Tag Archives | making

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.

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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Sayraphim Lothian, Craffiti, and Authentically Connecting

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Sayraphim Lothian is an artist I really admire, especially her work around Guerrilla Kindness. As such, I was happy when she agreed to write an essay for Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism on just this subject! In her essay, Guerrilla Kindness, she writes:

Ultimately, guerrilla kindness is about discovering that people care about one another, and that someone out there cares about you. Therefore, guerrilla kindness work is about extending your community. It’s about reaching out your hand to a stranger and using your skills to make someone’s day brighter. It’s a handcrafted, joyous experience both for the maker and the finder. My work is aimed at creating tiny bubbles of joy in the lives of passersby, tiny surreal moments that might make people do a double take.

And I just like that so much, don’t you? A simple act that brings joy to both the maker and the finder *and* “extend[s] your community,” what could be more divine?

Therefore, I was happy to hear about a new project of hers, Craffiti, a show that opens tomorrow in Melbourne at the No Vacancy Gallery. From the No Vacancy website:

This new work marries Melbourne’s diverse Street Art scene with handmade, soft sculptures inspired by a selection of art adorning our city. The original sketches, stickers or stencils will be presented alongside the sculptures in the space. Running concurrently with Craffiti will be a Guerrilla Kindness project of knitted spray cans that will be left in cities around the world for people to find. Connecting the exhibition globally, in cities including New York, London, Christchurch, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne, the cans will include a hand-sewn label with Craffiti @sayraphim on them. This label will lead local and international spotters through Twitter and Instagram to discover the relevance of their finds.

And even happier to be one of the lucky ones who gets to “connect the exhibition globally” by dropping two of her knitted spray paint cans in my town, Durham, North Carolina, tomorrow morning! As you can see from the photos in this post, a lot of love and talent has gone into making these spray paint cans and they even make that exquisite shake-y sound that all spray paint cans make as you shake them up and get ready to paint. (And I never realized before how satisfying that sound actually is… it’s the sound of creativity about to be born!)

The heart of this show, to connect, is not only something that really makes me wish I could teleport to Australia to see the show, but is also something that I think speaks to what humanity is all about, connecting. As when we truly connect to someone, we give a tiny piece of ourselves away to them and they leave a tiny piece of themselves with us, which is such a magic exchange!

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Therefore, I like to think that I’m more than just plain ol’ me, I’m also a bit patchworked together with tiny pieces of other people I’ve connected with along the way, their hopes, their lives, their dreams. Whatever we connected about a day ago, a year ago, a decade ago… it’s all there, still inside of us. It’s a silent exchange, a painless exchange, a heartfelt exchange. It’s a look, a phrase, an understanding. And one that allows us to deepen into our very essence, as in connection, we also get a boost of affirmation that we are being heard and seen.

I don’t think we are always as cognizant as we need to be about being heard and seen authentically. Because when that happens, we are integrating what we’ve learned from others with the deepest parts of ourselves. And this mingling allows us to grow stronger and stronger, by reminding us how earth-shakingly profound it is to connect with someone else, how good it feels to be heard and seen in a world where what we say on social media has such a short time of relevancy, because when we connect, there is no timeline. We give and take and exist forever through what happens when we are our most honest selves.

And through making, we do the same, as what we make leaves a trace of ourselves on it. We exist in our color and design choices, and in between our stitches. And we pass on those bits of ourselves to those who receive, find or otherwise come to ultimately own our work. There is magic in the making and passing on, as we are able to connect in a universal way that transcends geographic location. We are still being seen and heard, we just don’t know who is doing that seeing and hearing. It could be that guy at the bus stop or that kid panhandling for change or a mother out for a midday walk with her child in a stroller… people who we could never imagine connecting with.

Instead of connecting in person, we are connecting through making. And just like connecting in person, this dialogue, too, is good for our souls, as we give a piece of ourselves away without asking for anything back. And giving without expectation helps to further connect our feet to the ground and the soul of this earth, by allowing ourselves to have a little part in the mystery, the magic, and the wonder of this thing called life.

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