Here are some photos from yesterday in DC.
I wrote a bit about it here, too, but these are some of my favorites. I’ll post the others tomorrow.
I love seeing everyone’s photos on social media- it’s so incredibly inspiring and amazing! xx
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.
After seeing her work and reading her captions, I knew she’d be a wonderful person to interview. I was right – be prepared to fall in love.
1. What is your definition of craftivism?
For me craftivism is a form of expression and an art movement. But it’s also a means to an end. Craftivism is not only beautiful things made with love and usually by hand. It has a purpose. It’s an invitation to talk about certain things in the most beautiful way. We craftivists expose and talk about sometimes very difficult subjects and things people don’t particularly want to talk about. I feel most of us are trying to change the world. Even if that is an impossibility. We try. We make. We fight. We talk with no words.
I’ve been working under the craftivism ideas and terms, even before I knew what it was. After reading your book (Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism) I can finally put a name to what I do.
My usual subjects revolve around sustainability issues in the textile industry. I graduated in 2011 as a Textile Designer from University of Buenos Aires. During my studies I learned not only about the technical and creative part of my career, but also about all the parts that nobody knows like workers’ exploitation, water contamination and wasteful use of natural and manmade resources (just to name a few), that make this industry the second-most pollutant industry in the world.
I specialize in recycled and repurposed textiles. They are my language. That’s not the only material I use, but it’s the main one.
I combine them with embroidery and other technical means that are part of the contemporary (and not so contemporary) textile arts, with the idea of giving them a second chance of being things, when somebody said they didn’t have value anymore.
Just by using those textiles and not other ones (like new ones) I try to make the conversation gravitate to issues of hyperproduction, consumerism, and upcycling of discarded human products and materials through an artistic view.
2. Tell me about the Wish Project. What is it and how did it get started?
The Wish Project is my first craftivist project. At least my first defined as craftivism. It started forming in my head after I read your book, actually. I was so inspired!
The Wish Project is born from a deep personal need of doing something for others. I got tired of walking by people on the street and seeing and feeling that they weren’t having a good day. And it made me really sad. I live in Buenos Aires, a big city in Argentina. And everybody is always running somewhere, preoccupied by something. We are a third-world country, hoping and trying to grow every day. Economically, culturally and in terms of social justice.
So I thought, what can I do? To change those long faces. To give them something to smile for. To, at least for a moment, make their problems go away. Because I couldn’t tackle all of our issues by myself. So I wanted to do something small. But meaningful.
On the other hand, while talking with a friend I realized I always loved origami paper cranes. I find them gorgeous objects. Made with a purpose. Made for a wish. With love and care. You can’t do origami without your heart in it. It just doesn’t turn out right.
So I combined those two things: my love for cranes and my wishes of happiness for others.
But I made them in recycled textiles. After a process of finding the way to harden the fabric, so it would not crumble. I had to make my special means of expression do something it’s not meant to do. That is to technically work as paper.
So I made the 1,000 cranes, as the legend says to do. And started setting them loose on the street. And as I made them and set them free I wished for a beautiful day for whoever finds one on their way. Hoping for smiles and an energy shift on their day.
It seems like a silly project. But those little objects made with love and care, set in a place where they don’t necessarily belong and crossing paths with unexpected people, really have a beautiful effect on people.
With #thewishproject I’m not particularly trying to change the world. I’m trying to change the immediate world of one person. Or better said, one thousand persons. But I’m happy with just one. And that’s the powerful effect of handmade objects on people. Handmade objects are made with, from and for love. Whoever finds one of my cranes knows that somebody out there is wishing them well. Even if they don’t know me. Even if they never will.
3. Upcycling is often a part of your work, which features a criticism of fast fashion. Are the pieces from fast fashion themselves and is there a conflict there?
Yes. Some of them are from the fast fashion industry. Some of them aren’t. Some are vintage pieces.
I tend to use textiles without thinking where they come from. With this I mean that for me every textile has value. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Even though I sometimes use them to criticize the industry that makes them. And even when you think its quality is the worst, they can always be used for something else. I hate seeing things being discarded just because somebody doesn’t want them anymore. Just think about all the people needed to make a pair of jeans. Think about all the resources needed to make them. All the energy used. It can’t just end up in the garbage can because its fit is not fashionable anymore.
But I do not think it is conflicting. If I use fast fashion textiles, they are never bought. I specifically use scraps, leftovers and donations. I never ever buy fast fashion textiles, not only because I don’t like to encourage bad quality textiles and the garments and products that they usually represent (with all of the other issues they also represent), but also, and most importantly, because I don’t need to. I mean, there’s so much material that is discarded and thrown away that it’s not difficult to attain it. And that gives more purpose to what I do. Somebody has to do something with all of those resources (good or bad) that still work, technically speaking.
Why not use their own materials, to let them know the things they do wrong, or the things they could do better? I think it’s its own irony.
With vintage materials there is a whole other conversation. They represent time and quality. I’ve had the pleasure of receiving textiles from the 60s and 70s. And only the fact that I could get my hands on them is incredible. That they could still be used. And somebody took the time (and space) to keep them safe. All of those things make me appreciate them even more. They survived time. They had emotional value for somebody. Vintage textiles make me think about our relationship with our objects, their connection with our history and people. Those textiles are extremely powerful in themselves. No matter what I do with them, they have history, which doesn’t usually happen with fast fashion garments.
4. It looks like you’ve had your work in several shows this year. In a world where everything can be shared across the world in an instant on Instagram, what were the benefits of these in-person shows?
I feel like both means of communication has its values.
Internet and virtual communication allows me to talk with people around the world. People with the same interests than me. It allows my art to touch more people. To make the conversation global. To experience different reactions that are based on local experiences and ways of living.
Also on Instagram I usually share a section of a work in progress. A small detail of a bigger work. I find it’s a good tool to zoom in on the craft part. I like sharing pictures where you can appreciate each stitch. Zooming in on a stitch is also my way of making the technique the center of attention, and not the whole piece. It’s like showing a stroke of an Impressionist painting.
On the other hand, art shows allow the viewers to interact with an art piece with time. They see, they watch, they feel in an environment that is made for that experience. And they see the whole piece. They can linger on a stitch if they want to.
Personally, on the opening day, I can experience their reactions live. Not by text or emoticons. I can see their faces, their expressions. It’s completely different.
Being an artist and an activist, reactions from the public are a big part of my work. If my art doesn’t leave you thinking about some of the issues I try to talk about… I don’t want to say I did something wrong, but almost ha ha. I mean, if that doesn’t happen, my work is not done.
There is a message in my art. A message that should make you think and rethink. It should inspire you. But it is also true that sometimes the intertext is lost. Some of my work are seen as just textile works, when in fact they are textile works specifically made with recycled fabrics as a decision. That sometimes isn’t easy to see. But my artist heart tells me, that’s okay too. I couldn’t stop making, even if nobody gets it ha ha.
5. Along with embroidering, you also weave, how did you come to connect your craft with activism?
Knowing makes all the difference for me. I’m one of those people that once I know something I can’t unknow it. I can’t look the other way. I need to act on that knowledge.
Once I learned about the bad parts of the industry I was supposed to work for, I just couldn’t do it. Not with those rules. For me wasting resources is not a rule. Dyeing fabrics and polluting in the process do not go hand in hand. Making clothes and exploiting workers are not a rule, no matter the circumstances.
So I decided to transmit what I learned to others, with the best tools I had, textiles and textile practices. I decided to help and encourage people doing things in this industry with new and better rules. I decided to try to make this subject a part of the conversations of people that do not necessarily talk about them.
I weave, embroider, knit, and sew trying each time to achieve several things: encourage the making with our hands as a mean of expression. Highlight issues about the fashion industry and its destructive practices. Allow my personal needs of making things to have a deeper and more valuable meaning than just my selfishness of making. Yes, and I do strive to change the world. Even if I can’t.
Weaving in particular is a practice so old and so precious. It can be a symbolic way of saying so much. How we connect with others, how we relate. It’s a way of relating with ourselves, in the making. With others in the interconnections. And with our world as to what objects we leave behind. I weave fabric, I do not weave thread. I weave that fabric that doesn’t belong to anyone, that nobody wants. I weave from the idea that there is nothing there, because that fabric doesn’t exist because it’s trash. I give life back to what nobody wants. But it’s so transformed that it has value now. It IS again.
I think a lot about the things I make. Why do I make them? What is its purpose? What will happen to it? When I graduated from University I decided I would rather make art that inspires good changes, than products that enlist and encourage practices that are completely wrong for our world.
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!
Today’s interview is with Alyssa Arney (A) and Liz Flynn (L) of the awesome craftivist project There is a River Here!
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.