In the wake of the 2017 Women’s March and the ubiquitous handmade pink knit hats that were its most distinguishing visual feature, it’s no surprise that craftivism—the intersection of crafting and activism—is having a moment.
Betsy Greer, who wrote her master’s dissertation on knitting, DIY culture, and community development, is credited with popularizing the term. She launched the website Craftivism in 2003 and has since written Knitting for Good! (Roost, 2008) and edited Craftivism (Arsenal Pulp, 2014).
The movement gained momentum in 2009, when Sarah Corbett founded the Craftivist Collective as a home for activists like herself who weren’t satisfied with traditional protest activities like marching and signing petitions. Corbett recently ran a successful crowdfunding campaign via Unbound to self-publish How to Be a Craftivist (Oct.), reaching 156% of her funding goal with 760 backers. It’s one of several forthcoming titles that continue the conversation about how crafting can fit in with community activism.
Jamie Chalmers, whose The Mr. X Stitch Guide to Cross Stitch is due out in August from Search Press, started working as Mr. X Stitch in 2008 and honed his understanding craftivism through several collaborations with Corbett. He, too, ran a crowdfunding campaign, raising money on Kickstarter to launch XStitch, billed as “a cross stitch magazine for the modern world.” Having exceeded his £6,000 goal to raise more than £14,000, he published the first issue—featuring an excerpt from Corbett’s book and an article by Greer—in July.
Chalmers, who has more than 29,000 Instagram followers, regularly combines cross-stitch with international humanitarian work; the Stitch for Syria project, for example, donated three wall hangings to a program that teaches embroidery to Syrian refugees. He also uses his platform to promote initiatives such as Fine Cell Work, an organization that trains inmates in the U.K. to do skilled, creative needlework. He believes in cross-stitch as a tool for social change because, he says, it’s “a slower and more thoughtful alternative to clicktivism.”
Resist and Persist
A number of titles spring directly from current discussions around feminism and women’s roles in society. Feminist Icon Cross-Stitch by Anna Fleiss and Lauren Mancuso (Running Press, Oct.) includes 20 embroidery patterns that depict Beyoncé, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, and Gloria Steinem, among others, as well as 10 patterns featuring text such as “Nevertheless, she persisted” and “Smash the patriarchy!”
Shannon Lee Connors, an editor at Running Press, conceptualized the book in response to the energy she saw after the 2016 presidential election and, she says, “the renewed interest in traditionally ‘feminine’ arts, and the rise of women’s social and political clubs.”
Jayne Parsons, publishing director at Bloomsbury, worked with several contributors on Protest Knits and Really Cross Stitch (both Oct.), the first new titles from Bloomsbury’s revived Herbert Press imprint, which focuses on arts and crafts. Parsons says she was inspired by the Women’s March pussyhats and the Boundless Across Borders action held on Inauguration Day, when women in El Paso, Tex., and Juárez, Mexico, braided their scarves and hair together to protest the proposed border wall between Mexico and the U.S.
“I’d rather try to change the world with a funny cross-stitch or a sarcastic pair of mittens than with fear, guns, and bombs,” Parsons says. The projects in Protest Knits include a Trump pincushion and so-called shy anarchist socks, with the anarchist symbol as a repeating border pattern above the ankle, therefore easily hidden. Really Cross Stitch includes patterns with sayings including “We’re not nasty women, we’re revolting” and “The oceans are rising—and so are we.”
Heather Marano and Lara Neel, coauthors of Crafting the Resistance (Skyhorse, Aug.) are taking their activism a step further, donating 10% of their royalties from the book to Planned Parenthood. “Women, in particular,” Marano says, “have always turned to crafts as a sometimes subtle, sometimes pointed way to express their political views.” Their book incorporates various disciplines—sewing, knitting, hot-iron transfer, stenciling, needle felting, wet felting, basic quilting, and crochet—for projects including clear vinyl totes that allow quick passage through security at protests, a T-shirt that identifies the wearer as a “bleeding heart,” and small knitted ornaments to hang publicly with protest signs.
Rockport, part of the Quarto Group, is reaching out to the next generation of activists with Amazing Women by Anne Bentley (Dec., ages 8–12), part of its Scratch & Create series. The book is packaged with a two-sided scratch-off tool that allows users to reveal the names and full-color illustrations of Marie Curie, Billie Holiday, Yayoi Kusama, and others, with biographical details on each facing page.
Mary Ann Hall, who edits the Scratch & Create series, says that the activity could appeal to the adult coloring book audience, too, because of its meditative quality. “It’s a very similar process to coloring,” Hall says, “but sort of in reverse.”
Artist Renee Rominger has her own take on girl power. She began selling embroidered feminist slogans through her Etsy store, Moonrise Whims, in 2014, and the following year was mentioned prominently in a Time article, “What Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Can Learn From Etsy.” In September, Page Street will release Rominger’s Edgy Embroidery, a book of 25 patterns.
Lauren Knowles, associate editor at Page Street, says that Rominger pushes back on the “traditionally feminine” art of embroidery by pairing the florals for which the craft is known with blunt statements including “don’t be a prick” and “can u not.” In doing so, Knowles says, she challenges crafters to rethink quaint embroidery stereotypes and perhaps, by extension, other cultural stereotypes as well.
Catherine LaSota is a writer in New York. She earned her M.F.A. in sculpture from Parsons School of Design and runs the LIC Reading Series in Queens.
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