Archive | craftivist interviews

A look at the Social Justice Sewing Academy!

At the start of this year, I was asked to write about the Social Justice Sewing Academy for the Craft Industry Alliance. You can check out the article here if you’re a member, as it shares more background and different photos. (And if you’re not a member, you should join!) 

Abby Glassenberg kindly said I could share some of the quotes and photos I got from the founder, Sara, so here goes! 

“The summer I got the grant, it was $25,000. UC Berkeley paid for it. So it’s a year-long public service project, where as long as you submit reports and you show that you spent the money appropriately they’ll give you $25,000 for a project. What kind of spurred it, was I was a mentor at Berkeley High School and working with the kids, you could kind of see how they would give me complaints, like at UC Berkeley they have Ethnic Studies, they have African-American Studies, they have Chicano, Latino, LGBT Studies, like UC Berkeley really gives you a holistic, a critical lens on how you view the world, on other people’s history, on the diaspora work, it just really gives you a holistic lens of American history.

And some of the kids were like, you know, in our history class we learn from African-American history starting at slavery, and I was like, you know, well before that there were kings and queens, I just like a lot of the like Paolo Friere, just I think Frierian methodology and more critical pedagogy like how to become a critical thinker and not just take whatever the teacher gives you as fact.”

At this point, Sara was tutoring kids and decided to bring in readings for them. She brought in readings about their own cultures and identities, so they could see themselves in the literature. 

She had them write research papers on the material and came up with the idea of having an art show where they could show related work and therefore involve the community. 

“I know initially when the boys were in my class and they were told, ‘Hey, you’re in Sara’s class,” and I said, “Hey, so it’s called Sewing Justice Sewing Academy and this is what we’re going to do.” “I don’t want to be in a sewing class, man.” I mean I had so much pushback, but it turns out the boys, they would come spend their lunches in the class just to work on their project, so I think initially after they got over the stigma, and I kind of framed it, “Like you guys don’t consider yourself seamstresses, consider yourself textile artists,” telling a boy that means all the difference.

Just the wording alone, but “And so you guys are going to be sewing, but consider yourself a textile artist, it’s not like I’m asking you guys to make a patchwork quilt. You guys are going to design and create your own social justice art quilt.” I think what matters, [is that you] use this art as a platform to share your voice, share your opinion, once they got their fabrics, everyone was super excited, there was a couple moments where I feel like kids were getting overwhelmed, ’cause I realized, some people made really detailed, detailed, patterns, and I’m telling them, you know every pattern you draw like that’s going to be something you’re going to have to cut out and pin… But ultimately everyone was so proud of their quilts – and the progress, other teachers would come and other students who weren’t in the Social Justice Sewing Academy they would come and say “Man, I wish I was in this class.” 

Want to see more of SJSA’s work? Check out their gallery of photos and find them on Facebook and Instagram

 

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.

 

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.

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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