So… last year I decided I needed a new project for 2014. This project was to write here every week about 52 historical acts of craftivism! Then 2014 happened and then I had surgery and then all of a sudden it was… February. Hmm…
Undaunted, here goes 48 acts of historical craftivism. And since I’m busy, you’re busy, and we’ll all busy… I’m limiting myself to 2 hours a week researching said act.
Why am I doing this? Because I’ve found myself getting into the rut of hitting refresh all too often on my email, Facebook, Twitter and I need something else to do on the internet. Because this is what I’d like to do my PhD about, but am not sure if anyone would ever give me money for said PhD… So I figured, why not just do it anyway? Because craftivism is not new, just the portmanteau is. Because I want to be inspired again. Because I am healing from a stupid disorder and this is my balm. Because I want to share these stories with someone, anyone. Because, because, because of all these things and more. Because maybe over the course of these 48 weeks, someone else besides me will learn something.
Have an idea? Want to write your own #HistCraftivism post? Let me know, I’d love to have you come along on this journey with me.
So here’s Act #1. Gandhi spinning khadi.
Because Gandhi used craft as a way to help India come under swaraj (self rule) and free itself from British rule. He used the spinning wheel or charkha (in Hindi) to help his fellow Indians make their own clothes without depending on anything else but their own labor. This commitment to traditional cloth making was also part of a larger swadeshi movement, which aimed for the boycott of all British goods.
And since there has been a lot written about this, here are some of the best quotes and information I’ve uncovered for you, so you can learn more.
First off, a 17-second video of Gandhi himself spinning!
Gandhi also made the following observations about the economics of Indian cotton and the systematic exploitation of Indian for her raw materials under British rule.
Step 1: English people buy Indian cotton in the field, picked by Indian labor at seven cents a day, through an optional monopoly.Step 2: This cotton is shipped on British ships, a three-week journey across the Indian Ocean, down the Red Sea, acro
Khadi first caught the imagination of the nation during the freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi, who propagated it as not just a fabric, but a way of life. One that is centred around the village, where the practice of khadi would be able to generate employment, income and, hence, self-reliance. Khadi was meant to become a supplementary industry to agriculture, a crucial element in a self-sustaining economy.But it was not simply about the making of yarn at home, it was the spirit behind it. Gandhi’s vision was clear: “If we have the khadi spirit in us, we should surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life… The khadi spirit means illimitable patience… The khadi spirit means also an equally illimitable faith… The khadi spirit means fellow-feeling with every human being on earth.”Adopting khadi as a lifestyle choice symbolised the move away from British textiles and products — resulting in all those spontaneous bonfires into which people flung their rich silks and laces from England — and the promotion of all things Indian. Spinning yarn on the charkha, Gandhi believed, inculcated discipline and dedication. It was meant to be a great social equaliser — “It sits well on the shoulders of the poor, and it can be made, as it was made in the days of yore, to adorn the bodies of the richest and most artistic men and women” — and was also a tool to bring women into the fold of the freedom movement.
From the December 1931 issue of Popular Science:
From Gandhi himself:
The spinning wheel represents to me the hope of the masses. The masses lost their freedom, such as it was, with the loss of the Charkha. The Charkha supplemented the agriculture of the villagers and gave it dignity. It was the friend and the solace of the widow. It kept the villagers from idleness. For the Charkha included all the anterior and posterior industries- ginning, carding, warping, sizing, dyeing and weaving. These in their turn kept the village carpenter and the blacksmith busy. The Charkha enabled the seven hundred thousand villages to become self contained. With the exit of Charkha went the other village industries, such as the oil press. Nothing took the place of these industries. Therefore the villagers were drained of their varied occupations and their creative talent and what little wealth these bought them.
The industrialized countries of the West were exploiting other nations. India is herself an exploited country. Hence, if the villagers are to come into their own, the most natural thing that suggests itself is the revival of the Charkha and all it means. (Harijan,13-4-1940)
Mahatma Gandhi saw God in every thread that he drew on the spinning wheel; its music was like a balm to his soul. He also pointed out the therapeutic use of the spinning wheel — it was a nerve relaxant and could help in gaining steadiness of mind, and in controlling passion. “…the yarn we spin is capable of mending the broken warp and woof of our life.”
Mahatma Gandhi’s movement for charkha was aimed at building a new economic and social order based on self-sufficient non-exploitative village communities of the past. It was also a protest against growing industrialism and materialism which were making man a slave of machine and Mammon. To quote him: “The message of the spinning wheel is much wider than its circumference. Its message is one of simplicity, service of mankind, living so as not to hurt others, creating an indissoluble bound between the rich and the poor, capital and labour, the prince and the peasant. That larger message is naturally for all.”
An interesting story about the iconic story about this iconic photo from Life Magazine (more photos at link) by Margaret Bourke-White. I really like that “she had to learn to spin the wheel before she could take his photographs!”
More from Gandhi himself: “Do spin and spin after due deliberation. Let those who spin wear khaddar and let no one who wears (khadi) fail to spin. ‘Due deliberation’ means realization that charkha or act of spinning is the symbol of non-violence. Ponder; it will be self-evident.”
On a more recent note, one of Gandhi’s charkas was sold at auction last year!
A spokesman for Mullock’s auction house in England told the Indian Express, “The charkha was the physical embodiment and symbol of Mahatma Gandhi. He once said: ‘In my dream, in my sleep, while eating, I think of the spinning wheel. The spinning wheel is my sword. To me it is the symbol of India’s liberty.’”