Archive | crafters + makers.

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

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!

Interview with Kate Young @sewkate!

The minute I saw Kate Young’s “Resist” sweater on Instagram, I knew I wanted to know more about it! Thankfully she agreed to answer some questions about it, the answers to which you can find below.

To see more of Kate’s work, follow her on Instagram, @sewkate!

 

1. What does craftivism mean to you?

I see craftivism as an opportunity to express myself politically in public, and to identify myself as a maker.

2. Why did you decide to make a political sweater and not say a scarf or something smaller?

I knit 27 pussyhats leading up to the Women’s March on Washington. The simple pattern in chunky yarn was quick to knit and gave me a feeling of helping while I was watching the news and making calls to my congressmen. Shortly before the March I started hearing that pink pussyhats were offensive to some people; that the color pink didn’t represent all women, and that many women of color and trans women felt excluded by the hat as a symbol of feminist resistance. I took that criticism seriously. I believe that as creators, we don’t have control of how others perceive our art. Pussyhats made with good intentions were perceived as exclusive, so I wanted my next project to carry a message that was more personal to me and hopefully also resonated with a broader audience. I considered knitting a hat from fingering weight yarn I had on hand, but the fine gauge made for very slow going. I went to my local craft store and chose Wool-Ease for a sweater, because there were large quantities in stock and I liked the color selection.

I was influenced by @sweaterspotter (Anna Maltz) who has been teaching a #wingittopdown yoked sweater class – I liked the idea of choosing color and pattern as I knit. I was also influenced by @knitsonik (Felicity Ford) who translates favorite scenes and landscapes into knitted color-schemes, and has knit a fabulous sweater with a personal message. Like this Missy Elliott sweater.

3. Why one word repeated? And why that word?

The word “resist” had begun a drumbeat in my head. The election introduced a lot of uncertainty into all of our lives. My husband lost his job unexpectedly the day after Thanksgiving, which compounded the uncertainty. We live in Pennsylvania, a swing state that narrowly elected Trump, and I participated in a county recount of Presidential ballots to check whether the paper ballots matched the electronic tally (it did – Hillary won my county fair and square). Our local election for the State House of Representatives also had to be recounted, and the winner had only 25 votes over the opposing candidate.
Seeking a plan for action, I started attending local political meetings. “Resist” was the new battle cry of many fledgling grass-roots organizations. It also has a personal meaning for me in my creativity. I am mostly self-taught, I like to follow patterns, and when I encounter a construction challenge I sometimes get paralyzed by uncertainty. Knitting the word “resist” gave me a sense of purpose in the new political era, and it freed me from perfectionism. I improvised the designs and color changes as I knit, and resisted second guessing myself. The result is a sweater that fits and that I am very proud of. I don’t even notice any mistakes although I remember that I had to knit past some.

 

4. What has the response been?

I have worn the sweater more days than not since I finished it in mid-February. It won’t be long before the weather turns and I’ll have to put it away. Most of the public places I’ve worn it have been political rallies and meetings. It often takes a little time before someone notices the words, and the response has been very positive. I’ve had several offers from folks wanting to buy a resist sweater, but I’m more interested in working for local change. I am organizing a county chapter of the non-partisan group, Fair Districts PA, to end political gerrymandering in my state.

 

5. What is your next craft project? Is it a politically-based one?

If I lived in a place that was cold for most of the year, I might knit a series of sweaters with different words. But since it’s warming up, I am knitting a baby sweater for a friend instead. It’s a cotton sweater with no messages, but it’s small and gives me a sense of accomplishment in an uncertain world.

Interview with Marcia Galvin @craftivistshetland!

This interview is with Marcia Galvin, who is on Instagram as @craftivistshetland! I love the signs she’s been making and her perspective, I’m sure you will as well!

 

1. What does craftivism mean to you?

Craft + Activism = craftivism, I am using craftivism as a gentle tool for protest, for expression and interaction with the environment.

 

2. How did it get you thinking about making craftivist signs? Why did you decide to do it?

I was lucky enough to meet Sarah Corbett (of the Craftivist Collective) a few years ago when she came to my college as a guest lecturer (I’m a BA (Hons) Contemporary Textile student) and I instantly felt a passion and connection to craftivism, but as usual life got in the way, but it’s always been in the back of my mind, then Trump happened, and I felt so helpless, but just days before the Women’s March in Washington, somebody arranged a sister march in Lerwick, Shetland, and I went along to show solidarity.

The local press did an article about it and it was published online on their Facebook page and I just couldn’t believe the backlash we got from the local community. The majority of the comments mocked us, said we were wasting our time, we were fools, we should do something more important etc, and there were hundreds of comments. I was genuinely shocked that an act of solidarity received such a negative reaction and I admit that I, along with other marchers felt like being quiet for a while.

At the same time as this was happening, I had started to research into the links between making/craft (sewing, knitting, crochet) etc and health and wellbeing, as I have been using hand knitting for personal therapy for a number of years. I turn to sewing, knitting, crochet as a way of reflection/time out/self-soothe and to calm my mind, and somehow things collided! I was thinking about all the wonderful protest signs I had seen on the news, and I was sitting at night stitching and processing my thoughts.

I’d mentioned craftivism to somebody and decided to ‘stitch a message’ so I could visually show them what I meant, and before I knew it I had stitched about 3 messages! It felt right, I was still feeling wounded by the hurtful online comments and this for me, was a way of speaking but remaining anonymous.

 

3. How did making the signs make you feel? Why and how did you pick the quotes?

I love making the signs, I have a huge box of scraps and finally they had a purpose, and felt I had a voice again, and I felt strong, when stitching words I am saying them in my mind, and thinking about their meaning. I decided not to put political messages, I didn’t want to offend people, I wanted to engage them, and I wanted the messages to be simple so that everyone, including children could understand the meanings.

After I’ve made a sign, I get my daughters (aged 14 and 16) to give me feedback, I ask them what their interpretation of the quote/message is, this has been really helpful. The quotes come from everywhere, the internet, the radio, books, and I have lots of quotes from music that I hope to use too, I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan!

 

4. How did you decide where to put them? What was it like placing the first one?

This is probably the toughest challenge I’ve had, the first few times I put them in places where people tend to walk their dogs or on scenic paths, but it’s something I am still constantly thinking about, I placed one sign close the library as I thought about the connection to words, reading and enjoyment. Placing the first one was so exciting, it was such a glorious sunny day, and I took my daughter with me to act as my ‘lookout’, it was lovely to share that moment with someone else.

 

5. What has the reaction been? Internally and/or externally!

I decided to keep quiet about this, but I did set up and Instagram account @craftivistshetland so I could share photos. After a few weeks I started noticing photos on Social Media, Shetland is a small island community, I’ve seen my own friends on Facebook share photos of my signs and ask who is behind this? And how many more are out there? The comments have all been extremely positive and this has been so encouraging, I know I can’t stay anonymous forever (that’s island life!) but it has allowed me to build up a bit of confidence. My hope for the future is that it becomes more a community collaboration, I would love to get together with other likeminded people to craft together, and chat about what is important to us as individuals and as islanders in our community. I love that this is a work in progress and happy to go with what feels right.

The Art on Their Walls Told a Different Story (from Kirsten Moore)

I met the lovely Kirsten Moore in late 2014 when I was in Portland on a book tour with Leanne Prain and Kim Werker. She posted a link to this post, which was originally on her blog, and after I read it, it stuck with me. Therefore, I asked Kirsten if I could share this here as an example of craftivism and she agreed.

Thanks, Kirsten!

“Scene from Camp” traditional Japanese embroidery by Hatsune Kawashima made during WWII

In light of everything that is happening here in the United States, I felt compelled to track down the artwork of my Bachan (my maternal great-grandmother) Hatsune Kawashima. She made some pieces while imprisoned by the United States government at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center during WWII. The piece I had in mind, isn’t the one pictured above, but a simple embroidery of a barbed wire fence on a stark white background. I spent many hours of my childhood looking at it; first at her house, then at my great-aunt’s house, and I have thought about it a lot over the years. It seems even more pertinent right now that I find it. This is the person who, with my mom taught me how to sew when I was 3 (their photo is on my about page). She died at age 100 about 14 years ago. I cannot understate the influence she had on me; even though we didn’t speak the same language.

From my mother: “Some memories of our conversations…there was never anger in her voice, but acceptance, humility. Those who actually served, like Grandpa, served as a patriotic obedience, they were proud.”

You can go read about the “internment” of the Japanese. Go read George Takei or Yoshiko Uchida or the veritable plethora of first person accounts. I wasn’t there. This happened to my grandparents generation. They rarely talked about it, but the art hanging on their walls told another story. I am haunted by this bit of American history. I’m reminded when people ask me where I’m from, and I say “here.” And then they say, “before that.” Or simply told to “go home.” I am home. Home in a country that constantly reminds me that I am an other. I am not. I am an American. Both of my parents and all my grandparents were born here. I can trace my ancestry on my dad’s side to our founding fathers.

So when I see the internment of the Japanese to be used as “precedent” to marginalize another group of people, I want you to remember this: Race is a cultural construct. There is no biological basis for the separation of people by colour or nationality. And yet here it creeps in again. This isn’t a disagreement about policy or politics. My personhood is threatened, along with anyone who simply doesn’t agree. This leaves no room for discourse. Dehumanizing others always leads to violence; it is happening here. Right in front of you. Fascism. This is not who we are. This is no time to “wait and see” or “give him a chance.” Please call your congresspeople, make your voice be heard, volunteer in your community, donate to organizations who protect our rights, be nice to your neighbours and fight to keep the rights that the law and the constitution guarantees us. All of us.

UPDATE: found!

 

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.

 

 

 

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