What is Craftivism?

Existing at the intersection of craft and activism, Craftivism, is a form of nonviolent social activism that seeks to make positive social change. 

What is your earliest memory of craft(ing)? Such nostalgic questions often bring into focus memories of sitting with mothers and grandmothers crocheting, knitting or beading… something to pass the time or to fill empty school holiday moments. For me, craft, was suffocating lace trimmed floral fabric frames and frilled toilet roll dollies scattered throughout our domestic space- meaningless ‘women’s things’. Craft was the empty, ‘feminine’ things I spent most of my youth trying to shave from my identity in pursuit of a concrete vocation that ‘mattered’.

There were no direct messages, but it was clear that there was little value held in these ‘pretty’ pastimes. Craft was just something to keep us busy within the parameters of a domestic space while the ‘real’ work of the world was going on outside these confinements.

What I, and many, had overlooked was the tangible, valuable work that was unfolding in those quiet moments sitting at my Grandmothers knees as she showed me how to thread a needle or loop a stitch over the crochet hook. While nurturing meaningful connection between us, she was also teaching me embodied action and new skills, along with showing me how to make material changes in the world around me. In those quiet moments of learning and connection, powerfully, I was being taught to ‘make change’ in my world.

Sewing stars on a suffrage banner, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016827559/

Drawing on the feminist legacy of using craft to raise awareness of important social issues; craft and textile art became a powerful point of reclamation for third wave feminism, recontextualizing ‘domestic arts’ outside the home and into spaces both public and political. [1] These traditionally ‘female’ arts, seen as passive and pretty, became a powerful mode of cultural critique, seeking to disrupt traditional patriarchal modes of hierarchy, re-framing ‘women’s work’ and the value of labour. [2] Through their activism they questioned democracy, and who’s voice is given a platform? What part do we each play in controlling our own narratives? They asked what it means for our voices to be heard and for our stories to be written, or indeed sewn, through our own hand?

“Crafting here (activism) is a social movement and a form of direct action, whose current work is prefiguring a world to come. This doesn’t mean that an individual never works alone, but that s/he understands her/his work as contributing to and building the values of participatory democracy.”

Elizabeth Garber, Craft as Activism, The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education, 2013

Craft + activism becomes a valuable part of a ‘participatory democracy’ along with sharing stories and calling for important social changes to be made. With each stitch, every thread and each action we are literally creating a material object that is building towards a world we would like to live in- we are directly impacting the spaces we inhabit with material objects… with material, measurable and valuable change.

The age of social media has allowed like-minded activists to mobilise and connect in new ways, triggering a wave of activism underpinned by a digital landscape and its ability to facilitate global connections. Through this wave, the term ‘craftivism’ was coined[3]; in 2003 writer, activist and crafter Betsy Greer, completed a dissertation on knitting, DIY culture and community development, her studies provided a contemporary context and word to the practice of combining craft + activism. Greer’s ‘Craftivism Manifesto’, collaboratively created, is a call to action, an invitation for each of us to participate, to make change in our world.

Inspired by this legacy of Craftivism the Centre of Democracy is pulling the threads together for a very exciting project- keep your eyes on our socials for ways we can all be involved in this powerful form of activism!

A screenshot of a cell phone

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[1] Rica A. Chansky, A stitch in Time: Third-Wave Feminist Reclamation of Needled Imagery, The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2010

[2] Tal Fitzpatrick, Craftivism: A manifesto/methodology, Tal Fitzpatrick 2018

[3] Tal Fitzpatrick, Craftivism: A manifesto/methodology, Tal Fitzpatrick 2018

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