Monday, 29 August 2016

More ramblings on Craftivism

This post is inspired by my recent reading of Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism by Betsy Greer. I came across a small book on craftivism in June and now have a growing interest in this area of craft + activism.

The book is arranged in a number of essays and interviews looking at a variety of different types of craftivism. The following items do not cover the entire contents of the book by any means but these are the projects and ideas that have stayed with me after finishing the book.

Charity Quilting - Susan Beal
Quilters from around the world sewed flags to be used as part of a memorial following the Boston Marathon Bombing. Over 1,700 flags were received and put on display in a venue where everyone who wanted to could view them for free. To me, this is a beautiful show of solidarity, of hours spent in contemplation of an event that marked the lives of many, created by people hundreds or thousands of miles away who wanted to show that those affected were in their thoughts.

To Boston with Love, Museum of Fine Arts

The Blood Bag Project - Leigh Bowser
The Blood Bag Project is a fascinating example of craftivism being used to create awareness around a specific medical condition. Leigh's daughter Chloe suffers from Diamond-Blackfan Anaemia (DBA) which means that Chloe needs regular blood transfusions. This is why the item crafted for this project is a blood bag! I recommend having a look at the Blog Archives just to see the variety of textiles, techniques and ideas people have used to create their own blood bags. I've printed off the template and intend to make one myself, and if you are more into crochet than sewing there is a pattern for crocheting one as well.

On Golden Joinery and Mending - P Flintoff
This reminded me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi - I assume it was part of the inspiration though I don't recall it being mentioned in the essay.
It's a type of visible mending, a technique where clothes are repaired with no wish to disguise the fact that they have been mended. This craftivism is a challenge to the throwaway culture of fashion, a means of treasuring possessions for their flaws. This essay dealt with Flintoff's experience of golden joinery, using gold thread to repair a torn shirt and also a teddy bear for his daughter. I have a pair of old garden jeans that are tearing which I keep meaning to replace but having read this article I'm quite tempted to have a go at some mending. The holes are alas far too big for a needle and thread but I was thinking of using patches of golden fabric. I tend to shop in charity shops anyway so already use that as a means of bucking the throwaway fashion trend and golden joinery has opened up another avenue for me in this area.

Tools of the golden joinerers trade

Interview with Craft Cartel - Rayna Fahey and Casey Jenkins - Cunt Fling-Ups
The Craft Cartel interview covers more than cunt fling-ups but it was this section of the interview that really stuck in my head. There is a strong vein of feminism running through craftivism, partly because crafting is often seen more as the traditional province of women than men. The fling-ups came in to being as a reaction against censorship of the word 'cunt'. Interestingly enough, I wondered if I should bleep or disguise the word on the post and then realised that it was exactly this kind of thing that the fling-ups highlight!  

There is a theory that shoes are flung-up over power lines in certain areas to denote gang boundaries. These anti-censorship fling-ups aren't used to denote boundaries but they are a public opposition to censorship. As the interviewees went into details about the making sessions, I wondered about how people in my local area would respond to something like this. In January 2013 the Ipswich Star ran a story over an 'unsavoury message' created following the removal of letters from The County pub - so I'm thinking such casual bandying about of the word would not be well received! Fahey and Jenkins talk about the reaction from participants and people on the street - these fling-ups are 'brightly coloured and soft and sparkly. You have to work pretty hard to find them threatening.'

Craft Cartel craftivism in action

Sewing Voices - Heather Strycharz - The Arpilleristas
Betsy Greer's book doesn't just focus on craftivism going on currently. The history of craftivism is highlighted with essays like this. The Arpilleristas were Chilean women who used tapestry to reach the outside world while under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. These colourful embroidered tapestries depicted human rights abuses and the poverty and horror of the regime. Others were lighter in tone, showing a better Chile without Pinochet. Customs officials did not look closely at the tapestries, dismissing them, and thus for a time they evaded the heavy censorship of the regime and made it to the outside world to raise awareness of what was going on. When it became clear what was happening, there was retaliation though the woman continued to sew.

I am sure there are those who look on something like craftivism as an ineffectual means of protest. The Arpilleristas show me that this is just not true.

The examples above are only a small slice of what this book has to offer and I would recommend it to everyone interested in activism, craft and the personal role an individual can play in politics.

This book has crystallised for me what I love about the idea of craftivism. It gives everyone a voice. It allows everyone who takes part to put their beliefs and energy out into the world. It places emphasis on connecting with individuals rather than great faceless homogenous groups. It invites people to take part in a process where there is time to reflect and think, where the emphasis is on opening conversations and engaging with people rather than shouting others down.

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