vintage crafts as well as newer crafts. I wish there was more appreciation for the older crafts. I have some vintage crochet patterns that I cherish. I like to make some old stuff out of thread crochet.

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