Archive | why handmade.

Aside from what you can make with your hands (and who creates with them), why is it important?

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!

To stitch is to start 

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Simply put, the act of stitching gives us agency. That’s why I’ve been making hats for the pussy hat project. I’ve been knitting my way back into action one step at a time. Too often I make to-do lists that are grand and have massive goals, like “be more productive,” which, while aspirational, don’t help much at all, really.

What does help is the act of creating something from two sticks and string. I can watch it grow in my hands, I can see it take shape, I can literally track my production.

Textiles (along with other crafts) give us time to process. We can rip out what is not working, in both our hands and our heads. We can be inspired by the actions of others. We can join the others that came before us, stitching along with them.

Textiles are catalysts for action. They show us that action isn’t taking one massive step, it’s taking lots of little steps and stitches from which to build on. Like the stitches our hands make, one stitch becomes two stitches becomes two thousand. And in this way, textiles show us how to move forward.

I’m going to the march in DC because when I interviewed some of Australia’s knitting nannas, one of them (Louise Somerville!) told me they started showing up at mining sites to let the companies know they were watching. (Apparently that was boring so they brought their knitting- and the badassery only grew!) I am going to the march not in anger or rage, there will be no yelling for me.

Because when I’m angry, I lose my capacity to make the world a better place. That’s my focus, seeing what craftivist-type work people make, maybe passing out some #yasvb signs and taking some photographs to share with you.

Do I hope our next president makes the world a better place? Yes. Despite all my feelings, I still have hope that there will be some good done. But I will watch. I will not yell, I will not scream, I will not rage. I will continue to work quietly towards making the world better stitch by stitch, the more that want to stitch along, the better.

And that’s just my reason. There are 200K other reasons. And we don’t have to agree on why we’re going. We just have to agree that showing up in our hats is a mark of resistance. A handmade notation that “this is not okay.”

That we sat down and made hats in our own time means that we care enough to take tiny action steps. For some, we may make out of anger, chomping at the bit, but, for others, we may be stitching to embolden ourselves to speak our truths on the matter.

These stitches we make we make to remind ourselves we have agency, our voice matters, we are not alone. They can help us stitch our ways into being activists of whatever sort of activist we wish to be. What matters is that we make these stitches, that we show ourselves that we are strong enough to make something from nothing.

And, along the way, if we meet others with the same hats or wishes or stitches, we can meet their strength with our own and stand together.

Our stitches do more than just make hats, they jolt us into being and becoming agents of change. They show us what is possible. They show us we are powerful. They are the sparks that remind us that change only happens when we take the first step, take the first stitch.

With them we join a legacy of makers, a thread extending both into the past and present, who have our backs too. And in both directions, we can make our voices heard loud and clear, we just need to be brave enough to listen to our hands and our hearts first.

So, if you’re not sure where to start or what to feel or what to do, first, stitch. Then the rest will come.

Suffragettes… And Their Banners

I’ve been writing some posts on craftivism for the Fabrics Store blog, and the one that comes out on Friday features suffragette banners, along with Gandhi and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.

As I was looking for photos for that blog post, I came across the large photo collection of suffragette photos from the Library of Congress, and was amazed at all the different ways women used to get their message across. There are just a few of them below.

Please note that the photographs are in thumbnail version, so that if you click on them, they revert to their original size, allowing you to view them in more detail.

A 1917 photograph by Harris & Ewing of an unidentified suffragette.

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Trixie Friganza between other suffragettes on top of steps, New York, 1908. 

liberty and her attendants

Liberty and her Attendants (Suffragette’s Tableau) in Front of Treasury Building, Washington, DC, March 3, 1913.

suffragettes at white house

Suffragettes at the White House, 1900. 

bristow amendment

Suffragettes in Washington, DC, 1917. 

suffrage speaking from cart, london

Suffragette speaking from a cart, London, 1900. 

american suffragette

Mrs. H. Riordan, Suffragette, New York, 1910. 

how long

Suffragettes picketing at the Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, 1909. 

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Suffragettes in Washington, DC, 1910. 

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Suffragettes in London, 1900. 

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Margaret Vale (Mrs. George Howe), niece of President Wilson in suffrage parade, New York, October 1915.

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Suffragettes in Washington, DC, June 1917. 

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Suffragette Trixie Friganza in New York, 1908. 

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Gen. Jones “Forward,” 1914. 

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Suffragettes and young girls carrying balloons, running down the steps of the U. S. Treasury towards three awaiting women, Washington, DC, 1913.

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Mrs. J. L. Laidlaw, suffragette, 1910.

suffragettes with banners

Suffragettes with banners in Washington, DC, 1918.

suffrage hay wagon

Suffrage hay wagon, Yonkers, New York, 1913.

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Suffragette Alyce Jenks.

suffragette umbrellas

Suffragettes and their umbrellas, 1910. 

suffragettes with flagsWomen suffrage hikers General Rosalie Jones, Jessie Stubbs, and Colonel Ida Craft, who is wearing a bag labeled “Votes for Women pilgrim leaflets” and carrying a banner with a notice for a “Woman Suffrage Party. Mass meeting. Opera House. Brooklyn Academy of Music. January 9th at 8:15 p.m.

tiny suffrage banner

A tiny, yet mighty, suffrage banner.

suffragette ball butterfly dance

Suffragette ball butterfly dance.

no self-respecting woman

Suffragettes with banner, Washington, DC, 1920. 

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Suffragettes posting bills, 1910.

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Suffragette ball Greek cymbal dance, Washington, DC, 1918.

Eurovision, Writing Authentically, + Finding Your Audience

So, I don’t know about you, but I watched the Eurovision Song Contest this past weekend. And it was brilliant. Serbia’s performance was AMAZING. And, personally, I think they were robbed. Robbed! You can see the whole thing for yourself here:

And after it was all said and done with, I started thinking about some of the cultural differences between Americans and Europeans. Like how Americans are great and awesome, but not always so hot at being authentic. We’re too worried we’re going to hurt someone’s feelings or divulge too much of ourselves and therefore leave ourselves open for attack. Whereas Europe is all ready for weird. All the time. For proof, check out Georgia’s (the country’s) entry for Eurovision this year. It’s like a female version of The Crow, but more stylish:

As Americans, we want everyone to like us so much that we look kind of vapid in comparison at times. No, not all the time, but a lot of the time we edit our personal details out in the name of wanting to be likable.

And that’s fine in our personal lives, but what about the lives of our businesses? There is so much noise about talking to your one customer. Therefore, I spent days mulling over this and getting frustrated, because there is no one demographic that I’m writing to. I don’t the specifics, like what they wear, because they wear whatever the eff they feel like. As instead, I’m writing to people who have the same soul as me, the ones who are realists, also but secretly kinda dreamy.

Here’s who I am writing to:

The ones who get excited about long talks til dawn with someone new. Who know sadness closely well enough to know that seeing the world as beautiful is something that we choose to do. The nerds who will always choose the right thing to do, even if that means not winning. The ones who do the right thing when no one is watching because not to do it would internally feel like a skip on a record sounds. The ones that sometimes cry because they’re so happy and present and in the moment that big fat tears of joy stream down your face. The old souls that know that craft is good for you in its way of connecting us to both past and present and nourishing in both act and product. The ones that have a special time of the day that they carve out for its exquisite soul-filling silence. Those who find the beach in winter almost more beautiful than in summer. Those who revel in the light touch of fireflies when they land on your skin. The ones that know that holding hands in silence can be either super hot or super okay and that you don’t always need words. People that laugh at kids’ jokes. And at any party with a pet present, seeks out the pet to pat before leaving. Someone who knows the value of ritual, but also that it’s okay not to have one every night. Someone who still believes in magic despite being old “enough” to know better. People who love sitting at the kid’s table.

These are my people. I am nourished by the fact that they (you!) found me and am humbled by the fact they (you!) stay. My people want more, but not more things. More a-ha moments and memories and depth. What do I hope I give to them (you!)? Newly resurrected, on this blog, heading out on my own for freelancing, I hope to give some depth to your day, not to make you ponder, but to make you feel grounded in your life, your craft, and your choices.

And I hope that I do just that. Who do you write to? One demographic? One person? Or specific types of beings? Why do they get up in the morning? What specifically makes them have a self-described “good day?” I think finding “what” drives people is more important than “who” these people are. Agree? Disagree? Agree to disagree?

Craft Is About The Making, Not About “Moral Virtue”

While these cats in this 1915 Henry Whittier Frees may feel superior to you, it's probably because they're cats, not because they're sewing.

While these cats in this 1915 Henry Whittier Frees may feel superior to you, it’s probably because they’re cats, not because they’re sewing.

Thank all of you last week, who read, shared, and commented on my rebuttal post to Emily Matchar’s NYT op-ed piece and my post about why Etsy owes its sellers nothing, despite recent (and disappointing) changes. Those pieces were nearer and dearer to my heart than most.

One of the things in Matchar’s article that I found most upsetting was this paragraph:

Our hunger for handmade has gone beyond aesthetics, uniqueness and quality. In progressive circles, buying handmade has come to connote moral virtue, signifying an interest in sustainability and a commitment to social justice. By making your own cleaning supplies, you’re eschewing environment-poisoning chemicals. By buying a handmade sweater, you’re fighting sweatshop labor. By chatting with the artisan who makes your soap, you’re striking a blow against our alienated “Bowling Alone” culture.

Because if you actually craft and make things, chances are high you do not do so because of so-called “moral virtue.” You do so because you like it.

And, to be honest, this has less to do with Matchar than it does with people outside of the maker community at large. The people who because they don’t get it, they make up reasons why it’s bad. The people who don’t see that it’s fun to make something for yourself. That seeing alternatives to fast fashion and mass produced is not a superiority thing, it’s a natural thing. Humans have made things much much longer than they have bought them in stores. They don’t know what it’s like to create something with your own two hands. The satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, the sense of love and care.

To have such a sense of curosity and wonder about how things are being made that we circumvent the mall at times is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing. And as happens to most good things, some people that don’t understand turn them into bad things, which happens whenever something comes along that people don’t like or understand. Yes, there are people who make things and buy things because it makes them full superior to some degree. However, assigning that value to someone else just speaks to one thing, the thinker’s own insecurities.

Unless someone comes up and says, “I am better than you for drinking this kale smoothie” or “You suck for not handquilting your bedspread,” you really don’t know what they’re thinking. Yes, you can assign what they’re thinking, but that’s just you making a guess. It’s preying on your insecurities, and then it eats away at you.

Apparently this is my worst nightmare.

Apparently this is my worst nightmare.

Here’s an example. So I go “running” several times a week. It’s actually a combination of running and walking. I am very slow. I am also pretty insecure about running very slow. Since I go running fairly early in the morning or mid-afternoon, I always seem to get passed by a school bus, which is pretty much my worst nightmare. Kids will tell you exactly what they think, and there is a special breed of kids who will yell things that aren’t so nice. There is an insecure part of me that’s worried they will yell something about me being not so skinny or slow or (hell’s bells!) both. This insecurity didn’t pop out of thin air, those comments were lobbed at me when I was a kid. (In other words, I was primed to be somewhat neurotic about it later on.)

I also picked low-traffic streets to run on so I don’t have cross the paths of many people, because, after all, I’m not so good at running and am focusing on breathing, much less panting what would be a very weak and pathetic “hello.” (I’ve since decided on doing a two-finger wave that sporty people and motorcycle people seem to have down cold. At least in my head I’ll look cool.) And, God forbid, when I cross paths with someone even remotely sporty looking, I turn into a 7th grader for a few seconds. Suddenly, I’m thinking that they are thinking that I’m too big to run, too slow or both.

Cut to when I’m back to walking. Someone jogging passes me. I think, “Yay! They’re jogging!,” not “OMG, look at her butt.” Because I am happy to see other people exercising and I don’t care. (And also, I may be still focusing on trying to breathe!) However, they could be fully convinced I’m doing the latter, even though I’m cheering them on in my head. And this waste of psychic energy bemuses and bewilders me, because we all do it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try and combat it. Or maybe I should put my energy into doing a cool head nod instead of a two-fingered wave.

Because those buses that pass me? Where I’m thinking some kid is going to yell something crappy at me? I realized the other day they’re actually empty. There are no kids. I was getting worried/pissed/annoyed for no reason. I (literally in this case!) made it up. Which is just what we do when we think that someone thinks they’re better than us. We don’t know. We’re assigning our insecurities (poor, slow, not at the weight they want to be, old, the list goes on) to them. We’re -ahem- projecting.

So the next time you think that person pulling out the organic lip balm out of her upcycled purse thinks she’s better than you? They’re enjoying themselves while you’re getting yourself in a snit because you think they think they’re superior. They are happy, you are bitching about something that doesn’t exist. How about going and making something that makes you happy instead of finding things to complain about that only exist in your own head?

Just remember that making is about connecting*. Connecting ourselves to others, connecting our hands to the things we make, connecting our brains to our hearts, connecting, connecting, connecting. By thinking that this connecting is about superiority, you’re missing the whole point. It’s about being fully human and following your curiosities instead of what anyone else tells you to do. Or what you think you should do. In diving in to crafts and handmade, we become better versions of ourselves, not superior versions, but fuller versions of who we really are.

*For more on that, see David Gauntlet’s brilliant book, Making is Connecting.


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