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Craftivism = Dialogue, Dialogue = A New Beginning.

NB: For this post, I recommending physically clicking on the photos to see them at their full size. You won’t be disappointed.

Growing up in the 80s, we were all terrified by AIDS, even though, at that time, our chances of getting it as tweens and early teens was pretty nil. But the unknowableness of the disease made it terrifying. This photo came to our cultural consciousness from the pages of LIFE magazine in 1990.

I gave Ryan White a hug at a church function. He was a hugger, of course, so this was totally okay. I think it was the first time I truly realized that you could give with your presence, your attention, your touch. After all that we had heard on the news with fear mongering, hearing the reality straight from the teen’s mouth and having him stand in front of us, it seemed like the only thing we could do. To show him that we weren’t afraid, to show others there was no reason to be afraid, and to show ourselves that there was a real person in front of us. And sometimes when we’re farther afield, it feels like making something is all we can do.

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Often times when people ask me about craftivism, I mention the AIDS quilt* as an example, because everyone knows the AIDS quilt! Its presence has helped ease the stigma of AIDS and HIV. Its presence has helped create dialogue of all sorts, from family members who created the squares to visitors walking among the squares to people viewing photos of the squares, it helped start the conversation about AIDS. It moved all of us from being too frozen to do anything to literally giving us something to talk about. A literal quilt.

From a wonderful piece on the AIDS quilt by WBUR, here is a bit about its humble beginnings:

In spring 1987, Bay Area activist Cleve Jones—a friend and protégé of Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay San Francisco politician—began working with friends to assemble quilt squares. Each panel was 3 feet by 6 feet, the size of a human grave. Each was emblazoned with the name of someone lost to AIDS. And they put out a call inviting others to make more.

“My political cronies said it couldn’t work,” Jones told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1996. “I always knew it would be successful.”

The idea had come to Jones during a 1985 march to remember Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who were both murdered by a gunman at City Hall in 1978. Jones asked participants to carry signs featuring the names of San Franciscans who had died from AIDS. At the end of the procession, they taped the signs to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. The patchwork look reminded Jones of a quilt.

In June 1987, the first 40 panels of the AIDS Quilt were hung outside San Francisco City Hall. “We were founded to remember their names and to advance a movement,” Rhoad says. “We were founded by a group of grassroots activists to transform the conversation from statistics, the other, all the things that were driving the conversation in the ‘80s.”

The article continues to say that the quilt “honors 96,000 people” and that “they get a new panel almost every day.”

Amazing, huh?

Dialogue was the reason why I started craftivism in the first place. To highlight how what we make with our hands can start a conversation that we may not be able to otherwise put into words. And this, to me, is the most important thing about craftivism. The thing I’m the most proud of, knowing that in making craftivist pieces we are creating conversations that may not have otherwise happened. As craftivists, we are allowing our crafts to have a life beyond utilitarianism and aesthetics, we are allowing craft itself to enter the conversation.

You may be one person or 96,000 to contribute to your project or see your work, and that’s okay, because you started a dialogue with someone. Someone (hopefully!) put the connection together about the medium and the message and why they fit together. And as I talked about last week, it’s the you element that is the most important here.

Because often craftivist pieces are about subjects that we find difficult to talk about. Race, illness, class, harassment, assault, and more. All issues that are involved and not for bus stop chatter. All issues that we talk about amongst people that we know. All issues that are sticky and tricky and full of weight and frustration and layers. These conversations get caught in our throats and make our voices quake. Yet, when we have a craftivist piece about the issue, we can go into it sideways by explaining the process or aesthetics or reasoning.

I guess in a way, you could say that for craftivists, our pieces are literally our shields. Pieces of armor that deflect those who want to hurt us. If necessary, we can hide behind them. But more often than not, it is their very presence that gives us courage to go into battle. We know it will cushion any possible verbal blows and give us conviction with its coverage.

And with each dialogue we start, we create a new beginning, a new way of understanding. Yes, there may not be agreement, but that doesn’t mean something valuable hasn’t happened. You started the hard conversation. Your work opened the door to a back and a forth, instead of a one-way lecture.

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Over the past few days, pieces (here and here) have come out about a new issue of the Vangardist that was literally printed with the blood of HIV+ people. Talk about helping people work on their own feelings about AIDS! How many dialogues (both with others and internal) were started because of this? Amazing!

So, as the godmother of craftivism, I say to you, if you take nothing else away from me or craftivism itself, take away that your acts of craft are powerful, the dialogues you start are important, and your willingness to create them is immeasurable.

*If you’d like to read more about the AIDS quilt and craftivism, LJ Roberts’ essay in Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism is about just that.

Fashion Revolution Day + Notes from the Labor Industry

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For over 4 years, I worked in the labor industry, editing auditor’s reports of factories (mainly) overseas. Having no previous background in the industry, I first found it boring and initially just used the time to work on my editing skills, as I worked with reports written by people from all different nationalities and linguistic backgrounds. I enjoyed how reports came to us as somewhat of a puzzle that needed to be put back together in order for the public to be able to read them easily.

But then, I became fascinated by the contents of the reports themselves, not just their grammatical components. I learned that in some countries people had more days off for the death of their father than for the death of their mother (or even their own wedding). That in many countries both workers and managers firmly believe that workers perform their duties just as well on the 4th hour of their shifts as they do in the 18th hour. And that often, if a factory changed its working hours to within a 48-hour work week (in order to satisfy our organizational benchmarks), many workers would quit and go find jobs in a factory offering a 60-hour work week because they couldn’t earn enough money at the first factory.

Some of the findings were surprising, as in some countries women could take sick days off for having their periods. And some canteens in one country catered to the local food preferences of their migrant workers from others. And that even though it’s often used in journalism as the biggest problem in factories, child labor was not actually found very often in the apparel and footwear factories that we worked with.

There were sometimes also ghastly findings, like rodent-infested factory canteens and live wires in dormitories and lung problems due to the inhalation of dust or tiny microscopic bits of fabric. My least favorite thing of all to find in these reports, however, was that sometimes factory doors were kept locked during the day with chains and that fire escapes were either non-existent or too rickety to hold many people.

Two years ago today, the Rana Plaza building collapsed. I remember sitting at my desk researching articles trying to find out if any of the companies we worked with were involved, looking at the photos online and seeing people being rescued by sliding down slips of fabric (could you imagine that being the standard and means of safety in your place of employment?), the whole while seeing the death toll rising.

I’m no longer at that job, but I am thankful for the world it exposed me to. A world that most people don’t get to look into or even think about on a daily basis. A look into factories where people are making what we wear on our bodies and our feet. A look at how factories both improved and worsened people’s lives, depending on how they were run. A daily reminder that somewhere, someone had a literal hand in making my clothes.

So, today, on this 2nd anniversary, articles are being written, and thanks to the efforts of organizations like Fashion Revolution, people are taking photos of themselves with the labels of the clothes they are wearing. You can check out the #fashrev hashtag on Instagram here. People are talking about what happened, and that’s why I started craftivism in the first place, to open up dialogue between people about subjects that may be seen as difficult.

You can take photos of your labels, wear your clothes inside out, take note of our problems with consumption today. But hopefully that doesn’t mean you’ll forget about it tomorrow, because somewhere someone is making your clothes, your shoes, your carpets. And by remembering that when we make purchases, hopefully we can buy more clothes from producers who are auditing their factories (there are several different ways to do that, some better than others, but that’s not really an issue for this post); treating their workers better (you can check out initiatives like Labour Behind the Label to see how different companies are doing); and learn to make our own clothes (on that front, I always hear raves about Cal Patch’s video classes!)

By making someone else’s day-to-day work part of our day-to-day awareness, that doesn’t mean we have to totally change all our habits right now. It means we can start small by mending old clothes that have holes in them instead of throwing them away (check out Tom of Holland’s rad Visible Mending Programme!); checking the labels in our clothes and become aware of where they come from (hint: they don’t all come from China); and we can think about whether or not we really need that new top. Small changes and decisions lead to even bigger ones over time, the trick is to bring them into your own personal awareness.

But to me, this day will always be about this image below that was captured 2 years ago. His face is reminiscent of hundreds of photos I have seen over the years of anonymous workers in factories. Yet their embrace despite disaster is something that we all can recognize as the basis of humanity, as we all search love and comfort and each other in times of need. This photo reminds me of why it’s important to remember where my clothes came from, because after all, the people that made them, they are just like me.

Craft and Privilege, Part 2: Redefining What Crafty and Creative Mean

So to follow up to last week’s 5 Ways Crafters are Privileged… And What To Do About It post… Earlier today this lovely post by Pip Lincolne came up on my radar about prioritizing creativity. And truth be told, I was actually disheartened by the comments.

Because I started wondering, “How many people commenting are the sole breadwinners for their families?” And I felt like a jackass. And an effin’ giant pit grew in my stomach that literally made me nauseous. Because I do believe in creativity and beautiful things and that they’re important.

I also started wondering how many of the commenters have worked minimum-wage jobs. Then I checked out this survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which put things in perspective and made that argument kind of moot, for the most part.

And talking about this sort of thing is so difficult in the creative (especially the craft) world because it is heavily divisive. Or maybe we just don’t want to check the weight of our own safety nets. Because many (I won’t go as far as saying “most”) of us have options. And like I said last week, we will never have to choose between the electricity bill and food.

Part of ingesting this means understanding that this is not about feeling (or being made to feel) guilty. We were all born into our unique circumstances with our own unique struggles. It’s not as if we orchestrated our own births, so there’s nothing to feel guilty over if we utilize what we have. If we give back. If we understand that not everyone has time to prioritize creativity. They might want to do so, but may not have the same resources or support network that we have.

We need to realize that that reality exists and then we need to give back where we can. Donate handmade (and bought, yet no longer worn) clothes of good quality to shelters and organizations so that others can wear something and shine and feel special. Donate your time to volunteering so that others (two-legged and four-legged alike) can benefit. Yarnbomb that abandoned lot so that it turns into less of an eyesore for neighbors. Make a basketball net for those empty hoops and hang it up. Speak up where others are afraid to. Share stories of how to help others within your networks.

The point here is to not demonize the craft community for having access to resources, but to realize that not everyone is in the same position. That through your/our enthusiasm to handmade things, you can show others how they can be more easily attainable by teaching them, donating supplies, and showing how being creative doesn’t necessarily meaning taking hours out of your day, but can take minutes.

Because many crafters and creatives have access to resources, those terms have become ones that some people believe they can’t otherwise embody. And as some people think, “being creative” doesn’t equal “wasting time,” because it is invaluable. We just need to help reframe it. You don’t have to have a degree or a 401k or a Twitter account or whatever to be creative.

We are creative when we take a different walk home from work each day or make tidying up a fun game or heck, find a new way to lace up our shoes. We are “creative” when we bring ourselves into what we are doing, which can cost nothing and take up no extra time. We are “crafty” when we do something fun with the empty toilet paper roll or weave pine needles into something or make a daisy chain out of flowers.

Therefore, it’s time to make “creative” and “crafty” more accessible again by remembering their roots. And in doing so, we can remind people that it’s not about having your own craft room or website, it’s about taking the time to make your day more enjoyable. But first, we need to realize our own circumstances, own that not everyone’s may be the same, and come up with ways to lessen that gap.

P.S. And, ha! Be sure that when typing in frustration/bewilderment, you ALWAYS check your titles! There was some rearranging, hemming, and hawing on this, but alas, “means” even though edited to be the correct “mean” in the title, remains forevs in the actual link!

P.P.S. I decided to write a third (and final) post about craft and privilege, which you can read here.

Week #9 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Louisa Pesel!

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First of all, you may be wondering, what is a woman riding a camel in the Khyber Pass doing on a post about craftivism? Well, it’s totally related once you realize that that woman on that camel is Louisa Pesel, who helped shell-shocked soldiers and passed out cross-stitch/embroidery kits (some resources say one, some the other) to POWs with the Red Cross.

I’ve searched high and low on the internet for more information than provided below, but it’s sparse. If anyone has any more information, I’d love to hear it! While this week’s entry may be a bit sparse, I hope it helps someone learn about the fabulous work on this amazing woman.




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Louisa Pesel is a special hero of mine. Many years ago I fell in love with her notebooks and her meticulously hand drawn charted designs of antique needlework. She was saying, ‘Just look at this, isn’t this design wonderful?’ Having travelled to many countries in the near East, she wanted all the world to see what she, by her good fortune, had seen. I think it is so important to keep alight the torch she lit. The more so, perhaps, since she was an old girl of my school in Bradford. How strange to think that the school founded in 1875 and something of a scandal since it proposed to teach girls mathematics and classics instead of the usual domestic arts, should have been, in its turn, slightly astonished to turn out a scholar with a passion for design and needlework.




Born in Bradford, Louisa Frances Pesel (1870-1947) was a teacher of embroidery. She studied design under the Arts & Crafts practitioner Lewis Foreman Day, who recommended her for the post of Designer at the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens, where she soon became its Director. After returning to England, Pesel worked with shell-shocked soldiers in Bradford, and was involved in establishing embroidery kits for POWs (Prisoners of War) during the Second World War.




More than 90 years ago, in the final year of the First World War, steam trains daily brought injured soldiers into Bradford for hospital treatment.

Among these hospitals was the 437-bed Abram Peel Hospital in Leeds Road, a military establishment for neurological disorders, staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and volunteers.

A club was formed to help them, the Bradford Khaki Club, based in Forster Square.

Khaki Club members were also taught embroidery by Louisa Pesel, the Bradford-born daughter of a German merchant. She was in her 40s, a noted scholar and embroidery expert who had been director of the Royal Helenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens.

She helped some of them to embroider what is known as the Khaki Cloth, a cross-stitch frontlet made at the club in the autumn of 1918 for use at services in the Abram Peel Hospital.




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The Bradford Khaki Club was formed in the First World War to help the many shell shocked and injured soldiers brought home for hospital treatment. It had a restaurant, games room, library and held concert parties, members were also taught to embroider by Louisa Pesel (first President of the “Embroiderers Guild of Needlework”), some of whom helped embroider what is known as the “Khaki Cloth”, a cross-stitch frontlet made in 1918 and used at services in the “Abram Peel Hospital” in Leeds Road a Military establishment staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.




From 1941 to 1947: Pesel was involved in sending craft kits out to POWS in Red Cross parcels. She also taught sewing to evacuated school girls in Winchester.




Along with all of this amazing work, she was also world traveled and master embroiderer.

The Pesel Collection of Collected and Created works, bequeathed to the University of Leeds in 1947, consists of a total of over 400 embroidered items, ranging in size, stitching and provenance. The majority are of Turkish and Greek island origin, others emanate from Morocco, Algeria, Turkestan, India, Pakistan, Persia, Syria, China, and Western Europe. The collection also includes Louisa Pesel’s own pieces and samples, including her ‘models’ for Winchester Cathedral, and also an archival collection of her notebooks, photographs, articles and drawings*. Many of her publications are available to view in Leeds University Library.




One of the founders of the Khaki Club was Louisa Pesel, a relatively well to do 46 year old woman, whose war efforts also included assisting Belgian refugees and raising money to provide ambulances for use at the Front. She was also an expert embroiderer, and used this as therapy for the soldiers.

Week #8 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Knitting and the Vietnam War!

Knitting and the Vietnam War?! Really?! Yes! During the Vietnam War, 2 Canadian organizations Canadian Aid for Vietnamese Children (CAVC) and Voice of Women (VOW) used knitting as a way to help the Vietnamese people. Here are some of the links that I found so you can learn more about what happened.




I was puzzled, however, as knitting did experience extreme peaks in popularity during wars prior to 1950, however, with the Vietnam war, knitting for wartime efforts played a far smaller role in female participation in war efforts, leading up to the present day, in which knitted goods are virtually absent from discourse on military support efforts. How did knitting go from being such an integral part of the war effort to being a nonexistent one?




Voice of Women (VOW) was founded in 1960 whem women across Canada decided they must try to stop what appeared to be imminent nuclear war. The Summit Conference had collapsed; the Cold War was rapidly getting hotter, and we felt women around the world should band together to demand an end to war. Groups like VOW were formed in many countries.

By the end of its first year, VOW had 6000 members. It organized an International Women’s Conference in September 1962- the first meeting in Canada to include women from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Conference delegates called on the U.N. to designate a World Peace Year. The idea was taken up by Prime Minister Nehru at the UN, and 1965 was proclaimed International Cooperation Year.




…Young initiated a knitting project to provide clothing for Vietnamese children as a means of communicating the harsh realities of war; she hoped thereby to influence citizens across North America to press for a speedy end to the war. By November 1966, just a few months after the establishment of CAVC’s children’s committee, the knitting project had gained momentum. In a letter to Kay MacPherson, Young asserted, “We have found that actual involvement in ‘making things’ has done more to arouse compassion and publicize the great need for acts of humanitarianism and the desperate need to halt the war, than any other project.




Women in North America have long been active in trying to put an end to conflicts around the world. In the early 1960s, when the threat of nuclear war loomed over many nations, our own Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) was formed. Since then, the organization has been promoting peace and disarmament, particularly in the context of nuclear war.

VOW has organized unique activities to draw attention to its cause. In 1963, it collected and tested thousands of baby teeth from children across North America to demonstrate the fallout from the atmospheric testing of Strontium 90, a harmful radioactive isotope. During the Vietnam War, the Ontario VOW organized the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children. Over a ten-year period, the group sent thousands of hand-knitted garments and other aid to the child victims of the war and their families.

Over time, VOW has expanded its focus to include human rights and civil liberties, preservation of the environment, as well as economic and political issues.




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Presumably some of the young Canadian knitters and other youth volunteers found kinship with the unknown Vietnamese children they were assisting or when they imagined themselves in the same situation. Zoya Stevenson, a Toronto teen, participated in the CAVC knitting campaign because she could relate to the Vietnamese children affected by the war. “The napalm bombing of innocent women and children (like myself) shocked me,” she recalled, elaborating that “the fact that these acts of terror were sanctions by citizens of my own country, frightened me terribly.”


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The efforts of women fighting for peace did not end with the World Wars, nor did the use of knitting as a form of peace activism stop. The Canadian group ‘Voice of Women’ (VOW), created in July 1960 as a reaction against the Cold War, garnered ten thousand members by 1961 – just twelve months after having been first established.[25] Barbara Roberts’ essay, Women’s Peace Activism in Canada, featured in Kealey and Sangster’s Beyond the Vote: Canadian Women and Politics (1989), explains the way in which VOW became a prominent feminist and peace activist group during the years of the Cold War, despite being founded at a time when “feminists were cranks” and “socialists were commies”.[26] The group took on the initiative of knitting thousands of camouflage baby clothes to be shipped to Vietnam so as to protect children and their families from the US air strikes.[27] This bold action made a loud statement to the Canadian people, and despite not being well received by much of the public, VOW continued to protest the Cold War.

More reading:
*Purls for Peace:The Voice of Women, Maternal Feminism, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children
* Re-Imagining War: The Voice of Women, The Canadian Aid for Vietnam Civilians, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children, 1966-1976

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