The Craftivism Q&A

23rd March 2012 by

We’ve had a hankering recently to know all about this thing called craftivism, so we’ve kidnapped Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective, locked her in the Otesha dungeon and turned our interrogation lamp on her. Here’s what we learned… [Thanks, Sarah!]

Oh, and if you can’t get enough craftivism, watch what happened when Otesha patron and comedian Josie Long got crafty with the collective.

Alright, then. What’s craftivism when it’s at home?

Craftivism is activism through using craft methods: provoking people to think about global injustices in a non threatening, non preachy way, normally as street art or as gifts to people, and through cross-stitch (like mini protest banners left in public), hand-embroidery (like our Don’t Blow It hankies to give to MPs, teachers, bankers etc) and other craft methods (bunting, shrink plastic gifts etc).

What’s this collective, and what led you to get involved in craftivism?

The Craftivist Collective came about in 2008 when I came to live in London for a job. I felt like a burnt-out activist like many do, going on lots of marches, signing lots of petitions, going to activism meetings and not feeling like we were getting anywhere.

Plus I’m not a natural extrovert, so didn’t like doing stunts, dressing up, talking to strangers, asking them to sign petitions, going on marches, and I don’t like some forms of activism that are aggressive and demonise people. Craftivism was also a reaction to clicktivism and slacktivism and not feeling I fitted into some groups – I’m too scared to ride a bike, I’m not vegan and I love fashion and reading Vogue.

I also got really into cross-stitch because I’m naturally creative and didn’t have space to paint, plus I could do cross-stitch in my room, on public transport and to calm me down after a stressful day at work.

You also get time to reflect and think when crafting and it feels achievable, so I wanted to craft items with social justice messages in them that I could think about whilst stitching – but then leave them in public places for other people to think about the issue.

So I went to see my nan in Shetland in August 2008 with a bag of craft and a burning desire to be an activist again but in a sustainable and fun way, and in Shetland I came up with the idea for Mini Protest Banners to make and put up in public. I googled craft and activism groups and the term craftivism popped up. I contacted Betsy Greer, who coined the terms, and asked if there were groups I could join but there weren’t, so I just started doing it alone.

The banners wouldn’t tell people what to do or be negative but would be quotes or facts to provoke people to think about our global neighbours. I cable-tied them to places linked to the issue (e.g. flagship unethical stores if the fact was about sweatshops; outside financial districts talking about extreme, unbridled capitalism etc).

People started commenting on my blog asking if they could do it too, so I set up the collective for people to email me their banners, or join me in London to do craftivism, and its snowballed from there. We now sell kits, create instruction videos, workshops, events and people around the world deliver our projects, which is amazing! :) I’ve gone part-time in my job to have more time to give to it.

The ‘collective’ is a loose term for people who get involved, whether they are abroad or meet us at our monthly stitch-ins in London. We want everyone to feel part of our collective and encourage people to email us a photo and blog about their craftivism piece for us to put on the website, tweet, fb etc.

What’s the nicest public reaction you’ve ever had to your craftivism?

So many to count! :) People often ask us what we are doing when we are in public in a group or as individuals. When we explain it, most of the time people are really interested, ask more and then leave telling us to keep doing it. Some people take photos to send to friends or take a flyer to give to someone they know who is crafty and would love to hear more about us.

The reaction I am most proud of is from a banker who is quite high up in Goldman Sachs. He was given one of our prints by his long-term friend from uni. He emailed her to thank her and said it prompted him and his wife to have a thoughtful long conversation about what they can do in their position to help the most vulnerable. = amazing! :)
And have you ever had a very bad reaction to the craftivism you’ve done?

Sometimes, very rarely, we get comments from more hardcore activists saying we are too positive, too cute, too fuzzy to make a difference. We try and have a dialogue with these people to say we are not campaigners but rather there to provoke people to think about an issue in a non-threatening way We also see our value in reaching new audiences who might be nervous of activism and don’t feel they belong to other groups that might be louder, more extrovert or just into different things.

We are passionate about engaging shy, creative types into activism and being that stepping stone. Plus we reel through the list of benefits of craftivism. Normally that ends in the other person understanding our benefit in the activism world. But you can’t please everyone.
There seems to be a bit of a craft revival – knitting, bodging, cross-stitch, sewing – they all seem pretty zeitgeisty right now. What do you put that down to?

There is always a resurgence of craft in a recession- mostly it links to the Make Do and Mend ethos. But I also put it down to people feeling stressed, disempowered and wanting to do something. Crafting really helps people’s confidence, helps them feel valued, helps reflection, creativity and feeling you have achieved something.

I think I’m a bit rubbish at making things. Shall I not bother?

I didn’t go to art school and was never taught any formal craft skills. I learnt by doing and watching YouTube videos and still get lots wrong (my nan always tuts when she sees the back of my messy cross-stitched pieces). I make sure that all of the projects I create are accessible to all regardless of craft skill or political experience.

We create instruction videos for people to learn from, kits people can buy with instruction sheets and suggested content and we offer talks and workshops. If you really don’t want to stitch with us you can be an honorary ‘Craptivist’ who buys our postcards, gift cards, prints, ‘Craptivist’ badge (our mentor Sam Roddick came up with that name!) and spread the word through giving these gifts to people.

What’s the collective got planned – anything coming up you’d like to shout about?

Lots! :) All our events are on our website and Facebook and tweeted. We do monthly free Stitch-Ins at Royal Festival Hall every 3rd Thursday of the month, 7-9pm, where people can come and bring their own craftivism project do to, buy one of our kits and get a free tutorial from one of our experienced craftivists or just come and have a look, chat and see if they want to get involved.

We also do paid workshops that have more structure where you learn about the history of crafitivism, the benefits, some craft skills and can discuss justice issues with other attendees (for our June and September Sunday workshops 2-4:30pm email barley@fabrications1.co.uk to find out more).

Plus I get booked in to do talks and workshops for organisations (in the past they have been with Southbank, Tate Gallery, Hayward Gallery and others) so I’m looking to book more this year (if any one knows anywhere that might want a craftivism talk or workshop please get in touch!).

I’m off to Berlin in May to do a talk and workshop at an event DaWanda.com have asked me to do; some craftivists in Glasgow are planning on getting me up in October to deliver a workshop and teach them how to deliver them; I’m working with St Fagan’s museum outside Cardiff to deliver a workshop to complement an exhibition they are doing in June; and Ink-d Gallery, Brighton, have asked for more artwork and prints from me to show – I’m looking to book a workshop in the Gallery with them and stitch on my own underneath my craftivism work and tweet people to join me.

What’s your big dream? If craftivism achieved what it’s setting out to do, in its entirety, what would a craftivist utopia look like?

So many dreams: to be featured in Vogue, to deliver a TED talk, to have our products selling in lots of shops and e-shops across the world especially non-political shops, to deliver talks around the world on the power of craftivism, have more exhibitions, get funding to do Craftivism Bootcamps to train people up to deliver projects, workshops and talks so it’s not just me (I would make them a certificate at the end to prove they are a craftivist!).

My dream is that everyone knows the benefits of craftivism and it is seen as another great tool to encourage people to be the best people they can whilst they are on this planet. Encourage people to fulfil the world’s potential to be a just, fair and sustainable, beautiful place. Oh and I would, selfishly, like to be a full-time craftivist rather than have a part time job to pay my rent!

One Response to “The Craftivism Q&A”

  1. Betsy says:

    Hi there! I realized I never thanked you properly for this wonderful piece on craftivism and the wonderful work that Sarah is doing with the Craftivist Collective! And… I think you mentioned on Twitter about might wanting to talk to me some time, and if you’d ever like to, I’d love to, as I love what you’re up to! xx


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