Archive | activism + protest.

The positive side of things, because after all, activism is not a 4-letter word.

Craftivism = Dialogue, Dialogue = A New Beginning.

NB: For this post, I recommending physically clicking on the photos to see them at their full size. You won’t be disappointed.

Growing up in the 80s, we were all terrified by AIDS, even though, at that time, our chances of getting it as tweens and early teens was pretty nil. But the unknowableness of the disease made it terrifying. This photo came to our cultural consciousness from the pages of LIFE magazine in 1990.

I gave Ryan White a hug at a church function. He was a hugger, of course, so this was totally okay. I think it was the first time I truly realized that you could give with your presence, your attention, your touch. After all that we had heard on the news with fear mongering, hearing the reality straight from the teen’s mouth and having him stand in front of us, it seemed like the only thing we could do. To show him that we weren’t afraid, to show others there was no reason to be afraid, and to show ourselves that there was a real person in front of us. And sometimes when we’re farther afield, it feels like making something is all we can do.


Often times when people ask me about craftivism, I mention the AIDS quilt* as an example, because everyone knows the AIDS quilt! Its presence has helped ease the stigma of AIDS and HIV. Its presence has helped create dialogue of all sorts, from family members who created the squares to visitors walking among the squares to people viewing photos of the squares, it helped start the conversation about AIDS. It moved all of us from being too frozen to do anything to literally giving us something to talk about. A literal quilt.

From a wonderful piece on the AIDS quilt by WBUR, here is a bit about its humble beginnings:

In spring 1987, Bay Area activist Cleve Jones—a friend and protégé of Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay San Francisco politician—began working with friends to assemble quilt squares. Each panel was 3 feet by 6 feet, the size of a human grave. Each was emblazoned with the name of someone lost to AIDS. And they put out a call inviting others to make more.

“My political cronies said it couldn’t work,” Jones told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1996. “I always knew it would be successful.”

The idea had come to Jones during a 1985 march to remember Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who were both murdered by a gunman at City Hall in 1978. Jones asked participants to carry signs featuring the names of San Franciscans who had died from AIDS. At the end of the procession, they taped the signs to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. The patchwork look reminded Jones of a quilt.

In June 1987, the first 40 panels of the AIDS Quilt were hung outside San Francisco City Hall. “We were founded to remember their names and to advance a movement,” Rhoad says. “We were founded by a group of grassroots activists to transform the conversation from statistics, the other, all the things that were driving the conversation in the ‘80s.”

The article continues to say that the quilt “honors 96,000 people” and that “they get a new panel almost every day.”

Amazing, huh?

Dialogue was the reason why I started craftivism in the first place. To highlight how what we make with our hands can start a conversation that we may not be able to otherwise put into words. And this, to me, is the most important thing about craftivism. The thing I’m the most proud of, knowing that in making craftivist pieces we are creating conversations that may not have otherwise happened. As craftivists, we are allowing our crafts to have a life beyond utilitarianism and aesthetics, we are allowing craft itself to enter the conversation.

You may be one person or 96,000 to contribute to your project or see your work, and that’s okay, because you started a dialogue with someone. Someone (hopefully!) put the connection together about the medium and the message and why they fit together. And as I talked about last week, it’s the you element that is the most important here.

Because often craftivist pieces are about subjects that we find difficult to talk about. Race, illness, class, harassment, assault, and more. All issues that are involved and not for bus stop chatter. All issues that we talk about amongst people that we know. All issues that are sticky and tricky and full of weight and frustration and layers. These conversations get caught in our throats and make our voices quake. Yet, when we have a craftivist piece about the issue, we can go into it sideways by explaining the process or aesthetics or reasoning.

I guess in a way, you could say that for craftivists, our pieces are literally our shields. Pieces of armor that deflect those who want to hurt us. If necessary, we can hide behind them. But more often than not, it is their very presence that gives us courage to go into battle. We know it will cushion any possible verbal blows and give us conviction with its coverage.

And with each dialogue we start, we create a new beginning, a new way of understanding. Yes, there may not be agreement, but that doesn’t mean something valuable hasn’t happened. You started the hard conversation. Your work opened the door to a back and a forth, instead of a one-way lecture.

#3 Printcovercover FINALvangardist printausgabe.indd

Over the past few days, pieces (here and here) have come out about a new issue of the Vangardist that was literally printed with the blood of HIV+ people. Talk about helping people work on their own feelings about AIDS! How many dialogues (both with others and internal) were started because of this? Amazing!

So, as the godmother of craftivism, I say to you, if you take nothing else away from me or craftivism itself, take away that your acts of craft are powerful, the dialogues you start are important, and your willingness to create them is immeasurable.

*If you’d like to read more about the AIDS quilt and craftivism, LJ Roberts’ essay in Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism is about just that.

Fashion Revolution Day + Notes from the Labor Industry

For over 4 years, I worked in the labor industry, editing auditor’s reports of factories (mainly) overseas. Having no previous background in the industry, I first found it boring and initially just used the time to work on my editing skills, as I worked with reports written by people from all different nationalities and linguistic backgrounds. I enjoyed how reports came to us as somewhat of a puzzle that needed to be put back together in order for the public to be able to read them easily.

But then, I became fascinated by the contents of the reports themselves, not just their grammatical components. I learned that in some countries people had more days off for the death of their father than for the death of their mother (or even their own wedding). That in many countries both workers and managers firmly believe that workers perform their duties just as well on the 4th hour of their shifts as they do in the 18th hour. And that often, if a factory changed its working hours to within a 48-hour work week (in order to satisfy our organizational benchmarks), many workers would quit and go find jobs in a factory offering a 60-hour work week because they couldn’t earn enough money at the first factory.

Some of the findings were surprising, as in some countries women could take sick days off for having their periods. And some canteens in one country catered to the local food preferences of their migrant workers from others. And that even though it’s often used in journalism as the biggest problem in factories, child labor was not actually found very often in the apparel and footwear factories that we worked with.

There were sometimes also ghastly findings, like rodent-infested factory canteens and live wires in dormitories and lung problems due to the inhalation of dust or tiny microscopic bits of fabric. My least favorite thing of all to find in these reports, however, was that sometimes factory doors were kept locked during the day with chains and that fire escapes were either non-existent or too rickety to hold many people.

Two years ago today, the Rana Plaza building collapsed. I remember sitting at my desk researching articles trying to find out if any of the companies we worked with were involved, looking at the photos online and seeing people being rescued by sliding down slips of fabric (could you imagine that being the standard and means of safety in your place of employment?), the whole while seeing the death toll rising.

I’m no longer at that job, but I am thankful for the world it exposed me to. A world that most people don’t get to look into or even think about on a daily basis. A look into factories where people are making what we wear on our bodies and our feet. A look at how factories both improved and worsened people’s lives, depending on how they were run. A daily reminder that somewhere, someone had a literal hand in making my clothes.

So, today, on this 2nd anniversary, articles are being written, and thanks to the efforts of organizations like Fashion Revolution, people are taking photos of themselves with the labels of the clothes they are wearing. You can check out the #fashrev hashtag on Instagram here. People are talking about what happened, and that’s why I started craftivism in the first place, to open up dialogue between people about subjects that may be seen as difficult.

You can take photos of your labels, wear your clothes inside out, take note of our problems with consumption today. But hopefully that doesn’t mean you’ll forget about it tomorrow, because somewhere someone is making your clothes, your shoes, your carpets. And by remembering that when we make purchases, hopefully we can buy more clothes from producers who are auditing their factories (there are several different ways to do that, some better than others, but that’s not really an issue for this post); treating their workers better (you can check out initiatives like Labour Behind the Label to see how different companies are doing); and learn to make our own clothes (on that front, I always hear raves about Cal Patch’s video classes!)

By making someone else’s day-to-day work part of our day-to-day awareness, that doesn’t mean we have to totally change all our habits right now. It means we can start small by mending old clothes that have holes in them instead of throwing them away (check out Tom of Holland’s rad Visible Mending Programme!); checking the labels in our clothes and become aware of where they come from (hint: they don’t all come from China); and we can think about whether or not we really need that new top. Small changes and decisions lead to even bigger ones over time, the trick is to bring them into your own personal awareness.

But to me, this day will always be about this image below that was captured 2 years ago. His face is reminiscent of hundreds of photos I have seen over the years of anonymous workers in factories. Yet their embrace despite disaster is something that we all can recognize as the basis of humanity, as we all search love and comfort and each other in times of need. This photo reminds me of why it’s important to remember where my clothes came from, because after all, the people that made them, they are just like me.

The Riot Grrrl Manifesto, Craft, and Community

The amazing Alien She show that has been traveling* around the United States just opened at the Orange County Museum of Art. In reading an article about the show, which is stupendous and I highly recommend seeing, over at Fast Company (this article), I clicked over to the link for the Riot Grrrl Manifesto, which is here.

Then I wrote this over on Facebook, which also belongs here, too.


The original Riot Grrrl manifesto by Kathleen Hanna from BIKINI KILL ZINE 2, 1991 [is] good reading and mega inspiring. Although I saw (and had some) a lot of early RG stuff, I hadn’t read this until today.

While some of it is on the angsty-side, there’s a lot of good points, which were much more needed 20 years ago. This is my favorite:

“BECAUSE we are interested in creating non-heirarchical ways of being AND making music, friends, and scenes based on communication + understanding, instead of competition + good/bad categorizations.”

I kind of feel like we did that with craft, y’all. I know we differ on whether the craft resurgence came from RG origins, but we created a very inviting scene once upon a time, one that still exists. We showed up for each other and collaborated and owe a lot to what RG fought for and sweated over. (Well, them, and thousands of other feminists prior!)

I am proud to be in a community that helps others grow and succeed, one that celebrates the good fortunes of others, instead of taking them down. I feel lucky to have found craft when I did and know I owe a lot of what I have due to timing and little else. I am grateful to have met some incredibly awesome people down this road, people whose work I greatly admire and am lucky enough to call friends and peers.

So, I guess my next question is, what are we going to do next? xx

*You can see me in the show if you go! I was one of the people the incredible Faythe Levine interviewed for Handmade Nation. While my interview didn’t make it to the film, I was well chuffed to see that my photo pops up in the related photostream, yeah!

Threads of War, moving south, and other adventures

Sometimes, even though you’ve been online since the beginning of the century, you turn away from the internet. Not to shy away, not to disappear, not to bunk off without a trace. When I got back from tour with Kim and Leanne in late October I was tasked with putting together the final touches of Threads of War at Artspace, which was an exciting process, but definitely a learning one.

Having this opportunity to try my hand at curating was an invaluable experience; therefore, I am both thankful for the kind support of the Artspace staff as well as the willingness of Hanne Bang, the Combat Paper Project, Bonnie Peterson, and Alexandra Walters to share their amazing work for this show. While I have shown my own work in a number of shows over the years, it’s a whole different experience to have someone else agree to share their work with you!

Here are a few photos of the show itself and its installation.






All of these photos were first shown over on Instagram, should you wish to follow me over there.

The show will be up until January 31st. Olisa Corcoran, who participated in Hanne’s In a War Someone Has to Die project and stitched a handkerchief that is in the show, has written a lovely blog post about it here.

As for what’s next for me and my brand of craftivism (as while I did start the whole shebang, I’m definitely not the only one writing about it, which you can see here), well, first of all, in just a few weeks I’m moving to Durham, North Carolina! While I was installing Threads of War and then hanging out with my little niece and nephew over Christmas, I realized that I needed to go back home and make the time to do more freelance projects (editing, writing, making), all the while embedding myself in a smaller (yet thriving) arts community.

I’m excited about this next chapter in my life, and while doing 365 projects may seem like all the rage these days (and why not- they’re great), I’m going to let this blog and my work grow in ways that it needs to. I want to take more photos and write more essays and make more things. I want to get back to where I was before 4 years of spending 1.5 hours a day commuting, although I’ll miss crossing the Potomac on my way.

I want to produce work just like the quote below goes, not because I aim to get anywhere in particular. (The photo below is from @wrdsmith’s feed on Instagram, which is simply amazing!) I want to dive into things deeper as opposed to trying to learn 10,000 things at once and really “aim” for “good,” instead of aiming to know all the things. I’m looking forward to the journey and would love to have you come along with me.


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