What is Craftivism?
It's a term coined by the writer Betsy Greer in the early noughties, who defines it as specific blend of activism with traditional hand crafts, usually of a textile nature such as embroidery and knitting.
The topic is close to my heart and was the subject of my dissertation in the final year of my Textiles degree. I one day intend to add more chapters and publish it as a book. The below writing is the introduction from that dissertation.
I have decided to write this post now in response to the current Black Lives Matter protests, ignited by the brutal and unjust killing of George Floyd in America. As I'm sure we're all aware, this is a global problem and our black friends and family are at the mercy of daily unchecked systemic racism and anti-social behaviour just because of their skin tone. This is unacceptable and we can all be doing more to speak out about this.
Visit this link to sign petitions, donate, and find resources for the Black Lives Matter movement:
The term ‘craftivism’ was first coined in 2003 by writer Betsy Greer, who has since become widely associated with this specific blend of activism and traditional hand crafts, usually consisting of textile mediums, including embroidery, sewing, knitting and crochet. Greer has published two books herself on the subject and contributed to many others, as well as speaking about craftivism in many institutions. Although the phrase first came to attention in recent years, the act of craftivism seems to have been around for much longer, from at least the start of the 20th century and likely even earlier than that. Craft and politics are two subjects that at first thought seem not to be compatible, but seemingly it can be argued that when they collide, they are able to create something engaging to a vast array of audiences, capable of raising awareness of issues and starting discussions. Traditionally, women have always been involved in craft, notably dating as far back as the 11th century sometime within a few years of the Battle of Hastings when the Bayeux Tapestry was created. What is most surprising is that none of the women that produced this historically famous piece can be named, as none received any formal credit or even so much as signed the back when it was completed. The tapestry is thought to have taken around a decade to complete, even with the apparent number of women that worked on it. It seems that what was once a skill that in which women were invisible participants, has been transformed into something that is enabling women to have a voice and publicise their opinions.
Craftivism brings a sense of innovation and uniqueness to activism and protest, as it requires the participant to invest and immerse themselves into a cause, truly devoting time and energy to it. This seems to offer a greater sense of involvement, something which is unlike any other forms of protest which may require less of the participant, such as signing a petition, turning up to a rally, or in recent years, even simply sharing something on social media sites such as Facebook.
It is in these more modern times that perhaps craftivism is more prevalent, as it takes a step back into traditional skills and mediums to create something profound and meaningful, as the time taken to create it is so clearly displayed in its existence. Since the beginning of the 21st century, craft has turned into a skill more niche than it once was, with less women being expected to take part in it or be naturally skilled in a particular craft. Therefore, protest in this form can seem to hold a greater value, particularly when it is used to make a political point. This does not mean to say that it was less profound in the 20th century however, as whilst these traditional craft skills were perhaps more commonplace, they could also be seen as a women’s only form of communicating her opinions in such a patriarchal society, particularly in the world of politics. Textiles is a longstanding discipline in itself, and of course has strong links to craft. Gale and Kaur write about the role textiles plays in our modern society: “How, for example, could someone starting a career in textiles comprehend how chemistry, history, a scarf, politics and economics might all intertwine?”. This is the role that craftivism plays, as it constructs a bridge between all of these seemingly different practices. Women have only begun to be formally recognised in politics in arguably the last fifty years, and the work that was done to put them there is well-known. Amongst that work lies the infamous suffragette movement, who found that to gain attention to their cause they had to produce visual displays, whether that be through publicity stunts, marches, or indeed through craft. Of course, craft complimented a great deal of their endeavours throughout the campaign, as they ran underground production lines of banners, sashes, and of course runs of their own flag. This perhaps, is the start of the craftivist movement as we now know and understand it.
Since this current Black Lives Matter global uprising has developed whilst many of us are still in lockdown, it's understandable to be feeling frustrated about how much we can do to make a difference.
Craftivism doesn't promise to solve all the worlds problems, but by engaging in it we know that we are fully immersing ourselves in the cause and sharing our work means the message can be received by others, which is most important at this time.
To take part in craftivism, search the term on Pinterest to bring up thousands of sources of inpisration, or follow the craftivists collective on social media, who have resources on getting started.
If you have created any craft pieces around Black Lives Matter, please contact me with images as I am aiming to have a chapter in my book focusing solely on the Black Lives Matter movement. Thank you.