The role of craftivism in past, present and future

Hannah Galvin explores the history of Craftivism, the movement in its current form, and suggests ways we can engage in Craftivism.

Hannah Galvin
14th March 2021
Credit: Craftivist Collective, via Wikipedia, colour edited.

The term ‘craftivism’ refers to a form of activism where the production and distribution of (often traditional) crafts are used in gentle protest of many of the political and social issues facing society. 

The earliest acts of craftivism date back to the nineteenth century, although the term ‘craftivism’ is relatively new, having been coined in 2003 by Betsy Greer, an American writer and crafter. In comparison to more traditional methods of campaigning, craftivism inspires peaceful protest through creation, rather than negativity and violence. 

Some of the earliest acts of craftivism were based in the textile arts, such as knitting, embroidery and tailoring. Since many of these crafts were considered domestic, and were therefore often produced by women, craftivism has many historical links to feminism and the choice to reclaim domesticity for the betterment of society. For instance, Gandhi invented a portable spinning wheel that made spinning cloth cheap and simple in an attempt to make India to more self-sufficient and closer to independence from Britain. Crafts were also used in the Women’s Suffrage movement and the abolition of slavery, with cloth bags and banners decorated with defiant messages creating a visual and political impact on the streets.

Credit: Craftivist Collective, via Facebook

Currently, the leading organisation within craftivism is Craftivist Collective, which recently played a major role in Marks and Spencer becoming a living wage employer. They sent M&S board members hand-embroidered, personalised handkerchiefs with uplifting quotes as a reminder to treat their employees fairly and with kindness. There is a TEDx talk by CC’s founder called ‘The Art of Gentle Protest’ available on YouTube. Additionally, if you want to get involved in ongoing campaigns, you can purchase crafting kits from their website, focusing on issues from environmental conciousness to the fashion revolution. 

As president of the Scrapbooking Society, it is unsurprising that opportunities to craft for a cause are of major interest. In doing research for society activities, particularly amid this pandemic, I have drawn a great deal of inspiration from things that I see on the internet and in the media. What inspired me most was the TV show ‘Craftivism: Making a Difference’, which aired on BBC2 earlier this year, focusing on craftivism and recent successful and ongoing campaigns. The programme is available on iPlayer, and is perfect for anyone with an interest in crafting and/or social justice; I guarantee you will gain a fresh perspective on each.  

Creating positive social impact was one of the pillars on which the society was founded, and this is reflected within recent society events. For instance, in December, the society participated in Mind’s Christmas Crafternoon -  a crafty fundraiser for the mental health charity. We also collaborated with the Feminist Society on their ‘Climate Change is a Feminist Issue’ campaign, teaching attendees to make postcards out of scrap cardboard and other materials they might otherwise dispose of. In reclaiming and repurposing these materials, we were able to peacefully and directly protest the mistreatment of garment workers to the CEOs of major fashion brands, for around the cost of a stamp.  

Credit: Craftivist Collective, via Facebook

The latter experience highlights our attempts to mitigate some of the accessibility issues that plague craftivism in particular. The cost of craftivism is too great for many – both financially and in terms of time. Attending a protest on the streets for many is simpler and less time intensive than learning crafting techniques and producing the crafts.

Craftivism is built on the virtues of patience – and sometimes there is little time to spare when taking action. However, by encouraging creative thinking and the use of scrap materials in crafts, it is possible to overcome some of these limitations and come up with new, impactful and accessible methods of craftivism. 

Furthermore, holding craftivist events leads to group discussion of these issues, building the confidence in individuals to continue these political conversations in other areas of their lives, inspiring others to action. And although craftivism may not always lead the way in campaigning, sometimes thoughtful, handmade crafts speaks volumes above traditional methods, by creating personal connections with those with the power to implement change. After all, crafts have always been about community provision - whether this is making the clothes on our backs or fighting injustice - making crafting a uniquely human experience bringing people together across the expanses of both society and time. 

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