Over New Year I finally got around to starting (and finishing!) my embroidered craftivism tree,an idea I have had in my head for over a year. I made it as a reminder for me to do effective craftivism and to keep strong principles in my work. It’s easy to slip into doing a piece of craftivism because we love doing craft rather than seeing it as a tool to do activism. For me, the activism always needs to be the priority so we are changeMAKERS and not just crafters. Psychologists have evidence that if we can visualize something our brains will figure out how to reach it. We also know that symbols are really useful to help us remember stuff. Therefore I’m hoping this tree will help me and others strive for a better world using effective craftivism rather than dwell on the present problems.
- The roots of my embroidered tree are about personal actions, behaviours and emotions, and how we need to be aware of them before and during our craftivism projects so we do effective activism and not harmful actions. Strong roots are needed for our tree to grow and blossom.
- The branches represent how we can engage with others effectively and for the longterm to help us improve our world.
- The leaves are the goals we are trying to reach. Without strong roots and healthy branches our tree will be weak and not fulfil its potential to blossom.
Our roots of activism through craft (craftivism):
Personal actions, behaviours & emotional intelligence
As people who want to stop injustices in the world it’s natural to go for what looks like the quickest, easiest answer. But that might lead only to a short term solution which doesn’t tackle the bigger picture. We need to be strategic in our craftivism work, we need to be emotionally intelligent and have strong principles to work from. And shouldn’t we look at ourselves first before we ask others to change or take part? We should be part of the change we wish to see in the world & not part of the problem. Here is my checklist of roots to try and help me and others be effective craftivists:
Beauty – People value something beautiful, and they will want to show it to others. Art and beauty can help us care about and empathise with issues we might otherwise ignore. Therefore I want all of my craftivism pieces to be beautiful and not rushed.
Love – If we don’t do our craftivism with love and we are just angry, then we might do something we regret. Anger can stop us thinking logically and long term.
Knowledge – We shouldn’t do a craftivism project without knowing something of the issue. We don’t need to know everything but we need to do research and make sure what we do is helpful and not harmful. We might want to craft a present for a child in India but do they need it? Do they want it? Is it a passive action rather than looking at the root causes of poverty and our role in that? Activism is changing structures of injustice not fundraising or donating.
Creativity- This can be doing something novel & unique that the receiver will act on, or it could be challenging traditional forms of campaigning that might not be as effective nowadays and finding new ways of doing craftivism that are useful.
Vision – we need to visualize what we want and come up with a project that will help in reaching that goal. The end goal should not be simply to craft something for someone: the craft should be a tool for positive change.
Forgiveness – If we are not willing to forgive others and ourselves who may have been part of an injustice issue then bitterness may come through in our work and it will be hard to do loving, respectful work with people.
Sustainability – We won’t be of use to anyone if we burn out. It’s a balance between doing the best we can and not trying to do the impossible, exhausting ourselves. Craftivism slows us down, reflect and recharge our batteries to continue to strive to be a good active global citizen. We shouldn’t do craftivism as an excuse when another form of activism could be more effective for a particular campaign- we need to see craftivism as part of the activism toolkit of methods not to replace other forms.
Empathy- We should try and understand the victims, perpetrators and everyone else involved in complex injustices. Empathy helps us understand people’s motivations, helps us figure out how to engage in an issue more strategically and with the people involved.
Reflection- Crafts such as hand embroidery and cross stitch are slow, repetitive acts that help us reflect. Craftivism without reflection can end up being passive, inefficient or even harmful because we are not making time to think deeply about the complexities of injustices.
Courage- To stand up against injustice, to look at our actions and change them if they are harmful, to be a lone voice and to be vulnerable to attack, that takes courage but as Desmond Tutu says ‘If we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor”.
Purpose – Our purpose could be to remind us to be good global citizens, it could be to build a relationship with someone influential so that we can work with them for positive change, or to engage the public in an issue. We need to be clear from the start what our purpose is before we pick up our needle and thread don’t you think?
Solidarity- Some people think that helping change the world is about giving people things, this can cause tension, people feeling patronised or fuel stereotypes of weak people who cannot help themselves. Also this giving doesn’t help fix the root cause of injustices and is therefore not activism. Solidarity is about being alongside others, understanding their struggles and looking to help fix them together using our talents and passions.
Responsibility- Activism should be threaded through everything we do, not something we opt into occasionally. We are all responsible for supporting vulnerable people and as stewards looking after the planet. Therefore we need to think about our actions from what we buy for breakfast, what we wear to how we treat our neighbours.
Respect- We need to respect others and ourselves before we act on an issue we care about. Martin Luther King didn’t agree with some of the people he was with but he respected them as humans and worked with them to gain civil rights in America.
Openness – We should be open to other points of view, to changes in our projects, to discussion, to not using craft if another form of activism would be better for a particular project.
Equality – Craftivism is a tool to challenge inequality, to work alongside others to create systemic change that helps us all be seen as equal on this earth. Let’s work together so that everyone can fulfil their potential regardless of where they are from or their background.
Honesty- We need to be honest with ourselves about what we can do. For example: I can’t eradicate sweatshops in the world without working with and through governments and companies, I need shareholders to say they will prioritize people over profit, but I do have power as a consumer and constituent on this issue.
Joyful – Part of happiness is finding opportunities to help & serve others. We should not do craftivism projects just because it makes us happy in the short term. Often things that are hard and take time & thought are what we are most proud of in the end and give us a real and deep long lasting joy.
I hope you like the final roots. I will blog about the branches next month!:)
If you would like to do a craftivism project that focuses on your personal principles and actions then why not have a go at our Craftivist Footprint project where you stitch a message in a footprint or shoe-print to keep as a constant reminder to leave a positive mark on the world and reflect on your journey as an active citizen? You can get a Craftivist Footprint kit here.
I would love to read your comments below especially if you have other words you think should be in there and why.
Sarah Corbett grew up as an activist and has worked in the charity sector for over 7 years in engaging people in global injustices working for Christian Aid, DFID and most recently Oxfam as a Community & Activism Campaigner before she became a full time Craftivist. She founded the Craftivist Collective in 2009 after craft-lovers around the world asked to join in her craftivism (activism through craft) as a way to make positive change and give introverts a voice outside of traditional extrovert forms of activism.