My first foray into zine-making was when I was thirteen, under the advisory of a very talented punk rock friend who was light-years ahead of me in many ways, zine-making and otherwise. Shortly thereafter, all zine-related production on my part simply ended for the reason that I became a lazy — but crafty — teenager. Whenever I put my knitting needles down, I still loved reading zines but considered myself solely an active observer of zine culture, as opposed to an impassioned participant.
It took a few years for the two to find one another. While completing a BFA in a hyper-conceptual fiber arts program, I yearned for the dissemination of knowledge I was originally familiar with, that which existed outside of the institution. This desire to skill share again — coupled with my passion for the DIY movement and a firm belief that craft is political — transformed zines once again into an integral part of my adult life.
Now I pump out zines. I churn out sweaters. I have yet to make a zine about knitting sweaters, but it’s definitely on the agenda.
We live in a tricky time. People always remark to me about what a sweet era it seems to be for the craft movement. At first I feel my face light up, a smile surfaces, an emphatic “yesss” hisses out from between my lips like a balloon. But to continue with the metaphor, then my shoulders slump and my brow furrows: I’ve deflated.
The answer is yes and no.
The crafting movement has taken flight to fill bookstores with countless sleek and glossy so-called “DIY” books. Despite my love for zines, I obviously don’t have a problem with all published craft material; I’ve learned some invaluable skills from the likes of Elisabeth Zimmerman, a coveted knitting-writer who was published widely but always encouraged experimentation and growth outside the conventions of the craft genre.
However, in this time when crafting things yourself has regained popularity, there seems to be a distinct shift in the way that the handmade is represented within culture, reflected in the institutional media found on our shelves. The media uses the rhetoric of the DIY movement, yet fails to promote the self-sustaining attitude and alternative cycle of production/consumption so integral to the craft movement.
The situation extends far beyond the Martha-industrial-complex of hobbyists, to now informing popular aesthetics and taste. The visual language of the handmade is employed by ad agencies and shitty corporations alike to peddle their detrimental ideas and crappy goods to the masses. The pillaging of craft is just another catalyst for globalization.
But wait, it’s not so bad. An unpleasant situation like capitalist appropriation has also had the adverse and contrary effect of nurturing the real DIY movement and fostering a solid sense of community among crafters and zine-makers across North America. As always, people everywhere are mobilizing themselves to create zines, participate in fairs, and initiate critical discussion with their peers. And with the existence of online forums and websites (born out of craft popularity), artists and craftspeople can exploit the accessibility of the Internet to get their wares far out there. Nothing beats the thrill of packaging something and strolling over to your local post office. They can’t take that away from us.
I have one crochet book from the 1970s dedicated exclusively to making granny squares. What drew my attention to the large book were the totally endearing irregularities of each item photographed within the pages. There was a real honesty within the imperfect samples, an evidence of the had that was completely encouraging to the young disciple.
And this autonomous spirit is precisely what lives on through the existence of zines. Self-published literature will always rise up to offer an unmediated and alternative response to the world at large, a perspective so necessary to the diversity of culture.
So raise your tool of choice and soldier on! The future looks good.