By Aoibhe Ní Shúilleabháin

When I was a young, impressionable girl of about 13 or so, I remember reading an article that aimed to explain why most of the geniuses of the past were men, with a very few notable exceptions. Leonardo, not Leonarda; Alexander Graham Bell, not Alexandra; Isaac Newton, not Isla.

The now long-forgotten author took pains to explain that the male mind was more likely to take risks, to dedicate a life to the pursuit of something which may, or may not become important. They were far less likely to have dependents who required their attention, were better suited to innovation through a mixture of determination and bravery, and that women were more likely to take the safe option, to stay at home, make do with the status quo, and muddle through with a completely different set of skills. The author imagined that women were better suited to repetitious work, artistic or scientific reproduction, following after the trail had been blazed. This article has stuck with me in the intervening years, and every time I pick up a hook I wonder if it was a man or a woman who first knotted a piece of yarn, string, hair, into the first crochet stitch.

Unfortunately, crochet’s history is shrouded in almost as much mystery as crochet itself is to some knitters. We may never know. But it recently struck me that it doesn’t matter.

What matters is what is going on now, and it’s very exciting. All over the world women are taking up hooks, and needles. They’re not just following patterns, they’re not only repeating what they have seen done before. Many new designers are cropping up like a field of mushrooms, producing new ways of crocheting, coming up with new ideas, and showing the world that fibre arts are not what they used to be. These designers are innovative, creative and most importantly of all, brave. They’re willing to show the product of their work, make it available for evaluation and are proud of their abilities. They’re starting up magazines, writing books, teaching others, making a living in their chosen field of expertise. They’re standing up, and breaking the mould.

As a rookie designer, I had no idea what to expect from my peers. I had tested the waters with one or two simple patterns, just to see how it felt to design and be recognised as a designer of crochet clothing. My reception was tepid – no queues of crafters formed at my door, demanding more! better! faster! – but no-one emerges fully-formed so that didn’t bother me at all. Then, I received a message asking if I’d be interested in submitting ideas for a new magazine that was hitting the UK. I was flattered, and a little blinded by my good fortune; I immediately said “Yes!”. And so, I went diving face-first into the world of professional design where I have learnt two very important things:

Firstly, crochet designers, the ones who have been at it for years are so supportive of new talent. They’ll give honest, and sometimes brutal, opinions, but they’ll always be helpful. They’re welcoming, will go out of their way to include unknowns in their own efforts and will give advise when asked. It’s an atmosphere that inspires, encourages and teaches, and to me that’s the best form of feminism. Competition is healthy and strong but refuses to be mean. There is little or no loud, raucous Girl Power here, just women helping women to be better. That isn’t to say that the men aren’t well represented. Far from it! With talent like Drew Emborsky and David Burchall it’s clear that not only are female designers all-inclusive, they’re delighted to see the view from the other side, to embrace new ideas, to completely include our artistic brothers.

Secondly, the image that is projected by these designers in their patterns is inspiring. Many of us Indy designers don’t hire professional models. We become jacks of all trades by necessity. Designer, Photographer, Set Designer, Model, and it’s the latter that I celebrate the most. All shapes, sizes, colours, ages are represented. All feminine, all real. That, to me, is the epitome of the feminist ideal and what a great impression it makes on girls and younger women! Instead of stick-insects, they’ll be seeing women with hips, thighs, and stomachs that are far from concave. They’ll be meeting people who can not only design and model, but who can also string coherent sentences together. It’s a legacy I hope will live on to inspire future designers and generations of women.

The most successful revolutions happen gradually, bit by bit over time. I’m confident that our bit is coming along very nicely.