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Coming up this spring, She Zine is going to be hosting a Craftivist Night with our parent company, the BBLGM CLUB, in our Canadian home base of Toronto, ON. If things go well we hope to continue to host these events on a monthly basis and perhaps even expand into other cities over time.
We reached out to craftivism founder & author of Craftivist books,Knitting for Good (2008) and Craftivism: The Art of Craft & Activism (2014), Betsy Greer to hear about how the movement got started and learn about some of her favourite craftivist influences.
SZ :: Who founded the “craftivist movement”? Who coined the term “craftivism”?
Me. And not me.
I started thinking about the connections between craft and activism in 2002 as part of a research proposal. I was talking about it to my knitting group and one of them said, “you could call it craftivism.” I went home and Googled it and there were four hits, as the Church of Craft had done a craftivism workshop. Since my background is in social science, I liked the idea of putting a new idea online and seeing organically it found people. It has grown since there. So while I didn’t coin the term, I helped popularize it. It was just me and a crazy idea that people seemed to like for awhile and then people started calling themselves craftivists, which blew my mind and still does a little bit. It was just a little stupid idea I had one time, and, wait, what? People agree with me? Crazy! ; )
SZ :: Can you describe for us the scene when you first became involved in craftivism?
Craft was becoming more popular in the US at the time and just beginning to become popular in the UK. In 2003 I began writing about it online and moved to London for graduate school that fall. It was a time when people said things to me like one professor who said, “You’re writing your dissertation about knitting? I thought you’d be writing about an underground tattoo shop or something.” Well, at the time, knitting was actually pretty weird and new to be done by people under 40 en mass and in public, which we all thought was pretty hilarious (as well as ridiculous).
SZ :: In what ways have you been involved in craftivism throughout your life + career?
I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to give lectures about it in North America and Europe and to share it with an international audience through blog posts, essays, articles and books. Sometimes I’ve been paid, sometimes I haven’t. The idea of letting people know that their craft was empowering was and still is important for me to get across.
SZ :: What craftivists throughout history have influenced your craft?
The arpilleristas, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Gandhi’s efforts with khaki, Hannah Ryggen, Faith Gillespie. Although anyone that shared and grew their voice through craft counts. : )
SZ :: Who is your favourite craftivist author? What is your favourite book on craftivism?
Um, there are like five of us in this category. So I’m going to suggest people to check out books by Sarah Corbett, Rayna Fahey, and an upcoming book by Sayraphim Lothian (full disclosure I wrote the forward). Extra credit, the work of Rachael Matthews and Leanne Prain and the books Women and Craft and The Subversive Stitch.
SZ :: What is the most amazing act of craftivism that you have been involved in?
I like participating in Chi Nguyen’s 5.4 Million Women and Counting. It had all the hallmarks of a successful collaborative effort: an easy entry point, clear instructions, easy to find materials, a hashtag to follow along and an end date for when the project would be shown.
SZ :: What is the most amazing act of crafivism that you have seen in history?
That the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo are still demanding they know what happened to their loved ones with their headscarves 40+ years later. Amazing.
SZ :: What is your opinion of modern craftivism?
If you take “modern craftivism” to be from 2003, I’d say that it’s empowering, but that it’s also about finding your voice, which can encompass a lot of different types of work than what is currently found under #craftivism on Instagram.
SZ :: Who are the modern craftivists who are really making positive change in the world?
That depends on what you mean by “positive change,” as there is no common metric as to what that means. Apart from the women I mentioned up above, Shannon Downey is doing some great work as well. There are others, but then you come under who wants to be called a craftivist, there are scores of people doing political and activist work that is amazing that call themselves all sorts of things.
SZ :: Where would like to see the movement go? In what areas does the world most need craftivism?
Using craft and creativity to empower yourself and others is needed everywhere, and what that looks like depends on culture and ease of material access. People can use the same concepts to become empowered by nutrition, farming, sports, hobbies, etc., too.
SZ :: Is there any words of feminist advice or wisdom that you would like to end on? Either your own, or someone else’s?
Never think that you can’t do something powerful with something that seems like just a little stupid idea.
Betsy writes on her website, craftivism.com, and has posted a colourful version of the very first manifesto written by some of the earliest craftivists. It is available to view on our ‘What Is Craftivism” post, here.