It’s time to reclaim the word ‘spinster’ Let’s reutilize it in a context that no longer implies condemnation and instead celebrate its roots in female financial independence and the ongoing craftsmanship of knitwear.
“Spinster”- a term we are all more than familiar with. It is a term that carries a heavy load of judgment and misogynistic overtones.
The implication within the modern context suggests that a ‘spinster’ is a woman ‘past her prime’ or as Merriam-Webster dictionary euphemistically suggests; ‘an unmarried woman and especially one past the common age for marrying’. She is no longer of value because she ‘missed out’ on the boat of marriage and is doomed to set sail on the voyage of life, alone. Spinster is synonymous with media representations of ‘sad, lonely’ women; think Bridget Jones being horrified over the thought of winding up an old spinster if she doesn’t immediately bed Mark Darcy. However, what is oft forgotten is that the roots of the word ‘spinster’, are embedded in the art of spinning, weaving and knitting. Historically speaking, a spinster is unsurprisingly a descriptive term for ‘one who spins wool.’
The negative associations with the term spinster derives from the historical circumstance where spinning wool was deemed women’s work, and due to the nature of the role, it typically was the work of single women.
This is due to the labor-intensive and task-oriented position requirements. What is little known about the craft is that these women were in high demand, and often could set their own prices and were considered high-minded, up-standing pillars of the community. The term only began to face criticism during the early twentieth century when studies of sexuality came into vogue and these once successful, single women were questioned over their chosen independence and lack of matrimonial interest amplifying suggestions of lesbianism.
While we, in the comfort of our collective contemporary knowledge, can sit back and laugh at such ridiculous accusations (as both redundant and homophobic), it is clear that society deemed successful, independent women as a threat, and not something worthy of celebration. Therefore, it is imperative to reclaim term as one that celebrates and commemorates the work of women yore, to allow for modern explorations of an ancient and essential craft. Look towards staples of iconic knitwear, such as Jenny Kee or Coogi, to see the sartorial impact knits have held, particularly in the 21 st century allowing for more underground contemporary designers such as Lucinda Graham, an independent, sustainable designer based in Belfast Ireland who celebrates the versatility of knits, or Rua Carlota, the heavily sought after London based designer of one-of-a-kind knits.
In an age that is learning to now re-value the labour necessary to create a knit garment from scratch, as we collectively become more aware of the need for slow-based fashion, knitwear is entering an era of celebration once again.
It is now the time to ditch negative terminology such as ‘spinster’ and reclaim it as a title worthy of applause. I for one now see it as a title of value that indicates an individual’s commitment to a labour-intensive role with outstanding outcomes that allows for us to explore new looks and styles while maintaining the comfort and coziness of a simple knit sweater.
Words: LIla Pierce
Photos: Kansas Smeaton
Models: Joel & Jini
Styling: Zoe & Julia