Tal Fitzpatrick’s project PM Please was eventually delivered to Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to whom the messages were directed.

Photo courtesy of Fairfax

One of the most important things about craft to me is that it helps us be of use while also giving us agency, just like it has given (mostly) women agency for hundreds of years. The fact that making often includes choice (colors, patterns, words) is significant. It inherently allows us to choose something, to personalize what springs from our hands. That’s what I was so enamored by when I started writing about craftivism publically in the spring of 2003. That something so quiet can be so loud spoke so near and dear to my heart that I knew it had to be that way for others. So craftivism, the place where craft and activism meet, began. And people all over the world wanted to give their craft even more power than it had already by using their craft skills for creative and activist means.

Although it was not a new concept, it now had a name, which allowed it to grow into a community. After watching people make craftivist items for years, I realized such work is generally made up of three central tenets: donation (giving what you make away), beautification (making your surroundings more beautiful, such as with yarnboming) and notification (raising awareness about a cause or subject). Sometimes the work crosses between the three, such as are the examples I’m going to talk about today. They each use donated items to amplify a cause in different ways. They each utilize the decisions and work of someone else to make the world a better place.

Items made through Shannon Downey’s End Gun Violence project.

Photos by Shannon Downey

Stitching to Raise Money

Shannon Downey’s End Gun Violence project is collecting stitched handguns based on a pattern she created as the basis for pieces to show and sell as a way to raise money for Project FIRE (Fearless Initiative for Recovery and Empowerment), a glass-blowing studio in Chicago that helps kids with trauma issues related to violence. The End Gun Violence project began simply, “I decided to stitch a gun one day because I was just so overwhelmed by the mass shootings and I felt like in that particular day I had heard the word gun violence like at least a hundred times,” says Shannon. She adds that she couldn’t connect with the idea of guns, “so I just started stitching one and then as I was stitching it gave me all this space to really think about it and process how I was feeling about what was going on and just like have some time with it that was instead of it coming at me, I was coming at it.”

When she was finished, she posted it on Instagram, and “folks responded really powerful to it, they were just like, “ugh, guns, ugh” but there’s something about it that takes the power away from it I think when you stitch it and you make it out of fiber.” The project’s deadline is October 31st, which is the deadline for the project’s next fundraising session. The kids in Project FIRE heard about the show and wanted to contribute, too, so one Saturday, Downey taught them how to embroider.

For her, the power of craftivism comes from its small scale that reverberates outward into a larger expanding circle. “I don’t think of it as micro, but when you think of all that needs to be done, this is quite micro, but I just felt like at least I can find a way to do something that will actually, I hope, help change a life, or help change fifteen lives of these young people in this program. But then the sort of ripple effect of how they change lives because their lives have been changed.”

And Downey’s idea has spread; so far she has received project submissions from around the world.

Items made for Tal Fitzpatrick’s PM Message project.

Photos by Tal Fitzpatrick

Stitching to Send a Message

Tal Fitzpatrick’s project PM Please used the donation of both words and stitches in order to share messages with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Some people stitched their own messages, while others shared them with Fitzpatrick and then she stitched them herself. “You have to spark people’s curiosity. And I think that’s what craftivist objects do really well they kind of spark questions and reactions. I think that’s a really important part of why they work.” In the end, she collected 121 messages. Twenty-three were stitched by people at a festival, and the rest were stitched by Tal herself over a period of three weeks filled with 12-hour days.

This project works as craftivism and twins donation and notification by using people’s words and the power of stitching them. The finished quilt tells a story of a certain time and certain worries, hopes and ideas. “I kind of see a lot of my work as storytelling devices or as touchstones that people respond to and respond to critically as opposed to just being like “Oh, that’s nice” or “That’s pretty,”” Tal says. It’s getting into conversation beyond the surface that calls the quilt into power. In the making of the quilt, she says she didn’t edit any of the messages, “for me it was a really democratic process where everyone had kind of an equal opportunity to have a voice.”

Through this work, she gave others the chance to fill in the story with their own words. “With my socially engaged work with the craftivism projects I do I try really hard not to make it about me, I try really hard to use craftivism as this kind of vessel for opening up these political spaces, these spaces where voices that are not seen and not heard can come through or issues that aren’t talked about get addressed. I think it’s more powerful that way.”

With messages about things that are challenging in the moment, noting such problems as asylum seeker resources, marriage equality, violence against women, environmental issues, and getting proper recognition and respect for our indigenous people, these messages become direct requests later rendered in thread. “They are things that people were like if this was their one chance to get a message to the Prime Minister, this is what they chose to say. So in that sense, too, it has this real weight.”

Eventually, Fitzpatrick gave the quilt to Turnbull’s office, who in turn gave it to the man himself.

Items made for Tal Fitzpatrick’s PM Message project.

Photos by Tal Fitzpatrick

Stitching to Spread Kindness

The third project is my own, and was started as a way to pass along affirmations to women from women. I’ve been collecting stitched affirmation signs to leave for people in public as part of a project called You Are So Very Beautiful. The goal is for both the maker and the receiver to hear the message within as every day we’re bombarded by ads telling us to be different, I thought why not remind us that we are amazing? You can see more of that project on Instagram.

 

Betsy Greer

Betsy Greer

contributor

Betsy writes about craftivism and makes political stitchwork in Durham, NC.

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