Author Archive | Betsy

Interview with Virginia Johnson of Gather Here!

Virginia Johnson’s project “You Belong Here” at her Cambridge, MA, shop, Gather Here is not just important, but given the current state of things here in the United States, it is imperative.

You can see more entries to the project on Instagram and read more about the project (with a quote from me too!) here.

 

1. What is your definition of craftivism?

Craft + activism = craftivism. Seriously. We are huge advocates for handcraft, working with your hands to create something tangible is a form of resistance in a world that so often focuses on consumption. And many people pickup crafting because they discover they are craving a means of expression that also will allow them to slow down and focus on the moment. They begin to create for others and in those acts make the greater a community a better place.

 

2. How did you come to collect stitched pieces that say You Belong Here? What moved you from idea to action?

Post-election Cambridge, Massachusetts was a pretty gloomy zip code. This is a place that really believes that women’s rights are human rights. That there is always room for refugees. That love is love. I was talking with a 9 year old girl a few weeks later and she was wearing a tshirt that said, “You Belong Here.”

Her mother had made it for their family post-election so that they could reassure the people in their neighborhood that they were important to the community. I got choked up listening to this young girl explain that just because leaders say hateful words doesn’t mean we need to accept them. That night I sketched out a large embroidery and patchwork banner that said “YOU BELONG HERE”.

When I woke up I knew I needed to ask the community to join me in this effort because it would be our combined voices that would drown out the hate. When I told the young girl about the project she hugged me and committed to making her own cross stitch version.

 

 

3. What has been the most surprising thing about the project?

I honestly thought it would be only interesting to our surrounding community. Like people who physically come in and visit the shop. I was surprised when I started seeing people who live all over the country posting photos of their works in progress on Instagram. And suddenly the signs began to come in the mail!

 

4. Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had thought to do an actual physical community event where people could work on their pieces together. I heard from many stitchers that they took on the project because they needed to create something positive. I think people really need to have places they can go to feel included and accepted. And working on such an inclusive message would have been great to do together.

 

 

5. What project(s) are you going to do next?

I’m currently collaborating with a letterpress artist to produce some inclusive message posters that we can share with other small businesses. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh gave an incredibly impassioned speech advocating for sanctuary cities. I was inspired and am committed to spreading the message of inclusiveness far and wide.

 

 

 

Hide a Hat and Fight Back Interview!

I found out about Catherine Hicks’ Hide a Hat and Fight Back over on Instagram via the #craftivism hashtag. If you have craftivism projects, please hashtag them so I can find them more easily!

Next week I’ll be sharing Gather’s “You Belong Here” project, which is needed now more than ever. They’re accepting signs until next week, so get to it!

You can also read more about what Catherine has to say about the project over on Medium.

 

1. What is your definition of craftivism?

Craftivism is the call for social change through what are considered typical women’s mediums.  Craftivism helps craftivists by providing a purposeful outlet for creative energies, which can be directed to increase awareness and encourage social and/or political change.

My Art Practice is primarily engaged in Hand Embroidery, and I saw a call last year asking for embroidered squares which were to be sewn together and held in front of the US Supreme Court in conjunction with the Court’s Ruling regarding the closing of Planned Parenthood Clinics in Texas. The project was spearheaded by Nguyen Chi (IG @whatchidid, whatchidid.com/) who was organizing in collaboration with TAC Brooklyn).  As a Texan, I was embarrassed and angry about my State’s Policy, so I felt like I had to participate.  So, I made a square (the embroidered hash marks represent Texas women who would lose health services)

What a thrill it was to see my contribution held up in front of the Court!

While working on my square, I did what I always do when starting a new project: I asked YouTube and Netflix to tell me everything that they knew about the subject.  I looked at many wonderful clips of videos and documentaries, and learned about the craftivist movement – I learned about Sarah Corbett (of the Craftivist Collective), and followed her internet rabbit trail, which led me to think about issues of social justice.

Because I had done a lot of research on the planned parenthood rulings, I looked up other issues affecting Texas women.  I was already particularly concerned about the open carry law, which had just been enacted in Texas.  I looked up some gun statistics in the state, and to my shock, I learned that (on average) just under one woman is killed by a domestic partner every day in the Lone Star State.  Not all of those deaths are by gunshot, but many women are killed simply because there is easy access to a gun in the house.   The enacting of the Open Carry Legislation was likely to exacerbate this situation.  (No Stats yet.)

I conceived and began embroidering the BLOWN AWAY project, hoping that I could get a solo show that would viscerally demonstrate what 277 (2013 statistics) dead women looked like.  The project was to be made up of a series of interconnected panels (in the manner of the Bayeux Tapestry) that viewers could walk past and think about the mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers lost in a single year.

(The photos above are of an individual dress [representing one victim] and a series of panels [representing one month of women murdered  in Texas.)

 The project was not accepted anywhere.

 So I have dabbled a bit in craftivism; I guess I engage when I get mad enough about something and I don’t feel like any one is listening (a common complaint with our utterly deaf Texas politicians). Even if I haven’t concretely accomplished anything in participating in any craftivist act, I feel better, because at least I am doing something!

 

 

2. What is Hide a Hat and Fight Back?

I was very excited about the Women’s March on Washington, and thrilled when I learned that there would be a march in nearby Austin, as well. Scrolling through social media to find more information, I happened upon a call for the Pussyhat Project, asking for hats to be made for Washington marchers. 

Yarn was immediately purchased.  The furious clacking on knitting needles every evening (as my husband and I both ate through miles of pink yarn) got us through the next few weeks, and we found that the knitting relaxed us and gave us a tangible sense of purpose. 

I got the idea for the Hide a Hat and Fight Back project when we got home on that Saturday night and there was nothing craftivist left to knit.  My hands were itching for something useful to do, and I figured that there were other knitters staring at empty needles just like me.  In times of trouble my Auntie Ro always said “The cure for anxiety is action!,” so I created an excuse for craftivists to keep knitting as a way of relieving political anxiety.

The tiny hat project in a nutshell:

(couldn’t help myself!)

Craftivists are asked to knit, crochet, sew, glue, etc. tiny (fingertip sized ) pink pussy hats.  Once completed, the hats will be attached to a printed or hand written card, and the craftivists will document them on social media, then “hide” the cards wherever they want – in a dressing or ladies room, on a public bulletin board, in a taxi or on a bus seat, etc.  Of course, they can also be given directly, or mailed to a legislator, or whatever method of distribution the maker favors.  

The cards will invite finders to post their finds on social media, and will encourage continued political engagement.  Finders will be encouraged to join the movement when they post.

 


3. Why hide them?

Living in a rural community in Texas, everyone almost always assumes I am a conservative.  I’m a Lutheran.  I sing in my church choir. My kids got good grades, so people make assumptions, thinking that I believe what they believe.  Of course I have liberal friends, but we lone star liberal ladies have learned that it is not a good idea to get in a shouting match in an open carry state.  We keep a low profile.  I know the liberals in my own circle, but I don’t know who the hidden liberals are. 

The march sort of changed that.  I was with 50,000 proudly progressive women, men and children, and we were in the middle of Texas!  I finally found my tribe, and it was thrilling! I had never been in a room with more than 50 Democrats, and, while marching with so many,  I have never had such an overwhelming experience of community. 

As I was conceiving what the project would be, I knew that it should reach out to my fellow progressives, particularly those living in deep red states.  I wanted to remind them (after the news of the march dies down and the hard work begins) that they are NOT alone, and we stand and resist together.  I wanted to give them the thrill of community I felt in Austin.  But unless I personally know them,  I don’t have any way to do that in an open way where I live.  I took a huge risk just putting up my Hillary yard sign, and I learned to quickly take off or hide my Hillary pin when going into certain restaurants or when running into one of my husband’s clients.  The project was my way to keep reminding progressives that, even though we are a shy people, there are a lot of us!

I am acutely aware that Trumpians will likely be offended to find the hats and may be unpleasant in their responses.  Inviting that negative energy into my life gave me pause to almost abandon the project, but then I thought it through:  If you go through life extremely confident that everyone around you thinks in exactly the same way that you do, it would certainly get your attention if you suddenly and unexpectedly encountered physical evidence that they do not.  A few encounters might be easy to dismiss, but what if you saw a dozen or dozens or even one hundred of these things?  Your unshakeable belief that you are in an unbeatable majority might start to waver.  Many Democrats in my state don’t bother voting because they feel it is hopeless – what if this project flipped that script?

Also, finding something cool is fun!

 


4. Why tiny hats and not bigger ones?

Because tiny hats are adorable.  They can be pinned to your blouse, or hung from your rear view mirror.  They can be thrown in a jewelry box or stuffed into your makeup drawer as a daily reminder that the fight isn’t over.  They fit on the end of your pencil, or can be slipped on a finger and waved.  The kids will want to use them to punctuate when they flip the bird.  They don’t have to fit a real head, so fitting issues are not issues.  Tiny hats can be made very quickly, so a lot of them can be distributed in a short amount of time.  They can fit in a craftivist’s purse or pocket, in case of travel into  an unfriendly area.  They can be made while waiting in a school pick up line, or while sitting at the doctor’s office, or while on public transit.  Big balls of yarn and needles are not required, as travel equipment is purse sized.  Tiny hats are a symbol of the larger hats, and, in turn, a symbol, a reminder, a requerdo of the larger movement.  And did I mention that they are adorable?  That said, if people want to make bigger hats, then make bigger hats.  If they want to make tinier hats, then God Bless them, and I wish I could see as well as they do.  The project is my gift to the community; what they do with that gift is up to them.

 


5. What is your goal for this project?

Right now, I just want to get the word out and get people mobilized, activated and engaged with the curative power of having something to do.  I want them to fill out the urgently needed political postcards, make the calls, and engage in the post march call to action, but I want them to also be able to do something where their focus shifts to the non thinking headspace of:  “needle behind, loop forward, correct tension, transfer the stitch, repeat.”  I want them to be able to turn their mind off and on through a radical act of crafting.  Selfishly, I want to see what they make.  Already I have been sent sketches, suggestions and sighs of relief.  That was my biggest thrill today. 

The secondary goal is:

What’s the reaction?  I have no idea if I have opened (as we say in Texas) a big can of whoop ass on myself.  If I have, then at least I have taken a stand.  Texas women used to do that, and I know a lot of us still carry that gene.  I want people to post about how they found their tiny hats and how it made them feel.  Did the hat meet them on a bad day?  Did the hat bring them hope?  Will Fox News be quoted?  Will Steve Bannon curse?

Like with my two boys just a few years ago, my job is to send the project out into the world.  What happens next is my concern, but it is not anything I really have control over.  That’s the risky part of Art Making.

 What is my dream result?

World Peace.  A Single Payer Health Care System.  Reversal of Climate Change.  A well supported public education system that continues through a Bachelor’s degree.  A legislature that is consistently 50 percent female.   The abolition of gerrymandering and Citizen’s United.  A complete rethink of the electoral college.  Passage of the ERA.   Justice for All regardless of skin color or ethnicity.  A modern energy system that is not dependent on oil.  Equal Pay.  An end to income inequality.  An engaged and factually informed electorate.  The Right to Marry and the Right to Choose.  Well funded arts programs.  A basic income for all.  Yada Yada Yada.  I would settle, though, for a progressive legislature and a President Warren.

A Hide a Hat and Fight Back call to arms.

 

Sewing together a tiny hat using a wooden spoon as a form.

 

Two tiny hats ready to go on cards.

 

A suggestion for writing Hide a Hat and Fight Back cards.

 

With my husband (in the hat he knitted) at the ATX march. And yes, I gave my heavy wool hat away for someone else to wear. It was 80 degrees, the sun was beating down on my menopausal head, so, a radical among radicals, I wore my back up summer headband and ears on my freshly blued hair.

Women’s March photos from DC (part two)

In case you missed part one, here it is.

Today means being outside of the bubble of this weekend, back to a world where the White House press secretary stood in front of journalists and openly lied. Where do we go from here?

I say we take our pussyhats and wear them. So that when we’re out and about and we see someone else wearing one, too, we know we’re not alone. A signifier of a world where kindness triumphs over anger and empathy beats rage.

 

To stitch is to start 

IMG_9436

Simply put, the act of stitching gives us agency. That’s why I’ve been making hats for the pussy hat project. I’ve been knitting my way back into action one step at a time. Too often I make to-do lists that are grand and have massive goals, like “be more productive,” which, while aspirational, don’t help much at all, really.

What does help is the act of creating something from two sticks and string. I can watch it grow in my hands, I can see it take shape, I can literally track my production.

Textiles (along with other crafts) give us time to process. We can rip out what is not working, in both our hands and our heads. We can be inspired by the actions of others. We can join the others that came before us, stitching along with them.

Textiles are catalysts for action. They show us that action isn’t taking one massive step, it’s taking lots of little steps and stitches from which to build on. Like the stitches our hands make, one stitch becomes two stitches becomes two thousand. And in this way, textiles show us how to move forward.

I’m going to the march in DC because when I interviewed some of Australia’s knitting nannas, one of them (Louise Somerville!) told me they started showing up at mining sites to let the companies know they were watching. (Apparently that was boring so they brought their knitting- and the badassery only grew!) I am going to the march not in anger or rage, there will be no yelling for me.

Because when I’m angry, I lose my capacity to make the world a better place. That’s my focus, seeing what craftivist-type work people make, maybe passing out some #yasvb signs and taking some photographs to share with you.

Do I hope our next president makes the world a better place? Yes. Despite all my feelings, I still have hope that there will be some good done. But I will watch. I will not yell, I will not scream, I will not rage. I will continue to work quietly towards making the world better stitch by stitch, the more that want to stitch along, the better.

And that’s just my reason. There are 200K other reasons. And we don’t have to agree on why we’re going. We just have to agree that showing up in our hats is a mark of resistance. A handmade notation that “this is not okay.”

That we sat down and made hats in our own time means that we care enough to take tiny action steps. For some, we may make out of anger, chomping at the bit, but, for others, we may be stitching to embolden ourselves to speak our truths on the matter.

These stitches we make we make to remind ourselves we have agency, our voice matters, we are not alone. They can help us stitch our ways into being activists of whatever sort of activist we wish to be. What matters is that we make these stitches, that we show ourselves that we are strong enough to make something from nothing.

And, along the way, if we meet others with the same hats or wishes or stitches, we can meet their strength with our own and stand together.

Our stitches do more than just make hats, they jolt us into being and becoming agents of change. They show us what is possible. They show us we are powerful. They are the sparks that remind us that change only happens when we take the first step, take the first stitch.

With them we join a legacy of makers, a thread extending both into the past and present, who have our backs too. And in both directions, we can make our voices heard loud and clear, we just need to be brave enough to listen to our hands and our hearts first.

So, if you’re not sure where to start or what to feel or what to do, first, stitch. Then the rest will come.