Archive | crafters + makers.

People who make stuff, whether they call it art, craft, folk art, outsider art or something else entirely.

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.

 

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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Charlotte Ambach’s secret embroidering in Waldheim Prison

Today’s post is another by Amber Wingfield, as she posted some wonderful craftivism photos from the Mighty 8th Museum in Pooler, Georgia on Twitter recently and I asked to share what she had learned! Photos by Amber and her husband Isaac.

She wrote about the WWII POW embroidery of Thomas J. McGory the other week!

Thanks, Amber!

 

These shoes, no bigger than 2 inches or so, use the colors of Belgium—red, black, and gold—as symbols of defiance.

In 1936, Charlotte Ambach was a 14-year-old German citizen living and going to school in Brussels. One of her school assignments was to write a paper about her beliefs and values. Though she had voluntarily joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel, or League of German Girls—part of the Hitler Youth organization—she had been unable to reconcile what she was being taught with what she believed, so her paper included her refusal to be a Volksgenossin, or Volk comrade. She would instead be “a human being,” she wrote.

Soon Ambach became involved in formal resistance activities. These activities included supplying the resistance with sensitive infrastructure information, which she had access to thanks to her position as a stenographer for a civil and military engineering organization. Then she started helping smuggle out Dutch evacuees who had been members of the resistance but whose identities had been discovered, putting them in danger of capture or death. She also helped evacuate Allied airmen who had survived their planes crashing during reconnaissance missions or battles and who had managed to evade initial capture by the Nazis.

Eventually, in early 1944, Ambach was arrested, along with her mother, Elise, and the two were sentenced to death for their actions. After a short stay at the St. Gilles prison in Brussels, they were sent to Waldheim prison in the eastern part of Germany. There she and her mother were confined to their cell almost constantly, save for a few excursions to other areas in the prison. They, along with their other cellmates, were given work tasks to fill their days: processing corn husks, feathers, and twine.

When they had free time, though, they spent it making contraband creations like small dolls, embroidery, and even rosaries. They had to source all of their supplies on the sly. “Everything had to be acquired by devious means,” Ambach later recalled. They snuck some of the twine they’d processed and used it to make their own shoes to replace their prison-issued footwear that caused perpetual sores. They kept some of the corn husks they’d pulled from the cobs they’d processed and turned them into long, thin braids for making mats. Another prisoner turned her stolen cobs and husks into dolls that wore “clothes” from different historical eras.

Because the women were responsible for repairing their own uniforms, they were occasionally given needles and thread for this task. When the guards returned to pick up the remaining supplies, the prisoners would pretend that they had used more yarn and thread than they’d actually needed—the excess had been hidden away for use later. On the rare occasions that they left their cells, they’d scan the floors and grounds for broken needles and bits of fabric or thread. “The pieces of thread we found were sometimes barely an inch long,” Ambach told the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia. Then, when they were allowed to repair their uniforms, they’d keep the good needles and turn in the broken ones as if they’d broken while being used.

“A valuable source of thread was the pretty little navy blue scarfs [sic] that were issued with our grotesquely hideous uniforms,” Ambach told the museum. “The synthetic material felt silky, and pulling threads from it, some quite long (almost like threads from a spool), became a favourite pastime that provided a very special material for our creations.”

However, the guards at Waldheim would search the cells randomly, and when they’d find the women’s handiwork, they’d confiscate the items. Still, the women kept crafting, and when the prison was liberated by the Allies on May 6, 1945, Ambach and her mother had a small collection of crafts that had not yet been taken by the guards. They are now on display at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum.

 

Ambach’s mother used this pouch to hold a tiny amount of soap powder on the rare occasions they were allowed to shower. The M stands for Muschka, which was her mother’s nickname. The pouch was made by prisoners in a cell who had been taught embroidery by one of their cellmates, a Belgian woman who had owned and operated a dress shop in Brussels.

 

This piece was embroidered by one of Ambach’s cellmates. The words are lyrics to two French songs the women sang to keep their spirits up. Note the French and Belgian flags at the bottom of the fabric: These national symbols were forbidden by the Nazis.

 

Ambach embroidered this piece for her mother’s birthday, which was May 3. The prison was liberated on May 6.

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POW Embroidery: Thomas J. McGory

Today’s post is by Amber Wingfield, as she posted some wonderful craftivism photos from the Mighty 8th Museum in Pooler, Georgia on Twitter and I asked her to share some of what she learned on her trip! Thanks, Amber!

Before World War II, Thomas J. McGory was Chief of the Dryden, New York fire department.

After the war, he was an athletic trainer and baseball coach at Cornell University.

And during the war, he was a top turret gunner and flight engineer for B-24s, stationed in England—until his plane was shot down in Germany and he was captured by the Nazis.

Then Thomas J. McGory was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft IV in modern-day Poland.

For nine months, he and around 8,000 other men struggled to survive the harsh weather, meager food, and poor sanitation. This alone might have been enough to occupy his time, but McGory was concerned about his mental health as well.

“I really needed a project to keep me from going stir crazy,” he said in an interview with the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia.

So he turned to embroidery.

A handkerchief and a needle in a package he received from the International Red Cross were good starting materials, but he needed thread and a subject to embroider. B-17s and B-24s were natural choices for the handkerchief’s corners, so he sacrificed some black thread from his shoelaces for them. In the handkerchief’s center, he decided to recreate his Eighth Air Force patch, so he needed blue thread. Those strands came from the tail of his shirt. Still, his piece needed something else.

It needed a flag. An American flag.

McGory used cigarettes (a common prisoner currency) to “buy” red and blue threads from other prisoners, who sourced the threads from their own clothing and towels given to them by the Red Cross.

The decision to embroider his country’s flag was not a flippant one. “I knew creating that kind of U.S. symbol was an offense that they could shoot me for on the spot,” McGory said. But he embroidered it anyway.

On February 6, 1945, the Germans forced the Stalag Luft IV prisoners to begin a march of 600 miles to another prison in Germany. The march, which the prisoners called the Shoe Leather Express, lasted 86 days. McGory’s handkerchief was with him every step of the way: He’d tied it around his waist before leaving the prison.

Today, McGory’s handkerchief is on display at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. It’s a remarkable example of craftivism among the museum’s exhibits of war memorabilia. Because we craftivists focus so much on the intended effects of our work on other people, we might forget to evaluate the impact our pieces have on us, their creators. McGory’s embroidered handkerchief served as a silent protest against his captors, but it also served as a rallying point for his patriotism, his identity, and his sanity.

 

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For more POW embroidery, check out the story of Jim Simpson!

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