Archive | crafters + makers.

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

Interview with Louise MacBean (of @rebel_women_embroidery)!

Sharing all of these interviews has been so exciting! And today’s interview is especially exciting to me because it talks about women from years past who made a difference, but aren’t necessarily household names!



1. What does craftivism mean to you?

For me, craftivism is a way to make the causes I care about feel more personal. I first heard the term from a friend who wrote her PhD thesis on the subject – I was interested at the time, but it was a few years before I even learnt to sew.

I use needlecraft to tell the stories of otherwise forgotten or marginalised women. I almost doubted that the term ‘craftivism’ didn’t apply to my own work as I feel like my portraits are a very ‘quiet’ form of activism. I don’t go out yarnbombing in my community or creating big, public displays (though I have nothing but admiration for those who do!) but do I find something very empowering in physically sewing every stitch, taking the time to meditate on each portrait and story. I spend so much of my day working in front of screens that it actually feels quite subversive to focus on making something with my hands.


2. How did you start embroidering images of rebel women?

It was really a combination of things. I’ve always been very interested in history, and people’s stories. As a feminist I was always aware that women’s stories had often been left out, but the first time I felt like doing something about it came when researching my local history.

I was browsing the doomsday book online (as you do) – the doomsday book was a national census of all the people, property and land in England taken in 1086. I’m originally from a small village in Middlesex, and was fascinated to find that the ‘Lord’ of the village in 1086 was a woman called Estrild the Nun. I couldn’t find any further information about Estrild other than that one little entry, but she fired my imagination.

Discovering Estrild led me to learn about Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party installation, which was also a huge inspiration for my project.

Around this time, I was also unhappily employed in a craft shop, where I’d been learning to sew to pass the time on the tills. I began with cross stitch, but before I was even competent I got bored of the patterns. I started going freehand and never looked back!

I don’t consider myself particularly accomplished as an embroiderer, but I’m enjoying improving my skill with each panel, and I think it shows from portrait to portrait.




3. Who is a rebel woman to you? (I.e., what does it mean to you?)

I actually have quite a strict set of criteria! She must be a self-identified human woman who really lived (i.e. not fictional or mythological – no Lizzie Bennets or Aphrodites!), and she may have either made a notable contribution to society, worked in some way towards full equality for women, or have personally achieved something extraordinary for a woman of her time which makes her a positive role model.

I quite often have to make a quick judgement when ‘evaluating’ a historical woman’s life story – but I’m more likely to add her than not if I’m unsure. I try to judge the women within their own time – some of the warrior women like Tomyris have particularly gory stories attached to them, but were living in a very violent and brutal time period. I might not choose to include someone from the 21st Century who famously severed the head of her enemy and dunked it in a bucket of blood just to prove a point!

Essentially, the ‘rebel women’ on my list are women with interesting stories, who lived life on their own terms, sometimes even in the smallest of ways.


4. How do you find these women?

It actually took me about six months to compile my initial catalogue or ‘list’ of women (which you can access here) before I even began sewing what I’d hoped would be a quilt of about 100 portraits. The list currently includes over 1800 women from all over the world, from 3000 BCE to present day – and it’s still growing.

I asked around, I read books and kept my ears open. Any time I heard mention of a woman in history I scribbled it down and researched her later. Wikipedia has of course been invaluable – there are countless lists of suffragists by country, lists of women’s firsts, queen regents, women artists, athletes, balloonists etc.

I will never consider the list complete; I am still more than open to suggestions!




5. Is this a long term project or a gateway to something else?

It is absolutely a long term project in that I don’t have any plans to stop! I’m only about 150-ish embroideries in, so I have a very long way to go.

I also blog about each woman individually, which takes even more time, but my real hope is that others are inspired by stories. I love to access history through art, and it would be so incredible if more of these fascinating women had art, plays, films or novels written to bring them to life. If I could write 1800 screenplays, then I would!



Thanks, Louise! You can find all these images and more over at @rebel_women_embroidery at Instagram or on Facebook, Pinterest or Louise’s website.



Interview with Alyssa Arney and Liz Flynn of There Is a River Here!

Today’s interview is with Alyssa Arney (A) and Liz Flynn (L) of the awesome craftivist project There is a River Here!

There Is A River Here project sign created by Liz Flynn. Courtesy @thereisariverhere Instagram.

There Is A River Here project sign created by Liz Flynn. Courtesy @thereisariverhere Instagram.

1. How do you define craftivism? 

L: We define craftivism as any form of art production, action, or creative endeavor that aims to send a message through mediums not often seen as “fine art”. It’s an act of activism expressed through the medium of traditionally “feminine” and “interior” craft production, such as scrapbooking, sewing, or, in our case, crocheting. We feel that the act of bringing crochet out into the public eye is a form of craftivism itself, since its public display is subverting its original, unseen, place in the home and private lives of women. We feel that craftivism is a positive way to draw attention to social issues in a world full of aggression and white noise. 

2. What is the There Is A River Here project?

A & L: There Is A River Here is an environmental, site specific, public art installation in the Martha McClean-Anza Narrows Park in Riverside, CA. It’s curated by independent researcher and curator Carolyn Schutten and is being created by the two of us under the moniker ‘Threadwinners’. We are yarnbombing an outcropping of eight boulders that sit along the Santa Ana River, an environmental landmark that is oft ignored or unnoticed by visitors to the park. The yarnbombing of the boulders is being done in conjunction with a river cleanup event, as well as a dance performance piece, on November 12, 2016. 

The yarn bombing of the boulders will create an ephemeral river of blue in the natural desert landscape of Riverside, and will hopefully draw people’s attention to the site, the river, and issues of environmental conservation. We’re also hoping that our boulder installation will be able to have a second life. There’s a sizable homeless population that convenes in the area, so we hope that they will be able to deconstruct the installation and use our crochet pieces to keep warm during the cold winter months.

3. How did you come up with the idea and what have you learned while preparing?

A & L: Threadwinners had begun a working relationship with the Riverside Art Museum and Carolyn back in mid-May. We had a crochet piece, Comfort Food Blanket, hanging in the museum and we were hosting a free beginner’s crochet workshop as part of the museum’s Maker Series Saturdays art events. We all enjoyed working with each other so much that Carolyn approached us with her curatorial project, There Is A River Here. She gave us the general idea that she wanted a yarn bomb of the site, and the rest is history! Carolyn has given us free reign on the  aesthetics of the project, so we’ve come up with a variety of themes for each rock. One is all mandalas and circles, another all granny squares. Liz crocheted a blue ombre rock, and Alyssa is currently working on a glacier themed rock. We’re also trying to cover this massive 24-foot boulder with giant stripes, and potentially have a landscape-inspired piece on an enormous flat-faced boulder!

We’ve learned quite a bit in the process of creating this installation, but I think the most significant thing we’ve learned is how excited people are about public art of this nature. Through our calls for donations, as well as Community Crochet Circles we’ve hosted at the Riverside Art Museum, we’ve seen an outpouring of generosity and creativity from people who are excited by our project and want to contribute. We’ve gotten donations of yarn and beautiful needlework from people of various ages and backgrounds, and it’s so uplifting to see that the culture of craftivism and needlework is not limited to a certain niche group of people. We know that most craftivists believe in the accessibility of the movement in theory, and it’s nice to see it in action!

4. What has been the biggest surprise or lesson along the way? 

A: The biggest surprise is how incredibly generous the community has been with donating pieces and skeins of yarn to aid us in our project. The second biggest surprise is how much yarn we have used and how, just when you think the piece you’ve made is big enough, it still needs to be bigger. These boulders ARE MASSIVE! The biggest lessons are to plan ahead, leave room to alter the design to fit your work schedule and to never give up! Keep working hard and it all really does pay off in the end!

5. What is your dream craftivism project? 

A: We are in the works of making our dream project happen, but Threadwinners would love to be able to honestly bring the project from sheep to gallery/institution. It would be incredible to show the entirety of the yarn making process and wielding the material into a finished product. First off, sheep and alpacas are adorable, we both wouldn’t mind owning one of each, but I live in an apartment complex so that dream has to be stowed away in a lockbox for a while. We would love to be able to sheer the sheep, spin the wool, dye the yarn with natural dyes like woad, spinach, mushrooms, etc., and then teach people of all ages the importance of craft, art, expression, and eco-friendly and sustainable resources. They would be able to design their own project with all of the information and tools we’ve provided for them to go out in the world and share their art!

L: My dream craftivism project for Threadwinners is similar to Alyssa’s because I would also love to create a yarnbomb out of yarn that has been completely created by our hands, from sheep to skein! I would love to do something insanely large-scale, like covering an office building or a sidewalk block in yarn, with input from kids, veteran crocheters, and everyone in between! Literacy and reproductive rights are issues that I’m concerned with, so my dream craftivism project would probably address something along those lines. 

Find out more at @thereisariverhere on Instagram. For more about Alyssa Arney, she can be found on Instagram at @smashitupart and at her website. For more about Liz Flynn, she can be found on Instagram at @thelizflynn and at her website

Alyssa Arney (left) and Liz Flynn (right) with in-progress pieces for There Is A River Here. Courtesy Carolyn Schutten.

Alyssa Arney (left) and Liz Flynn (right) with in-progress pieces for There Is A River Here. Courtesy Carolyn Schutten.


Blue ombré boulder yarnbomb. Courtesy @thereisariverhere Instagram

Blue ombré boulder yarnbomb. Courtesy @thereisariverhere Instagram


Alyssa and Liz leading a Community Crochet Circle at the Riverside Art Museum. Courtesy Riverside Art Museum.

Alyssa and Liz leading a Community Crochet Circle at the Riverside Art Museum. Courtesy Riverside Art Museum.


Alyssa Arney on site at the Martha Mclean-Anza Narrows Park. Courtesy @thereisariverhere Instagram.

Alyssa Arney on site at the Martha Mclean-Anza Narrows Park. Courtesy @thereisariverhere Instagram.

Interview with Nina Elliott (@rock_vandal)!

This next craftivism interview is with Nina Elliott! To find out more about her work, check out @rock_vandal on Instagram and

1. What does craftivism mean to you?

Craftivism was a really exciting discovery for me. It allowed me to connect with my community socially and politically and to offer something unique and beautiful for everyone in the town. I find that it encourages patience, reflection and personal action and these are desirable attributes to me. 


A Pothole of Gold in Twillingate


2. Why yarnbombing?

I first read about yarnbombing online and didn’t understand the why. But when I saw one in real life my perspective shifted. I felt as if I had noticed something special amidst the hustle and bustle, a little expression of joy that beamed regardless of whether it was noticed or not.  I love the idea of being able to surprise and delight people while also encouraging present moment awareness and in my mind, yarnbombing facilitates this beautifully. 

All you Knit is Love tucked behind Tickle Point Mercantile in Twillingate

All you Knit is Love tucked behind Tickle Point Mercantile in Twillingate


3. What compelled you to do your first yarnbomb? What was surprising about the process? 

I was living in Twillingate, a really tiny, isolated town off the NE coast of Newfoundland with a long winter ahead and time on my hands. The fact that yarnbombs are temporary and easily removed made trying it out seem relatively risk free. I yarnbombed a tree on my route to work and felt a surge of joy each time I passed it. I didn’t tell anyone, but somehow people suspected that I was the Yarnbomber. Regardless, I denied involvement and kept on knitting, ultimately orchestrating a bit of a small town mystery-this added quite a lot to the fun to the whole process!  

The most surprising part was definitely how receptive and supportive the community was. This is something that continues to blow my mind the further down this path I venture, and it extends to the townsfolk, the crafting community at large and the virtual community as well. It seems everyone can love a Yarnbomb!

The Deadly Pipe Sucker is the only snake in Newfoundland was my first 3D Yarnbomb.

The Deadly Pipe Sucker is the only snake in Newfoundland was my first 3D Yarnbomb.


4. Tell us about Old Manolis and the Sea. How did it start? How did it grow? 

It all began with a friend asking me to join a committee to raise public concern over a sunken ship off the coast. The ship, the Manolis L., sank 30 years prior with over 500 tonnes of oil onboard and the Canadian government had made no effort to remove it, despite oiled birds washing ashore. There was quite a lot of concern about the issue locally and provincially and the community was rallying.

Old Manolis and the Sea began as an idea to knit black starfish for the main thoroughfare in town, with the starfish representing the potential environmental impact of an oil spill. This evolved to include a community Knit and Yoga event, creation of a zine by an artist in New Brunswick and woolly donations from crafters from as far away as Ontario. In the end, I was able to make three installations, one in Twillingate, one in St. John’s, the provincial capital and another in Ottawa, the national capital! 

While the ship still remains in place, there is some progress to report as the government has taken the very first step towards recovery by initiating a full assessment of the wreck just this summer. Hopefully, it won’t take another 30 years for the next step to be completed.

The Knit and Yoga retreat where Twillingaters helped knit starfish for Old Manolis and the Sea

The Knit and Yoga retreat where Twillingaters helped knit starfish for Old Manolis and the Sea

Twillingate's Old Manolis and The Sea installation

Twillingate’s Old Manolis and The Sea installation

5. What’s up next? What’s your dream craftivism project? 

This is a tough question! Right now I’m backpacking through SE Asia, yarnbombing each country I visit and I’ve got a few more stops before heading home. I see craftivism as a means to respond to community issues so will have to wait to see what inspiration comes from returning to the stability of life at home. Travelling has given great opportunity to open my eyes to global environment issues, to talk with people from all over the world and to subsequently see Canada with refreshed eyes; but I’ll probably need the solitude of a Twillingate winter to really conceptualize something and start to get crafty! 

Chillingate: another community knit project

Chillingate: another community knit project

Interview with Lisa Hallden (@stitchforus)!

For this interview, I asked Lisa Hallden of @stitchforus about her beautiful work. Read on to learn about why she does what she does, how she keeps her work so darn neat, and more!


1.     What does craftivism mean to you? 

Craftivism is punk. It’s do-it-yourself, use what you have (in my case cut-off jeans and the rags from an old rug) and lean by doing. It’s to use (the inherently human) creativeness to make other people feel good, impact change or better the world. I find craftivism really liberating. With focus on creativity rather than talent I could join in without actually being very good at it. So much fun, and so free.


2. How did you come up with stitching signs as reactions to real-world events?

I started to stitch messages as the refugee crisis unfolded in Europe, in the autumn of 2015. I was filled with frustration over how European politics failed humanity and I wanted to scream from the rooftops that humanity was larger and worthier and more beautiful than what we saw of it. But I also felt frustrated with how easily words are spewed out into the public spare, in a debate where many scream and few listen. Words are rattled out so fast and lightly on a keyboard and I wanted to slow myself down. Stitching the words became the way to do that, to give the messages a slower pace and a denser weight. I feel that the time and touch that is ploughed into the pieces, in combination with the softness of the cloth and the thread, that gentleness of materials, strengthen the political power of the stitched words.


3. How do you cross stitch so neatly? (All your pieces are so darn neat! I’m jealous!)

You wouldn’t believe how happy, as well as hugely surprised, I am to hear that you find my stitches neat. Their wonkiness is very apparent to me! To make them less wonky I use a sort of canvas that I pull out thread by thread from under the stitches, when I am finished. I’m not sure what the proper terminology for it is, but I’ve picked it up in my local charity shop (along with all the thread – it’s an amazing charity shop for craft!) and it works for me.

4. How do you choose what you stitch with the news being full of less-than-positive things?

The slowness of the stitching gives a lot of time to think about the words, what connotations they contain and how they may be received. I find it a difficult balancing act, to say something positive when the world looks like it does. I am senselessly angry about the politics of Europe and the death and devastation that comes in its wake, but I want my stitches to stay away from blinding anger. When I tag the stitched words on the street I want them to become little peace offerings or prayer flags, calling for freedom and love, equality and solidarity and all the beauty of humanity.

5. What is your mission with these pieces?

I hope to remind people of the goodness that lives in us all. To remind people that fear blinds us, but that the otherness out there is part of the same wonderful humanness. I hope that my pieces in a small way may help to build a bit of spirit to stand up to injustices and fight for the best of humanity. That sounds really pretentious. Oh well ­– I guess it has to be sometimes.

Because Getting Others To Help You Doesn’t Mean You’re Less DIY


This monkey was kind of my breaking point, where I realized that if I make everything, I won’t have time to enjoy truly delightful things like this little guy here. So recently I have come to realize why I have only hired two people to help me. In thirteen years. One to set up my site (2003 represent!) and one to help move things to WordPress (2014?).

And I was determined not to hire anyone because being a part of the DIY craft community was my identity, which I thought meant having to do everything alone. My hands needed to make it or else I would be caving. (Even after some thought, I still don’t know what I thought I’d be caving to, other than a better life?) But keeping a site that looks like drunken elves made it because you want to stick to your teenage principles? Worst idea ever. Because I’m not 18 wearing clothes three sizes too big (ah, the 90s!) and dying my hair pink so badly I looked like I maybe had mange and thinking that I was cool (I wasn’t, I was still a total dork).

Because the real DIY scales to where you are now, not where you were. The real DIY believes in helping other people live lives on their own terms (whether that be touring in an old van or working in a cubicle) and supporting them. It does not mean suffering and now growing. It means taking your inherent skills and running with them, not ignoring them because you think you have to *literally* do everything yourself.

Being involved in the punk scene didn’t help in this capacity, as hiring someone through that lens, too, felt icky and wrong.

So I did the best I could, but it was always less than because I didn’t have the requisite skills. It’s like when I see something at the mall I could make* and then buy the materials and never use them, adding crap to my house and in almost all cases spending more time and energy than it would take to just buy the darn thing. Because I’m DIY! Thread runs through my very veins!

Then the supplies I bought sit in a box that makes me feel like guilty because I know it’s full of ideas of things I didn’t do. Knit cute covers for wood beads to stuck into a necklace? That sounds fun and looks easy! However, there is not “this took 15 hours” footnote, so I think I can just whip it up in an evening and fail, so it goes into the box.

That box is a bummer. It is the worst for real, man.

So I don’t do all I could be doing in the fields that I rule at because that box and other related things I could make but don’t need to are an albatross on my neck… because I’m DIY, damnit. Hear the mighty force of the sound of my knitting needles work, that is my Helen Reddy roar.

But you know what? Getting a small biz or individual to help you out is also DIY, because it is supporting the community. DIY isn’t about going without, it’s about celebrating your community, which you can’t do because all of your money is going to things in that damn box.

So let’s burn the box and go do all the things we’re good at and let people help us with the rest. That’s DIY too.

*If you do this with handmade things you should definitely just buy the thing- you’ll be supporting someone like you, which is DIY, yeah! 💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼

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