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!

Power and privilege

18th November 2011 by

Otesha is going to be at the NUS’s Student Activism 2011 conference tomorrow at Goldsmith’s University. Below is a post I wrote for their blog explaining the workshop we’ll be giving. It’s a subject the Otesha team is thinking a lot about at the moment, so I’m sure we’ll have more to say about it here in the nearish future.

Our ‘Power and Privilege’ workshop is likely to be one of the most personally challenging events at Student Activism 2011 – both for the participants and for us. It can be an intense but also intensely rewarding experience. How do we know? Not just because we’ve delivered it many times but because we’ve been challenged by it ourselves when we have taken part as participants.

Based on the principles of anti-oppression, it aims to make visible many of the often invisible, structural imbalances of power and privilege in society and to confront our own biases and prejudices – even those of us who strive hard to avoid exercising such bias in our selves and our own lives and relationships.

And it shows that, while we may strive hard to avoid exercising prejudice, some of us are privileged by societal norms and structures, no matter whether we are committed to fighting privilege. Prejudice is not, as one writer has said, only ‘individual acts of meanness’ but something much more all-pervasive.

Having these issues laid bare is, we think, essential to activist communities and groups who genuinely want to make their work and their movements inclusive and diverse, and to ensure that everyone has access and everyone has a voice.

And for Otesha, as an environmental education charity, we see it as essential to addressing environmental injustice whereby the ravages of environmental destruction hit the poorest and marginalised the hardest. Ensuring that all voices, perspectives and needs are heard and respected is crucial to environmental justice, and anti-oppression work can do much to work towards this. Whether your work has an environmental, social, or economic focus (though at Otesha we don’t think they can be separated!), these questions are crucial to successful, effective activism.

So this Saturday participants in our workshop will engage in personal reflection, get training in how to improve individual practices and conclude with practical action planning. This introductory workshop is meant to give participants the tools to embark on an ongoing process of change, and begin to build a more just society and stronger environmental and social movements. We hope you find it stimulating, thought-provoking and that you can make it integral to your campaigns.

If you’re interested in learning more about anti-oppression work and thinking, here are some really thought-provoking resources:

Craftivist Mission of Love (and Justice)

9th February 2011 by

I was very excited when Sarah Corbett of crafty activist group The Craftivist Collective got in touch to ask if I would help her make a video about their Valentines project, and even more excited when I heard that Joise Long, Otesha’s very own patron, was getting involved…

For the last few years the Craftivist Collective have been attempting to ‘hijack’ valentines day by asking people to “show some love” for their global neighbours, as well as their BFs, GFs, BFFs etc. This year they have teamed up with the cult jewellery designer Tatty Devine and on February 14th will be taking to the streets all over the UK to plant alternative love letters, complete with beautiful handmade keyrings, so that they can be stumbled across and make someone’s day whilst raising awareness about climate change. The idea is that whoever finds the letters will not only have the instant impact and mind stirrings from reading the letter (extract below), but will have a beautiful keyring to keep, which will remind them of the project and hopefully spur other actions and conversations.

To my Valentine,

Every year February 14th comes around and provides us with a beautiful opportunity to show someone we care about them: most of the time we direct that love at just one person. This year I want to encourage you not to limit that extraordinary capacity we have to just one person, but to love the world. In the name of love, brighten up someone’s day and remind them of our global community and inspire them to get stirred up to think about how the poorest people in the world are being affected by climate change, despite having contributed the least to the problem.


The best thing about the project is that anyone can get involved – there are already groups doing the project in London, Leeds, Bristol, Bangor and Newcastle. I really recommend it – even just making one, it’s brilliant hiding the letters and then watching people find them and the intrigued bemusement and fat smiles that ensue, all whilst raising awareness on a day which has become so ridiculously commercialised.

There is a template for the letter and instructions on how to make the keyring on The Craftivist Collective website.

The day they blocked the railway

9th February 2011 by

In April 2010, 13 people literally put their necks on the line blockading the railway at Ffos y Fran and halting the coal train on its way to Aberthaw power station. Ffos y Fran, in Merthyr Tydfil is the largest opencast coal mine in the UK. There has been a long campaign opposing Ffos y Fran mine by local residents and climate activists alike.

A spokesperson for the Rising Tide activists said, “Opencast mining trashes the landscape, contributes massively to climate change and threatens the health of local people. We need to leave coal in the ground, and that’s why we put our necks on the line to stop a coal train.”

“With their hands in the pockets of corporations, it’s not surprising that governments failed us at the Copenhagen climate summit. We can’t rely on their false solutions anymore. It’s up to ordinary people taking direct action to stop climate chaos. Fossil fuel extraction devastates communities and is being resisted around the world, from opencast mining in Merthyr to tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada.”

This is a beautiful little video about the day they blocked the railway.

Josie Long & Otesha meet the craftivist collective

30th September 2010 by

Following last months inaugural video with our patron, Josie Long & Otesha meet the craftivist collective, this month we decided to sew our way to social justice.

Josie Long and Otesha met Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective! The Craftivist Collective use the power of craft and art to highlight issues of social injustice, like global poverty, human rights abuses and climate change impacts. So, during October, we’re challenging you to get involved, pick up your needle and thread and make your very own mini protest banner (you can make your own or buy one from the Craftivist Collective website). Remember to send us photos and the best banner wins a bar of fairtrade chocolate.

there is no point to a globalisation that reduces the prices of a child's shoes but costs the father his job...


Search Blog

Get Social