Women’s Woodshop provides workshop space where women and non-binary folks can learn at their own pace with supportive female or non-binary craftspeople. We all have different learning styles and entry points into craft. Some students need time to understand the process and others want guidance through each step. Women’s Woodshop is sensitive to the needs of each student and will support you in your learning style. We provide space where women and non-binary crafters feel free to ask questions and share their personal experience or thoughts throughout the process. We believe vulnerability is an asset to learning.
Women’s Workshop instructors are leaders and experts. Our goal is to create role models for young women, girls, and non-binary youth through observing female or nonbinary woodworkers. Our instructors come from the art or craft backgrounds, and all have a shared experience of being an “other” learner in the world of wood. Given the current gender dynamics of woodcraft, our instructors have a unique sensitivity to helping women and non-binary people get comfortable and thrive in the world of woodworking.
All of the goods for sale at Women’s Woodshop are made by women or nonbinary individuals. Although we are living in 2017, women are still making 80 cents to the dollar compared to men. Join us in supporting female woodworkers and non-binary craftspeople directly.
We love our male woodworkers too. We believe there is plenty of space for all genders/no genders in woodworking and our ultimate goal is equality within the field. Woodworking is a hard field to enter regardless of how you identify. Currently, there are more men than women and non-binary craftspeople in the field and there is a long lineage of knowledge that has been passed down from grandfathers to fathers to sons. However, there have been women in woodworking for some time too. One of our favorites is Tabitha Babbitt, a Shaker who invented the circular saw.
Part of our work at Women’s Workshop is to empower women in woodcraft. As a man, you can help with that through a variety of ways that we’ve outlined in How to be an Ally for Women.
ABOUT THE FOUNDER of WOMEN’S WOODSHOP
Hi, I am Jess Hirsch, founder and creator of Women’s Workshop. I am a sculptor, craftsperson living in Minneapolis with my spunky pooch Scout. I grew up in rural Minnesota, running through corn fields and going to punk shows in dingy basements. I moved to Portland, Oregon where I continued to go to punk shows in dingy basements while studying sculpture at Lewis and Clark College. In Portland I learned about herbalism and fused a bond with nature that will never be broken. I returned to Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota’s MFA program in Sculpture. Little did I know, I had landed in an epicenter for craft. Now I balance my time between green woodworking and conceptual art projects about healing.
WHY WOMEN’S WOODSHOP
I have been working with wood for over 10 years. At my first meeting in grad school, my advisor asked me and my fellow female sculptors why women were interested sculpture? The question seems harmless, but what it said to me was: You are an outsider, why are you here in this traditionally male-dominated field? My advisor wasn’t trying to exclude, but the question itself did the work.
When I bought a circular saw from Home Depot, the sales attendant turned to my boyfriend at the time and said, “I know you know how to use this.” Then turned to me and asked, “But do you?” Again, this question was intended to be helpful, but the assumption that I didn’t have experience based on my gender alone and that put me on the outside again.
It happens within the classroom too. Tools have been taken out of my hands and male students insisted they knew what I needed better than me. With my experience teaching sculpture at the University of Minnesota, I know what I need. These actions are intended to be helpful, but ultimately slow down my learning and undermine my ability.
There are daily occurrences where my ability is questioned because of my gender and I know this happens to other women too.I am focused on doing what I can to change the stigma of women working in male-dominated fields through increasing access to woodworking for women.
I know these men have good intentions and are not trying to keep me out of the woodshop. They want to make sure I am safe. They are truly curious about why women are moving into woodcraft. I appreciate that they want to have a conversation, but I want to the conversation to be about our shared love for woodcraft rather than “what is a woman doing here” ( this was shouted at me in a lumber yard once).
I wanted to start Women’s Woodshop for a number of reasons. Yes, it was a way to shift the gender dynamics and create a place where women can come together and learn without going through the questioning I have been through. But more importantly, I have witnessed how empowering woodworking is to women.
In 2014, I built a sculpture at a shelter for domestic abuse survivors. As I built it, a young lady at the age of 12 became one of my assistants and I watched her confidence grow over the month-long installation. She went from using cordless drills, to miter saws, and jigsaws. When we completed the sculpture, she was glowing with pride. It was witnessing that transformation that birthed Women’s Woodshop.
HOW TO BE AN ALLY FOR WOMEN
Women and non-binary folks have various levels of experience with wood. When they ask a question, give them the answer they are looking for without additional information.
Women and non-binary crafters need space to learn. I have witnessed many women being watched by male students when they are working. I think the intention is so that the man can step in if they needs help. But actually, we need to do things ourselves in order to learn. We will ask you for help if we need it.