A Makerspace of Our Own
With maker methodologies gaining popularity in the humanities, how might we imagine queer feminist investments in and engagements with making? What do queer feminist approaches to making look like in academic environments where entrepreneurial maker movements extend the optimistic promise of transforming education through pedagogies of “invent to learn?” Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are slowly becoming STEAM (STEM + Art), and “innovation” will supposedly rescue the increasingly obsolescent humanities for a future of corporate universities. In a landscape of knowledge production where institutional resources are up for grabs for some kinds of work and as constricted as ever for others, what counts as “making” is highly contested. The hierarchies of value that manage divisions of scholarly and artistic labor also adjudicate which forms of making matter.
To elaborate on these issues, this chapter showcases a series of Interactive Textiles workshops that I ran in the spring of 2014 in the Women’s Studies Multimedia Studio at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). The Multimedia Studio is a multipurpose room where members of the campus community can explore how the politics of making are entangled with gender, race, sexuality, class, and ability. Connecting these small, intimate workshops to my research and pedagogy, I demonstrate how attention to practices of queer feminist cultural production not only deepens our understandings of why making matters to the humanities but also expands narrow definitions of “the digital.” Such expansion makes digital humanities work legible by determining what is digital enough for a capital-letter “DH” project. I argue that, rather than producing “things,” the activities in the Women’s Studies Multimedia Studio produce space for modes of thought that put pressure on what matters in digital humanities scholarship and teaching. Theorizing how making practices shape, and are shaped by, complex identities and forms of power enables us to use digital humanities methods toward transformative ends, reverse engineering and hacking the hierarchies that structure our thinking about technology and culture. The necessity of feminist, queer, and antiracist spaces for making in the midst of the buzz around entrepreneurship and innovation cannot be underestimated. Such spaces can help us to critically assess how these discourses differently privilege or disadvantage us depending on our social locations and also notice and value how people who are marginalized or oppressed have historically needed to be innovators, entrepreneurs, and hackers of daily life in order to survive, inventing and appropriating specific making practices to cohere their communities and nourish their creativity with few resources.
Since its establishment in 2011 by composer, sound artist, and electronic music historian Tara Rodgers, the Multimedia Studio has hosted numerous classes, events, and workshops, bringing together transdisciplinary audiences from across the University of Maryland campus and beyond. It acts as both the digital hub of the Women’s Studies department and a bridge between Women’s Studies and Design Cultures and Creativity (DCC, formerly Digital Cultures and Creativity), a living-learning honors college in which students collaboratively explore issues in emerging media through access to labs in their dormitory that facilitate a workshop-style curriculum. The unique and evolving relationship between the honors college and the department brings together DCC’s emphasis on cutting-edge digital technologies with Women’s Studies’ focus on social justice, intersectionality, and feminist arts activisms. The Studio provides undergraduate and graduate students in Women’s Studies and the College of Arts and Humanities the opportunity to engage with the analytical and hands-on tools of cultural production, while also piquing DCC students’ interest in Women’s Studies courses, feminist science and technology studies, and queer and antiracist artists and theorists. While most of the Studio’s equipment is oriented toward the production of sound and high-quality audio, the space also serves as both an informal gathering spot for those who are investigating the relationships between technology, media, and culture and a home for a grassroots collection of resources such as zines, books, and films about feminist art- and media-making, digital or otherwise.
As the graduate student coordinator for the Studio between 2013 and 2015, I regularly held sessions of my Introduction to Women’s Studies: Women, Art, and Culture class in the space. I also organized zine workshops, a pop-up makerspace for the Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching institute held by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), and regular meetings of the Multimodal Working Group with graduate student colleagues in Women’s Studies, American Studies, and English. While facilitating the use of the Studio by students and faculty, I was immensely privileged to be able to use it as a laboratory for my own dissertation research as, over the course of my graduate career, my interests shifted from the cultures surrounding do-it-yourself (DIY) zine production to the connections between self-proclaimed maker movements and contemporary fiber craft as practiced by queer artists. I thought about myself in relationship to the Studio’s activities as a participant-observer involved in the development of a queer feminist praxis, taking notes and reflecting on what was happening there, photographing events, periodically sketching maps and plans, and talking to various stakeholders formally and informally about what they desired from the Studio and what could be improved. Such forms of witnessing are invaluable for not only the university administration and management of makerspaces and other community-oriented initiatives but also the use of making as a method in the humanities, combining experimental fabrication processes with writing and research practices that are already familiar to humanists. I draw on my experience teaching classes and leading workshops in the Multimedia Studio to show how, with relatively few resources in comparison to high-tech makerspaces on campus, making as a methodology came to matter. What, then, can a queer feminist framework of making that originates in Women’s Studies tell us about what is valued, explicitly and implicitly, in digital humanities?
The Women’s Studies Multimedia Studio is not explicitly a makerspace or hackerspace; it is both something more and something less. A 28’–by-16’ wheelchair-accessible room located in a separate building from the departmental office proper, its high ceiling, two tall windows, and bright red soundproofing panels offset the institutional atmosphere created by the fluorescent lighting and beige cinderblock walls. The presence of an old orangey couch, a coffee table, and a long shelving unit lend a lounge-like feel to the room, and the two desktop Mac computers, drum kit, and electronic keyboard suggest that the space is something different from a classroom. Although DCC students use it as a “studio” in a more traditional sense — as a space for the practice and production of music — I am interested in how the uses of the Multimedia Studio can value these older modes of media production associated with the fine arts and creative industries while also making space, quite literally, for newer trajectories of practice that are currently emerging from maker movements and digital humanities. Here, I think through how practices of knitting and crochet draw attention to feminized forms of creativity, and how these and other fiber crafts might open avenues into queer feminist making in the humanities.
A small but growing literature about makerspaces and hackerspaces run by feminists, queers, and people of color reveals that gender, sexuality, race, and class are fraught issues in contemporary maker cultures. While little of this work focuses on university spaces, it nevertheless provides useful insights into everyday forms of political praxis, demonstrating a range of approaches to making that are committed to or animated by social justice. Most relevant for my purposes is Sarah Fox, Rachel Rose Ulgado, and Daniela K. Rosner’s “Feminist Hackerspaces: Hacking Culture, Not Devices” (2015), whose authors interviewed the organizers of feminist hackerspaces on the West Coast of the United States. They argue that hacking is “a technological imaginary, a set of deeply held ideas and norms subject to failures and partial readings” (1). By not defining “hacking” purely in terms of dismantling and modifying technological devices, the authors and their participants show how the practice is embedded in the labor of craft as well as the shaping of feminist identities (6–7). This is a welcome approach in which “hacking practice becomes less about the resulting products . . . than the cultural shifts they engender” (12). Such a model of hacking, and making more broadly, is particularly useful for humanities research that examines the values and assumptions built into the technologies we use as well as the cultures that produced them.
In describing the Interactive Textiles workshop series below, I retain Fox, Ulgado, and Rosner’s attention to the cultural, spatial, and craft practices that shape feminist spaces for making. Spaces such as the Women’s Studies Multimedia Studio can foster critical interventions into digital humanities by redefining the digital through transdisciplinary praxis. Having a makerspace of our own — a space dedicated to the production of feminist, queer, and antiracist knowledge through the making of art and media — matters in the imagining of multiple futures for digital humanities.
Interactive Textiles and Transdisciplinary Making in the Humanities
Craft processes such as knitting and crochet traverse disciplinary boundaries. They are the subjects of art history, folk, computational, and feminist discourses as well as practical methods for making in the arts and humanities. They can help us access forms of creative knowledge that have been feminized and devalued as well as industrialized, outsourced, and made invisible. These marginalized, hybrid knowledges are the basis of the queer feminist pedagogy that I attempt to practice in and outside the Women’s Studies classroom, and which I brought to the Interactive Textiles workshop series with DCC students. A queer feminist approach to making centered in craft — in this case fiber crafts — opens fissures of meaning in “the digital” and confronts our assumptions around what the term encompasses.
The Interactive Textiles workshops had two goals: to allow computer science and engineering students to explore, in a low-stakes environment, methods of making to which they may not have been exposed, and to provoke questions about how the meanings attached to the kinds of making that we practice today are collectively negotiated in relationship to gender, race, sexuality, and class. The series focused on the labor of fiber crafts, the people we associate with such labor, and the materiality of the media involved in the making of wearable technologies. Although Interactive Textiles was advertised as a “design camp” (one of several working groups from which DCC students choose each semester), I assumed that participants would know more about the language and technical aspects of design than I did. I also knew that this particular set of honors students had little exposure to the vocabulary of feminist, queer, or critical race theories outside of their required electives and that, because many of them had taken a full complement of Advanced Placement exams before enrolling at UMD, they might be less likely to take more humanities courses beyond requirements they had already met. I therefore needed to use widely accessible examples of art activism to get participants interested, while also challenging them to think beyond disciplinary frameworks that value high-tech approaches, sleek and streamlined design, and neatly packaged solutions.
The paragraph-length workshop descriptions included in the Google calendar that students used to register for the design camps emphasized open-ended exploration of a range of tools and materials, prototyping as an iterative routine, and the basic techniques and terminology of knitting and crochet. Each of the workshops was meant to stand on its own, covering a different aspect of designing with textiles and culminating in the third and final session on prototyping wearable technology using the LilyPad Arduino, an open-source hardware platform designed by Leah Buechley and the High-Low Tech group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. Importantly, I centered the workshops in craft practices rather than physical computing, with which DCC students already have some experience. By making the series less about creating a finished product with the LilyPad and more about the processes of textile work, I sought to resist the fetishization of digital technologies evident in both the mainstream maker movement and digital humanities. I also wanted to reorient the participants’ attention toward ancient crafts whose relatively recent association with femininity and amateurism has caused them to be undervalued and overlooked. Avoiding the uncritical celebration of the digital that dominates discussions of wearables and the Internet of Things, I focused on how wearable technology is not new, and how advances in textiles and fashion industries have always driven technological innovation. This approach was reflected in the decision to use the language of “interactive textiles” rather than “electronic textiles,” highlighting how textiles are already interactive without the addition of circuitry or hardware. We interact with textiles in their construction, manipulating them with our fingers or “digits,” but they also interact with us in everyday ways that we often fail to notice: keeping us warm and dry, bringing aesthetic pleasure (and other feelings) to the public and private spaces we inhabit, creating interfaces between our bodies and everyone else, and revealing much about the gendered, racialized, sexual, and classed ways we move through the world.
The workshops thus engaged the category of “the digital” on craft’s terms, challenging participants to repeatedly ask, “why ‘digital’?” and “‘digital’ how?” In the queer feminist pedagogy I am prototyping, craft is praxis — an epistemological framework from which to approach the meanings of design and fabrication and a method for making textiles and other real objects. Craft, as one approach to making in the humanities, invites us to consider what we want digital technologies to do in combination with much older and still ubiquitous modes of cultural production. Such a combination can foster in our students an attitude toward technology that is both curious and critical, better equipping them to live and work in a world that is increasingly mediated by networked quantification, surveillance, and “smart” objects incessantly gathering data.
The Interactive Textiles workshops drew between four and six participants from DCC. I provided them with a Dropbox folder with two recommended readings: Betsy Greer’s short essay, “Craftivist History” (2011), on her use of the term craftivism, and Maria Elena Buszek’s interview with Margaret Wertheim, “Crochet and the Cosmos” (2011), on the creation of the Crochet Coral Reef (2005–), one of the largest distributed crafting projects in the world. In my brief presentations I drew on the creative place-making practices of yarn bombing, guerilla knitting, and other forms of craftivism to give a sense of how fiber crafts are being used to expose and subvert the hierarchies of value that determine what counts as art. I also gave an overview of how artists are utilizing computing, visualization and modeling, and digital fabrication to transform their craft-based processes, and vice versa.
Building on lesson plans about feminist art movements developed for Introduction to Women’s Studies: Women, Art, and Culture, I asked participants to describe the associations they have with craft. They conjured familiar images: dried pasta and string necklaces attached to the contentious term “arts and crafts,” ageist and bourgeois stereotypes of “spinsters” and “little old ladies” with houses full of decorative lace doilies and tea cozies, and crocheted thrift store afghans in garish colors. These comments confirm that some fiber crafts are intimately entangled in the domestic as the overdetermined site where white, middle-class femininity is responsible for propping up the nuclear family and the nation’s racial order. At the same time, fiber and other indigenous and ethnic craft practices have been plundered by colonial regimes, anthropologists, and museums, constructing some cultural traditions as the primitive others to Western art history or precursors to modern modes of making. To counter the stereotypical notions of craft that students bring with them to workshop or classroom spaces, I drew examples from the growing body of work by queer studio crafters such as Sheila Pepe, Allyson Mitchell, L. J. Roberts, Josh Faught, Aubrey Longley-Cook, and John Paradiso, some of whom do not just make art but also theorize and write about the relationship between art, craft, sexuality, and gender. Using craft’s excessive baggage for their own purposes, these artists mobilize the multiple meanings of the term to bring gendered labor, trans embodiment, and queer subjectivities into public spaces while challenging hegemonic definitions of art. Thus, in Interactive Textiles as in the Women’s Studies classroom, gender, race, sexuality, and class formed the core of our conversations about “good” and “bad” taste, gentrification and domesticity, and creative labor in and beyond art worlds. In the context of my classes, I used these issues to anchor analysis of museums, collecting practices, and controversies over public arts funding.
After a discussion of the tools and terminologies of knitting and crochet, grounded in the assortment of materials I brought with me, we used finger knitting and crocheted chains to understand the structure of the most basic stitches. Finger and arm knitting are accessible methods for quickly creating knitted rope and fabric without using needles. They require no specialized tools or skills; the loops that make up individual knit stitches are wrapped around the fingers or arms with any kind of yarn and pulled through one another by hand. Online tutorials are numerous; and, once the basic steps of finger knitting are mastered, making large lengths of knitted rope in under an hour is easy. Because finger knitting is frequently taught to children, many students realize that they have done it before or that they are able to teach it to their peers. Its simplicity, however, does not make it any less “real” or “authentic” than traditional forms of knitting; it is a variation on the process. Similarly, its ability to elicit childlike pleasure does not make it any less valuable as a teaching tool. On the contrary, such pleasure frequently surprises students, especially those who adamantly insist that they are not “creative” or “artistic” or have anxiety around “being bad at crafts.” The fun and instant gratification of these activities can build confidence and generate curiosity about more complex or difficult processes, while evoking questions about how we were steered toward or away from specific kinds of making over the course of our lives. How is it that certain forms of creativity become more or less available to us, as gendered, racialized, sexual, and classed subjects of various ages and abilities? How is it that we come to see some types of making as valuable while others seem childish, silly, or useless? In workshops as well as humanities classrooms, embracing what is fun and playful about making spurs deeper inquiries about cultural and aesthetic values.
The Interactive Textiles workshops built on these activities, using knitting looms to think about what sort of objects could be made from knitted fabric. We also talked about different gauges or weights of yarn, the difference between synthetic and natural fibers and their consequences for projects, and the use of other materials, especially “plarn,” plastic yarn made by cutting plastic shopping bags into strips, loops, or long spirals, which can be used as is or lightly knotted together and rolled into a ball. Plarn is an abundant, versatile, yet finicky material, somewhat prone to breaking.
Neither a classroom nor a lab, the Multimedia Studio provided a meeting ground for the transdisciplinary perspectives of Women’s Studies and DCC and allowed for freeform discussions during materials and tool exploration. The small size of the workshops made the series feel like an experimental knitting circle; the participants were openly curious about the possible end results of techniques they had never tried. The looms removed some of the intimidation around learning to use knitting needles, and the plarn lowered the stakes of failure because it is such an ordinary and forgiving material, helpful for reusing large quantities of plastic bags that easily become trash. This reuse sparked a conversation around “sustainability” as a buzzword, the effectiveness of ecological activism, and what constitutes an environmental approach to making. We also had a lively discussion about the Institute for Figuring’s Crochet Coral Reef project, to which over eight thousand women have contributed crocheted “corals” to be exhibited at museums and galleries around the world in order to raise awareness of coral reef destruction due to pollution and global warming. The project has not only “allowed the entry of housewives and prisoners, as well as scientists, mathematicians and skilled crafters, into some of the most prestigious venues on Earth” (Wertheim and Wertheim 23) but also engaged, via craft, enormous numbers of people in collectively reimagining the conditions for sustaining life on our planet. Donna Haraway (2015) describes the project as an “SF worlding,” writing, “The Crochet Coral Reef is palpable, polymorphous, terrifying and inspiring stitchery done with every sort of fiber and strand, looped by thousands of people in dozens of nations, who come together to stitch care, beauty and response-ability in play tanks” (11).
The Crochet Coral Reef exemplifies the kinds of questions I hoped the Interactive Textiles series would provoke. Christine Wertheim (2015), one of the creators of the Institute for Figuring, writes, “Crochet reefs are the products of a digital technology” (90). Tracing the history of the digital from the fingers or digits to classical numerals and contemporary binary computation, Wertheim argues that there has been a “mental erasure about [the digital’s] roots in the human body. Enfolded within this transformation is both an amnesia and a wider story of conceptual blindness that continues to limit our understanding and appreciation of traditions generally seen as ‘feminine’” (90). She goes on to show how “digital crafts,” such as knitting, crochet, weaving, lacemaking, and others, rely on iteration, algorithms, and written or visual code, elements usually associated with high-tech devices but which compose the patterns that comprise crafted objects: “By playing through the code, the crafter brings an object into being” (90). Fiber crafts materially encode information in their media and structure — they matter.
Wertheim’s essay counters the popular assumption that feminine handicrafts are mindless simply because they are repetitive or may be derived from instructions, and that they are frivolous because their aesthetics might be categorized as “decorative,” a classification used to dismiss women’s creativity as not being serious, substantial, or conceptually rigorous. Furthermore, her use of “digital technology” to describe crochet and other feminized fiber crafts leaves room for a rather queer reading of the digital, defamiliarizing it by reminding us of its forgotten origins in the body while also asserting that technologies are multiple, dynamic, and cultural rather than only computational. Her insistence on these terms is not mere associative punning or wordplay; it is a feminist project of reclamation and revaluing. By drawing connections between crochet, biology, mathematics, physics, and computer science, Wertheim and her collaborators subvert the hierarchies of value that keep these domains separate.
In doing so, Wertheim offers a compelling argument for the practice of craft as a method for making in the humanities. In craft, she writes, “activities often theorized as mutually exclusive are performed simultaneously: reading and doing, thinking and making, learning about a structure while materially embodying it” (90). She and her sister Margaret (2015), cofounder of the Institute, claim that “most Crochet Reefers eschew formal patterns” and prefer instead “a kind of material play, constructing organically with their hands while drawing on a library of algorithms they come to know in their fingers as well as in their brains. Such digital intelligence mediates a process of figuring in which knowledge resides in both body and mind” (Wertheim and Wertheim 21, emphasis in original). Craft’s ability to break down the Cartesian mind-body dualism is frequently noted in theories of multidisciplinary craft, and its capacity to playfully undermine binaries makes it an intriguing companion for queer theorists. Ann Cvetkovich (2012), writing about craft in the context of the politics of depression, femininity, and queer artistic production, extends this premise in a slightly different direction: “Crafting is about a way of being in the world that requires not just knowledge but practice” (168). For Cvetkovich, craft’s embodied performativity provides a powerful antidote to reductive oppositions between consumerism and feminism, aesthetics and activism, complicity and resistance. As she argues, “Engaged in a deep dialogue with women’s culture through forms of practice that perform thinking by doing, crafting self-consciously questions what constitutes feminism and what constitutes the political” (168). Fiber crafts thus enable a “thinking by doing” that links STEM fields, arts and humanities, and movements for social justice.
How might humanities practitioners cultivate the kind of digital intelligence that the Wertheims and Cvetkovich describe? What kinds of labor would this cultivation require of educators? Humanities makerspaces and activities like those explored during Interactive Textiles offer space to develop craft knowledge alongside and through the frameworks of transdisciplinary fields and, importantly, the time to understand that learning is an ongoing, embodied practice that cannot be confined to the quarter, semester, or academic year. While the workshops offered opportunities beyond shallow dabbling in a process, even a months-long project did not provide enough time to inculcate craft as a habitual practice among students who already possessed high levels of technical expertise. For making to be integrated into the humanities, especially when it involves time- and labor-intensive practices such as fiber crafts, we must not only rethink the environments where learning happens but also the timeframes across which it unfolds. We also need to consider how, though immensely valuable, DIY approaches to pedagogy often put the burden of materials and tools provision on the instructor, even when an institutionally supported space such as the Women’s Studies Multimedia Studio is available for use. Integrating making into the humanities behooves us to find new ways to support precarious academic labor by, for example, graduate students and adjunct faculty who, given time, resources, and fair compensation, could be educational innovators. Being entrepreneurial within corporatizing universities is incumbent on precarious laborers, who also have the most to lose in deviating from the curricular status quo. As both a graduate student and adjunct who has had to be resourceful in teaching craft as a method, I am all too aware that our understandings of and attitudes toward academic labor need to change if digital humanities are to be truly transformative of our teaching and learning.
The future of digital humanities is not a given. As we have seen in the long-standing debates over naming, origin stories, field formation, boundary work, and inclusion that are taking place in the panels of national conferences, on the pages (and screens) of major publications, and in the hallways between offices and classrooms, the “big tent” of digital humanities and what it encompasses have never been clear. We might take comfort in this fact, as it means we do not have to settle for a metaphor evoking containment, bigness, circus performance, or lofty prowess. Instead, what other habitats might we craft for the future of our digital work? What kinds of homes or dwelling places, to reference the domesticities that haunt the craft practices I describe here, do we want to construct for digital humanities? I have argued that spaces such as the Women’s Studies Multimedia Studio at the University of Maryland make room for transdisciplinary praxis and reimagine the digital technologies we value. They also reorient digital humanities to different subjects and subjectivities, different bodies, different tools and media, and different practices of knowledge production. In Interactive Textiles, participants and I were able to attend to craft and thus to texture, messiness, softness, touch, embodiment, entanglement, slowness — a queerer version of the “digital” than one designed to be sleek and smooth, clean, cold, quick, and impersonal. This is not to say that one should, or ever could, supplant the other; indeed, my point is precisely that we need to make room for multiple versions of the digital, multiple ways of being digital humanists, and multiple modes of making because of the multiple worlds we inhabit.
The power to create capacious, undomesticated, queer futures for digital humanities, futures characterized by their plasticity and their possibilities instead of their predictability, is at our fingertips. Digital humanities offer more yarn to spin and more stories for the making. How we choose to do so matters.
1. Smith argues compellingly that, contrary to the discourse circulating in higher education, the humanities are not in crisis. Smith also demonstrates the inadequacy of the language of profit, cost, and “value” in describing humanities projects. During also offers a useful summary of common arguments “defending” the humanities from their perceived obsolescence and calls for less moralizing about the state of the humanities.
2. Here, I follow Bianco’s example, referring not to “the digital humanities” (or capital-letter DH) but digital humanities plural, sans the article. I use Bianco’s essay as a point of departure for my own inquiry into the politics and ethics of the institutionalization of making in the university, and the boundary work behind its naming. She asks, “What quick, concatenating, and centrifugal forces have so quickly rendered the many under the name of one, the digital humanities? What’s in this name, its histories, legacies, and privileged modalities that assert centrality over and against differentials?” (97).
3. I borrow the language of transformation from the #TransformDH collective, who use the radical and activist traditions associated with feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory and ethnic studies, and disability studies to think through and intervene in digital politics. Some of the founders of the collective write, “We wonder how digital practices and projects might participate in more radical processes of transformation — might rattle the poles of the big tent rather than slip seamlessly into it. To that end, we are interested in digital scholarship that takes aim at the more deeply rooted traditions of the academy: its commitment to the works of white men, living and dead; its overvaluation of Western and colonial perspectives on (and in) culture; its reproduction of heteropatriarchal generational structures” (Lothian and Phillips).
4. Many mainstream publications about gender, race, and sexuality in makerspaces take an “add and stir” approach to diversifying spaces that assumes that, simply by increasing the number of women, people of color, or queers in makerspaces, a culture of sexism, racism, and homophobia will be overturned. See, for example, Guthrie. Others, however, take a more nuanced approach to the issue of changing the masculinist and elitist environments of makerspaces. These include Henry, “The Rise of Feminist Hackerspaces and How to Make Your Own,” as well as Toupin, “Feminist Hackerspaces as Safer Spaces?”
5. This kind of fetishism is evident in the flagship publication of the maker movement, Make: Magazine, and its online platform (makezine.com), as well as its online store, Maker Shed. Make focuses on high-tech gadgetry by offering guides to complex and expensive projects that can be completed using CNC routers, 3-D printers, laser cutters, and even heavy-duty equipment more traditionally associated with construction and carpentry. In attempting to pander to a demographic who may not have access to or interest in these specialized technologies, Maker Media recently created Craft: Magazine, which prominently features women, fiber crafts, and projects for children and the home on the covers of its ten issues. Rather than recognizing the long-standing practical and conceptual connections between the maker movement and craft communities of practice, the creation of a new publication ostensibly marketed toward women only serves to further divorce craft from the nebulous category of “making,” explicitly associating craft with the feminine, the childish, and the domestic while also using craft purely as a marketing device. In the maker movement as in the art world, then, craft becomes supplementary to “the real thing,” in this case making.
6. Ryan writes, “It is a commonplace among archaeologists, anthropologists, and even historians that textiles and garments (and the construction of these) exist alongside other technologies that drive cultural change in all periods” (17). She argues, “Textile technologies drove the industrial revolution. In the early eighteenth century, textile industry inventions, such as the programmable mechanical loom developed by Basile Bouchon, Jacques de Vaucanson, and Joseph-Marie Jacquard, are today considered progenitors of the development of computer technologies and have become part of their mythos. As a record of change and material advancement, textiles and dress are intrinsically bound up with technological invention” (20).
7. Ryan parses the nomenclature of wearable technologies and writes that the terms “electronic textiles” and “e-textiles” often refer to “‘embedded technologies,’ the actual circuitry or devices worked into a garment or fabric” (96), which has found an industry niche in athletic wear.
8. I am grateful to Jarah Moesch, one of the graduate assistant instructors at DCC at the time of the workshops and a personal friend of mine, for her support of and feedback on the series, especially her suggestion of the phrase “interactive textiles” to name what I was trying to accomplish. Our conversations and ongoing collaboration critically shaped the workshops and my thinking on craft.
9. Greer defines craftivism broadly as a combination of crafting and activism. Juxtaposing the practices of craftivism with direct action and other traditional forms of protest, she writes, “As craftivists, we foment dialogue and thus help the world become a better place, albeit on a smaller scale than activists who organize mass demonstrations. . . . As craftivists, we are also permission-givers, helping to breathe life into artistic practices that some people may think are obsolete by showing their relevancy and poignancy” (Craftivism 124).
10. One excellent site for the exploration of the relationship between craft and computing is bitcraftlab.com, as well as its Twitter account, @bitcraftlab. Another fantastic resource is Kim A. Knight’s site for Fashioning Circuits, a project whose goals are “to explore the ways in which fashion and emerging media intersect and to work with community partners to introduce beginners to making and coding through wearable media.” In addition to thinking about knitting in relationship to coding, crafters, artists, and makers are combining animation, pixilation, and embroidery; using 3-D printing to create textiles out of plastic and other materials; and hacking or designing machines and software for knitting, embroidery, and weaving.
11. While her essay is not about art history, Nakamura’s “Indigenous Circuits” provides another critical perspective on the ways indigenous craft circulates and is transformed through cultural imperialism, showing how, in the 1960s, Navajo women were represented as the ideal laborers for manufacturing electronics because of their presumed “docility, manual dexterity, and affective investment in native craft” (921). She argues, “Indian-identified traits and practices such as painstaking attention to craft and an affinity for metalwork and textiles were deployed to position the Navajo on the cutting edge of a technological moment precisely because of their possession of a racialized set of creative cultural skills in traditional, premodern artisanal handwork” (925). Nakamura’s essay raises crucial questions about the relationships between craft, racialization, digital technologies, and labor, demonstrating that the creative value of craft practices can be marshaled in service of racial projects as well as technological innovations. Nakamura’s article was published several months after Interactive Textiles, or it would have been required reading.
12. There is now an extensive literature on queering craft (and crafting queerness), partially as a result of these artists’ work. Most useful for my purposes are Pepe; Roberts; and Auther. For more on how craft came to be seen as supplementary or inferior to art, see Auther, String Felt Thread; and Adamson, Thinking Through Craft.
14. Haraway uses “SF” to shorthand “string figures, science fact, science fiction, stitched fantasies and speculative fabulation” (11). Haraway describes parts of this formulation in a speech to the Science Fiction Research Association (2013), and Katie King adds “speculative feminisms” to the list in her essay, “A Naturalcultural Collection of Affections: Trandisciplinary Stories of Transmedia Ecologies Learning.”
15. While I do not have space to do so here, I want to read “the digital” through its queerest and most speculative associations. The digital, especially when understood in relationship to the hands, calls to mind same-sex and especially lesbian sexual practices such as fingering and fisting. Conceptualizing the digital in this manner could reorient us away from heteronormative understandings of sexual practice that focus myopically on binary sex and gender or genitalia, and toward Foucault’s famous formulation in the History of Sexuality Vol. I, of “bodies and pleasures” whose limitless combinations need not be restricted to simplistic understandings of the “truth” of sexual desire. In “Making Queer Love: A Kit of Odds and Ends,” I argue that craft is an erotic practice whose digital or handmade qualities can free us up for new ways of queering love.
16. I am grateful to Martha Nell Smith, whose repeated insistence that we “mind our metaphors” has fundamentally shaped my thinking about the politics of doing digital humanities work, and who pointed out to me that the metaphor of the “big tent” contains and sets limits around this work as much as it enables it.
Adamson, Glenn. Thinking Through Craft. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.
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