You may have been hearing the term ‘Craftivist’ or ‘Craftivism’ lately, largely due to the release of recent titles like “How to be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest” by Sarah Corbett. The term ‘Craftivism’ was coined back in 2003 during the emergence of third-wave feminism by the author of “Craftivism: The Art and Craft of Activism” and craftivist pioneer, Betsy Greer, however, the use of craft as a form of protest can be traced back throughout history.
It is an activity that has always been primarily associated with women, as the “domestic arts” that are at the centre of craftivism have been traditionally passed down through families from mother to daughter. Furthermore, since the art of craft as always been marginalized and undervalued by the patriarchy as “women’s work”, there has not been a significant number of men involved in craft as a form of protest until more modern times, when the taboo of a man picking up needle and thread has lost some of its historical implications.
Since women have long met in groups to engage in the practice of various crafts, like knitting, cross stitch, and quilting, it was naturally the perfect environment to nurture feminist conversation, eventually leading to second-wave feminism.
Craft for activism became especially at the emergence of the anti-capitalist, anti-sweatshop D.I.Y. movement, which a small group of third-wave feminists, including Betsy Greer, to develop the craftivist manifesto.
These women turned feminism upside down by subverting the eternal association of craft and domesticity by reclaiming the “domestic arts”, like sewing, knitting & cross stitch and using those for their own subversive means.
There are several popular forms of craftivist protest, such as the yarn bombing of a tree, which is pictured in the feature image. Yarn bombing can be applied to any outside structure, like traffic poles, fire hydrants, fences, and etc. In the excellent film, Yarn, the artist, Olek, yarn bombs an entire locomotive.
Knitting the pink “pussy” hat that gained popularity in the Women’s March that followed the 2016 presidential election would be also be considered craftivism.
The Craftivist Collective, founded by Sarah Corbett, mentioned above, hosts a lovely spot on the internet where you can purchase “starter craftivist kits“. There are several different kits, prints and notions, beyond just the starter kit. I highly recommend on over for both shopping and inspiration.
Sarah is also the author of one of my favourite books on the subject, “A Little Book of Craftivism“, which is also available directly from her website.
Craftivism is an ever-changing movement that means many things to many people. In 2009, there were rumblings within a popular craftivist Etsy group that resulted in several people abandoning the group. The argument was about the one true definition of craftivism.
Originally, the group’s description had read,
“The Etsy Craftivism Team is a team of progressive Etsyans who believe that craft and art can change the world. Some of us use our work to carry messages of protest and political activism. Others believe that the act of making craft can be an act of resistance. Still others see that by buying and selling directly from the maker we are challenging the all pervasive corporate culture that promotes profit over people.”
However some conservative members accused the group of pushing a liberal agenda and asserted that there should not be politics involved. Betsy Greer, who is a member, argued that “the personal is political,” and that you can’t separate the two.
I would agree.