Sewing pockets of resistance: On queer sense of craft
It’s Christmas season, which rhymes with consumption. Under the trees this year, tons of manufactured products we bought here and there, in a lack of time or energy for anything else. Capitalism made everything fast, everything big, everything more, leaving a trail of destruction. Its first victim was surely craftmanship: the handmade practice some may call the queer stepchild of fine art. Gendered then rejected by the art world establishment and put off by mass production, craft has recently been embraced as a feminist and queer art practice.
As a form of re-appropriation of what has been devalued, craft offers a means of expression, but also of communication, to ourselves and others. In today’s world, crafting is a practice of resistance that deserves to be explored and needs to be esteemed.
Saël and Solène are two artists working with distinct mediums yet connected through their craft practice. One works with beads, the other with thread, and both talk to us today about their art and their relationship to craft in all its different aspects.
Saël started creating jewelry two years ago after going to London to study metal jewelry making. During the lockdown, they started beading, creating unique pieces of jewelry by stringing all kinds of different beads together. Solène learned knitting as a child from their nanny, then crocheting from a family member. Quickly obsessed with the practice, they now create a wide range of clothes and accessories, all through crocheting. For Solène, doing something with their hands is a stress reliever. It helps with focusing, so much that they would crochet during classes, but also with processing intense emotions. Saël also finds a therapeutic side to their beading practice from taking the time to create something. Their favorite part, bead-hunting for unique beads, is as fun as it is relaxing. Craft as a therapeutic activity is nothing new and has been used as a self-treating process for decades. Yet this aspect is often overlooked and trivialized, a loss when its usage appears increasingly important in a world where each has less and less time to dedicate to a crafting practice.
Besides its healing aspect, craft can also be a means of reclaiming your body, in a practice that is first and foremost a personal one. At first, when they started to crochet tops, Solène was unable to wear them due to gender dysphoria. It’s through the constant practice of creating clothes for others, but also the ability to make bespoke clothes that they slowly reclaimed their body. Manufactured clothes are structurally unable to meet each people’s needs when it comes to how they can and want to dress, and craft offers the possibility of adaptability, and thus singularity and individuality. But this act of crafting is not just individual, it’s also collective: Craft is a much more human process. It creates connection and allows inclusivity by making each piece unique. It’s an aspect cherished by Saël, whose jewelry aims to enhance each person's beauty but also to support them, to give them strength whether it is physical or mental.
However those possibilities are limited by material means, and buying crafted items is not something everyone can splurge on. Capitalism has turned craftsmanship into something that only the rich can afford. Yet despite those limitations, craft artists put effort and imagination to close this gap within their means, trying to create within yet against capitalism. Saël turned to beads instead of metal jewelry because of their accessibility, mixing new and upcycled beads made out of glass, stone, ceramic, plastic, and wood. Running their online website, they try to charge as little as possible for shipping and they offer a 10% discount for BIPOC. Even as a small business, they try to think about those who have a harder time affording handmade jewelry, even offering free repair if the piece is returned to them.
Hence, craft artists need support, both structural and communal. Their work needs recognition as an art form, and their legitimacy should never be questioned. If we are used to 10 dollars tops and 5 euros rings, the price of handmade pieces should never be contested: we have simply been badly accustomed. So for this Christmas and the next, try to think about your local craft artists before heading to the department store!
 “Craft has been long considered the queer stepchild of fine art.”, John Chaich, 2014.
Solene's Instagram here
Illustration by Francesco Ciccolella and images courtesy of the artist