Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

WorldCon: Traditional Women's Crafts and Fantasy

Traditional Women's Crafts and Fantasy
Cynthia Gonsalves, Emily Wagner, Catherynne Valente
There's always a woman who weaves beautifully, a goodwife who can dye like a dream, and maybe even a spinning wheel. But what are these crafts really like? What goes into them? How do you write them plausibly? How do you create the kind of society that supports these activities. And how does gender fit into all of this?

These are notes for about 60 of the 90 minutes.

Wagner: original concept for panel was folklore, fairy tales, fantasy, and how disrespected in SF; is a knitter, spinner, librarian-in-waiting

Valente (catvalente): novelist; _Girl Who Circumnavigated . . . _ has lots of crafts; knitter via Wagner, trying to learn to spin but suck at it (Wagner: not just you), also beads

Gonsalves: knitter (thanks to Kate Yule, "my enabler"), got interested in spinning a few WisCons ago, seeing someone with a dowel & CD; "put the drop in drop-spindle," drops it 3-4 times an hour; a particular wheel is taunting her that her friends find very meditative, looms ditto

Wagner: disclaimer, going to say things like women's work & women's craft, don't believe in women's sphere, shorthand for "have been traditionally considered". Started thinking about since Nippon 2007, really interested in some of ways women's crafts & work get used in fairy tales & folklore but also in modern novels, especially ways subverted into forms of power. Obvious examples Rumpelstiltskin; Hansel & Gretel, where witch actually bakes house

Valente: actually wrote story literally about baking of house and how learned to do and how & why would build

Wagner: in traditional story, stereotype sweet-cookie baking grandma gone completely upside-down

Gonsalves: never got good explanation when growing up what Sleeping Beauty got hurt on; long sharp needle called distaff holds unspun fiber, in a walking wheel, push & hold spun fiber, and as she was walking hit distaff

[I may have garbled this because I don't know spinning except the kind of wheel you sit at that was in my grandmother's house]

Wagner: could also have been that walking wheel was a quill wheel, wrapping around pointy thing instead a bobbin; it's a big argument

Valente: thing fascinates not that got hurt but that father destroyed all wheels, economic disaster must've wrecked country

[note to self here: _Spindle's End_, McKinley, in which instead king commands no spindle have point thinner than forefinger of three-month-old baby, and spinners have to learn to spin a new way; new ends become art form in and of themselves eventually. Also lot of talking about magic as craft.]

Gonsalves: when did wheel kick in?

audience: 1600; walking wheels 1300-1400

Gonsalves: book called _Women's Work_, which I believe is by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (at least cover on Amazon looks like what I remember)

before wheel, had to hand-spin things and damn slow

string one of greatest technological revolutions

in way, could contribute economy within home

men's support of cloth arts: Egypt, laundry done by men, huge interlocking webs

Valente: no work in-and-of-self oppressive, but would give up spinning for the vote; complexity of work still denigrated, women are cooks, men are chefs

Wagner: women knitted in home, men had a guild and were master knitters, exactly same stitches

audience: just in folklore?

panel: no socially

Valente: long maintained that fairy tales are stories by and for women, end in marriage but still women's hero's journey, very often pass through crafts; one of most common ways to indicate magic is that things are made out of things not supposed to be

audience: Cinderella's shoes weren't glass, mistranslation of fur

Valente: yes, that's a theory, but don't actually think so, glass was impossibly precious at the time, and like idea better

audience: also fur would stretch

Gonsalves: also quesiton of when see what have to do, spin fiber, prepare yarn, put on loom, weave, then Cinderella getting lavish gown [is really special, I think]

Valente: Donkeyskin requests dresses, delay seems pointless to us because just a day to get but actual time would be huge. classic example of women's craft power is the Fates. Athenian women were literally not allowed to leave the home, veiled: citizenship required both parents, so crackdown on women--but Fates more powerful than Zeus. To assign that kind of work of them, acknowledge that what controls rhythm of daily life is what happens in home

Wagner: related to / opposite: Furies, bad women who don't do any of those activities

Valente: one of words to describe someone civilized in Greek is "one who eats bread"

Gonsalves: book cited had interesting bits about Penelope & Helen; spindles of gold (something missed because dropped PDA)

Valente: sacrificing dresses to gods was huge sacrifice

we do these things because get pleasure from, can't believe didn't get pleasure in historical times even though maybe less because had to; creative expression, soothing, etc.; not household work like laundry sloughing skin off

Gonsalves: "goodwife" description in colonial times

Valente: class marker in society today, not cheaper to make own clothes by long shot

audience: but altering thrift clothing is cheaper

Wagner: time cost?

Valente: one of tactics that people used to use, plan to use: kids sweater, unravel & re-knit as grow

audience: in podcast, story about somebody's grandmother in China, unravel and reknit every summer because redistributed the wear

Valente: how this information gets transmitted in the modern age, my grandmothers don't knit, lost knowledge in my family, taught by peers

Gonsalves: did learn from her grandmother but didn't knit until her mother taught her

Wagner: almost entirely taught self books, Internet

Valente: community of knowledge on Internet tremendous, 'net as village & tribe that takes care of each other

audience: friend taught how to knit, see more people her age knitting, mother didn't understand, could buy clothes

Gonsalves: say same about socks

Valente: mom disappointed in her because 1970s feminist

Wagner: analogy, have restaurants and takeout but we still have kitchens and cooking

Valente: Maine always very economically depressed, very strong local food movement for that reason; started preserving & canning; first time in life have pantry full of things that she made, makes really happy to look at, things she imagined and created, made chutney with fiance on anniversary

Gonsalves: want nieces & nephews in 4H to get a sheep, nevermind these cows etc.

Valente: bring around to fantasy, learning craft = postapocalyptic skills, will need people stashing yarn 10 years; missing from SF

Wagner: Battlestar Galatica, no-one knows how to make shoes but boots are fabulous

aud: Wagner's promised rant?

Wagner: that's pretty much it, post-apocalyptic or planets that have severed connections to other worlds, authors haven't considered where material goods come from; except _Zahrah the Windseeker_ by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Valente: use refined sugar to preserve things, on any of those planets, they're not going to have

audience: objected, can do barley for sugar

Wagner: that's my point, authors don't think about; did it right, Anne McCaffrey Pern, don't need whole chapters but does make part of daily life of people, Tanner's Guild for belt etc.

Valente: and when go to house in fantasy novels, women never doing anything, houses should be in constant industry

Gonsalves: little girls spinning all the time

Valente: knitting great way to teach kids to count

name Melissa = honey bee, model for woman in Ancient Greece, sexless & work constantly

audience: friend calls her Zarina the future Apocalypse, grows everything self all the way through to preservation

audience: these kinds of skills fit more into economy based on barter systems, see that in fiction?

Valente: think in much science fiction, cultures with replicators & otherwise removed need; think that when Industrial Revolution came, cottage industry disappeared; now not barter economy but a lot of cottage industries (Etsy); small personal industries very viable in sf & f

audience followup: seeing it as a bit of a movement now, trading babysitting for knitted items

Valente: interesting example, women's work not considered to have monetary value; wouldn't swap knitting for scallops

Wagner: also coming back right now as indicator for economic situation, research says tends to happen a lot in recession; also partly to do with Internet

Valente: retreating to cottage industry certainly reaction to corporate layoffs, faceless time in mid-90s

audience followup: hard to get bizarre inflationary effects in barter economy

me: Paul Krugman's solo talk cited a babysitting coop where people were hanging to their coupons in case they wanted to go out sometime later and everything ground to halt (lack of liquidity). Also may not sell handcrafts because of social norms that do these things as gifts, also because putting actual monetary value on time spent would make price much too high

audience: Potlatch (Wikipedia), what con named after

Gonsalves: hobbit birthday presents

Wagner's mom in audience:: think skips at least a couple generations

Wagner: but it depends

Wagner's mom: watched her mom & grandmother can foods, sweat pouring down faces all day, said never doing that; in post-apocalyptic world she's done for in a minute, only saw hard work not love in a jar

Valente: not necessary for me to do so can look at in romantic way

Wagner: really just depends, tastes, family dynamics, backgrounds

Valente: you're right in that our generation seems to have obassesion with artisan crafts, taking food & knitting to geekiness; she thinks totally normal for women in 20s to knit, but her dad's friends freak because she knits (not because she has a nose piercing & goes to SF cons)

Gonsalves: I'm old enough to be their mom

Valente: many of friends are older, of my cultural generation and parents are not

audience: question about SF: any examples of crafting outside of post-apocalyptic

Valente: the Traveler? series Piers Anthony, monk leaving planet with shipment of spinning wheels [Google is not being helpful on this one]

Wagner: not read but had recommended as half getting right is Alan Steele's Coyote series, really thought about where some of materials come from

Gonsalves: Suzette Elgin Haden, linguistic women trying to reformat society over knitting

Wagner: read article about when first working on spaceships, all code was literally woven & knitted into wires (BBC news website)

audience: textile & technology same root; computer as Jacquard looms is closest analogy; Babbage difference engine

Valente: techne is root word technology, only exists in opposition, made versus born, very interesting

Gonsalves: born, what about grown?

Valente: _The Poetics_ is a trip

audience: SF & post-apocalypse & knitting: imagine people with four arms & four eyes, knit & bead at same time

Valente: (having looked it up) textile does not come from techne, not related, though cool logic chain

[a bit of an argument with the audience member who insists that she is right, despite Valente having the Internet and an academic background in classics]

audience: Arachne & web, weaving, spiders: weird because would think weaving would be good thing, but weaving has negative connotation in society; play out in SF at all?

Gonsalves: why else call it World Wide Web?

Valente: think psychology different, spider weaving is beautiful but bad because she was proud

audience: folklore or fairytale examples with spinning or needlework

Wagner: lots; Seven Swans (sister knit garments for brothers turned into swans to turn back); Ariadne & Labryinth; Golden Fleece; Medea poisoned dress

Gonsalves: trying to widen away from Western Europe, descriptions of cloth in _Tale of Genji_, huge

Wagner: American Indian, Grandmother Spider wove basket to get to sun & get to next world, maybe Navajo

Valente: Chang-o & multicolored dress & Moon [not sure I heard this right, or maybe I'm just using the wrong search keywords]

Gonsalves: weaving, dyeing; color as status

audience: in Celtic cultures, more colors in clothes, more status

Gonsalves: sumptary laws in Britain

Unfortunately this is when I could no longer ignore that I was feeling really sick and I left.

Tags: anticipation 2009, con reports, cons, worldcon

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  • Fallen London: Cider Party!

    Hey FL players: Seeking Mr Eaten's Name is back, it's complete, and it allows you to render your character permanently unplayable. I'm planning to do…

  • for the Fallen London players

    I have purchased Hesperidean Cider (fifth known person to buy it in-game!) and will send out sips of it on request. Possession of Cider allows you…

  • drive-by Fallen London post

    There's very cool new content in your Lodgings (edit: now the "A Visit" card) and a (new) opportunity card, a conversation with the Wry Functionary;…