Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I'm reading a new book from my local library, Craftivism: The Art and Craft of Activism by Betsy Greer.  The book is a collection of essays by craft-makers who are conscious about sending a message through their work.  They have a variety of goals.  Some use finished objects to raise awareness of specific issues, like the AIDS quilt.  The objects themselves might be used for a greater purpose, like quilts made for returning soldiers.  For some artists, it is about the process.  They upcycle old materials as a statement against consumerism, or encourage people to sew deliberately ugly dolls to help them get over the fear of trying something new.  Some don't have any specific reason other than to bring joy to others, like activists who crochet toys and leave them in a secret spot in a city for anybody to take.  Wouldn't you have a happier day if you randomly found an arugumi cupcake at your bus stop?

The projects are sometimes beautiful, sometimes whimsical.  Some made me ask what my avant-garde theatre professor called, "the Krusty question."  (After watching a Soviet knockoff of the cartoon duo Itchy & Scratchy, Krusty the Clown exclaims, "What the hell was that?!?"  We were only allowed to ask that question once per semester).  One project made me gasp out loud, Noelle Mason's cross-stitch art Nothing Much Happened Today (for Eric and Dylan).

The essay by Mr. X Stitch describes some feelings I have about needlework that I haven't been able to articulate myself.  When someone uses embroidery or knitting for activism, it makes people take notice.  People see the item and instinctively know that it took the artist a long time to create her message.  They feel the conflict between a historically female craft, which usually invokes warm feelings, and the strident arguments that the craft is conveying.

This book is appropriate to read at this time of year, when my city teams up with my local craft store for the Treehugger Project.  Support comes from the Community Gallery program, which aims to turn the downtown district into an art gallery and public forum for ideas.  Over 120 knitters decorated 130 trees with knitted pieces.  I haven't participated yet due to an overflowing craft queue, but many of my local friends take part and I love the project.  I'm fascinated by the way knitters take the same yarn and go in all sorts of directions with the design--cables, lace, fair isle, intarsia.  It makes the downtown more cheerful, and I think it is a nice way of creating seasonal decorations that say "winter" without saying "Christmas."

And yet, as surely as winter means eggnog lattes and 4:30pm sunsets, in my town it also means people complaining about the tree huggers.  They write editorials about how they are a "waste of time and materials" and that the knitters should concentrate on knitting "useful" things like sweaters for the poor.  It doesn't matter if knitters make items for other people, including charity, during the entire rest of the year.  After all, it is cold right now!  By a strange coincidence, most of the people making the loudest complaints aren't actually knitters themselves.

No crafter should ever have to apologize for making what she chooses to make, or have to justify her reasons for doing so.  She can make things for anyone she wants, including herself.  She can make useful items, or strictly art pieces.  She is the one with the skills, time, and materials, so she decides how she wants to use them.  If you disagree . . . there are plenty of craft tutorials on YouTube and books at the library.  Take up a craft and start your own conversation!

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