“Our craft is a testament to our perseverance”

 

Ever find something that you wrote ages ago that resonates in the now? This is something just like that, which I think other people might want to hear too. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about stress and sadness after the election, so here’s a little something that may help you get through if times are tough: 

I believe that the most radical activism you can do is within yourself. Once you change and better what you can about yourself, you have more power, spirit, faith and courage to do that about other issues.

Craft taught me 10 years ago that I could make. That I had the power and the skill (although not mastery!) to make something. That each stitch was a passage of time. Because sometimes when things aren’t so good, all you have is time. To work through it.

I think a lot of Odysseus being strapped to the mast so he wouldn’t succumb to the Sirens. I feel like sometimes you have to grab on to that mast and hold on until the storm is over. All you have to do is hold on. Or stitch. Stitching shows you that time passes (watching as the item grows) that we grow and move on. That we have the power to warm our hearts and clear our minds.

It is a meditation of the highest order. A soothing of the soul that is comforted by the movement of your fingers and the softness of the yarn. The clicking of the needles. Our craft is a testament to our perseverance, our strength, our hope, our will just as it has been for centuries.

I call upon the strength of all those that clothed their families and survived through so much. If they can do that, I can do this. Sometimes craft is for survival, but all the time it is a sign that we are here. That this time isn’t wasted. That we are worthy. That we deserve the gorgeous warm things we are making. That we can help others with them. It refills our heart through storms and lashes us to the proverbial mast with ‘just one more row.’

We are the makers of our own future. We are the crafters of calmer minds. Our stitches are strength. And hope. And love. For strangers, for loved ones, and most importantly, for ourselves. Because without crafting our best selves, we are less use to others. 

A look at the Social Justice Sewing Academy!

At the start of this year, I was asked to write about the Social Justice Sewing Academy for the Craft Industry Alliance. You can check out the article here if you’re a member, as it shares more background and different photos. (And if you’re not a member, you should join!) 

Abby Glassenberg kindly said I could share some of the quotes and photos I got from the founder, Sara, so here goes! 

“The summer I got the grant, it was $25,000. UC Berkeley paid for it. So it’s a year-long public service project, where as long as you submit reports and you show that you spent the money appropriately they’ll give you $25,000 for a project. What kind of spurred it, was I was a mentor at Berkeley High School and working with the kids, you could kind of see how they would give me complaints, like at UC Berkeley they have Ethnic Studies, they have African-American Studies, they have Chicano, Latino, LGBT Studies, like UC Berkeley really gives you a holistic, a critical lens on how you view the world, on other people’s history, on the diaspora work, it just really gives you a holistic lens of American history.

And some of the kids were like, you know, in our history class we learn from African-American history starting at slavery, and I was like, you know, well before that there were kings and queens, I just like a lot of the like Paolo Friere, just I think Frierian methodology and more critical pedagogy like how to become a critical thinker and not just take whatever the teacher gives you as fact.”

At this point, Sara was tutoring kids and decided to bring in readings for them. She brought in readings about their own cultures and identities, so they could see themselves in the literature. 

She had them write research papers on the material and came up with the idea of having an art show where they could show related work and therefore involve the community. 

“I know initially when the boys were in my class and they were told, ‘Hey, you’re in Sara’s class,” and I said, “Hey, so it’s called Sewing Justice Sewing Academy and this is what we’re going to do.” “I don’t want to be in a sewing class, man.” I mean I had so much pushback, but it turns out the boys, they would come spend their lunches in the class just to work on their project, so I think initially after they got over the stigma, and I kind of framed it, “Like you guys don’t consider yourself seamstresses, consider yourself textile artists,” telling a boy that means all the difference.

Just the wording alone, but “And so you guys are going to be sewing, but consider yourself a textile artist, it’s not like I’m asking you guys to make a patchwork quilt. You guys are going to design and create your own social justice art quilt.” I think what matters, [is that you] use this art as a platform to share your voice, share your opinion, once they got their fabrics, everyone was super excited, there was a couple moments where I feel like kids were getting overwhelmed, ’cause I realized, some people made really detailed, detailed, patterns, and I’m telling them, you know every pattern you draw like that’s going to be something you’re going to have to cut out and pin… But ultimately everyone was so proud of their quilts – and the progress, other teachers would come and other students who weren’t in the Social Justice Sewing Academy they would come and say “Man, I wish I was in this class.” 

Want to see more of SJSA’s work? Check out their gallery of photos and find them on Facebook and Instagram

 

You are so very beautiful – the video!

Sometimes when you come up with a project it’s hard to tell people what it’s all about. Therefore, I hired Janice Smith of Big Dog Little Bed to film a little video explaining craftivism and You Are So Very Beautiful.

This project has involved stitchers from all over the world, for which I am so thankful for! The stitches in the video are Olisa Corcoran, Katherine Bates Ruiz (and her adorable son, Michael!), Rebecca Gibson and Barbara Berry. 

Janice came over to my house one day (that’s my grandparents’ chair that I’m sitting on, the one I used to line up my dolls and stuffed animals on when I was a kid, and, yes, there is a Sadie cameo!) to talk to me about the project and craftivism, which was a lot of fun! 

She also followed us around Durham as we put out signs for You Are So Very Beautiful as well! 

For the project, I’ve even made a wee little site, youaresoverybeautiful.com. If you hop over there, you can sign up for 15 Days of Stitched Affirmations to be delivered straight to your inbox! (You can also sign up directly for the list here!) 

Interview with Elizabeth Shefrin!

Next in the interview series, we have the work of Elizabeth Shefrin! To see more of her work, go to stitchingforsocialchange.ca and middleeastpeacequilt.ca. You can also see more of the Embroidered Cancer Comic here on Facebook.

1. What is your definition of craftivism?

Craftivism is a new word for me. But I understand it as craft in an activist context and almost everything I do fits in that category. It could be banners, or tiny bits of knitting on a stop sign or magnets on the mailbox or embroidered book illustration about cancer. My studio and my website are both called “Stitching for Social Change” and that just about covers it. Also, I buy as little material as possible new. Much of my work is made out of leftover scraps.

2. What led you to start the Middle East Peace Quilt? What was the moment that led you from idea into action?

I started the Middle East Peace Quilt in 1998. I used to go to political meetings about Israel and Palestine, and noticed that everyone always said exactly the same thing and nothing moved forward, I thought we needed another way of having the conversation. I had been teaching a workshop for awhile called “Stitching for social change, the use of fabric to build a better world,” which included a slide show about projects like the Chilean arpilleras, the Names Quilt, the use of fabric and Greenham Common, etc., so it was quite natural for me to initiate a project like that of my own. I didn’t know if I would get ten squares or hundreds of them. I started by inviting some friends for dinner and putting out materials for them to make quilt squares, and went on from there.

3. At what point did you know when to stop at a certain number of squares vs. making it an ongoing project?

The Middle East Peace Quilt toured for about 11 years from 1999 to 2010. It was on display in almost 40 venues in the US and Canada, including galleries, universities, libraries, churches and community and cultural centres. Even now I occasionally bring it out of retirement if someone is interested. Some of the squares came to me in the mail and some were results of workshops I offered everywhere I could get anyone to invite me in. I collected squares for about the first four years the quilt was on the road, but touring 31 quilts was getting a bit unwieldy and it was time to stop.

4. The quilt has been touring for many years now, is that a result of you asking places to show it or of people contacting you?

Any which way I could do it. Sometimes people would see the quilts somewhere and contact me. Other times I would ask groups to consider hosting the project. I often worked with people to help them connect Jewish and Arab or Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups in their communities. I encouraged people to bring me in to speak and do workshops and helped them figure out how to get the funding to do so. Once I started chatting to someone I was sitting beside on a plane and she ended up bringing the project to her university.

5. What has the response to the quilt been? Has it changed over time?

People loved it. I got positive responses from both the Jewish and Palestinian communities. I got media coverage beyond my wildest dreams. Sometimes people were sKeptical and said, “What do you think a bunch of quilts can do?” And I’d ask them what they would suggest I do instead. I often listened very carefully to people’s anger and frustration and for me that was part of the project. But 1999 was a relatively hopeful time in Israeli/Palestinian politics. I’m not sure it would be the best response to the situation today.

Additionally, here’s more about what Elizabeth is up to in her own words and a gallery of photos below:

I am currently making quilts out of embroideries I created as illustrations for a comic book called “Embroidered Cancer Comic,” the story of our life after my husband’s cancer diagnosis. Another recent project is a series of fabric portraits of protesters on the recent women’s marches with their creative signs and wonderful pink pussyhats. A couple of years ago I did a fabric appliqué series called “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies,” based on photos people had posted on a Facebook page of that name. I’m also a children’s book illustrator and in that capacity I cut up little bits of paper to make the pictures.

Click through to see images: from Jews and Arabs Refuse to Be Enemies; Elizabeth’s cape for the Women’s March; images from the Women’s March; sculpture of Ladies’ Garment workers on strike; cover of Embroidered Cancer Comic—illustration is fabric appliqué and words are hand-embroidered;two puppets Elizabeth made of her and Bob as part of our musical puppet show which they use to introduce their talk about the true story behind Embroidered Cancer Comic; Embroidered Cancer Comic Quilt; garlic and the hamentaschen are cut paper appliqué illustrations from Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts; images from the 2012 protests in Montreal against Bill 78, which would limit the ability of students to protest.

 

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Podcast interview for Vickie Howell’s CRAFT*ish!

Recently I was lucky enough to be on Vickie Howell’s CRAFT*ish podcast, where we talked about craftivism, the influence of Riot Grrrl, crafting through depression and more.

I also talk about You Are So Very Beautiful, how it became a very special project in my life, and how stitching affirmations helped me work through some icky feelings, practice a little guerrilla kindness and help others in the process.

Having been inspired by Vickie’s work for years, it was great to talk to her about what I’ve been up to!

 

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