On today’s episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast we’re talking about using craft as community organizing with my guest Shannon Downey.
Shannon Downey is an instigator. Currently, she is the Director of Development for Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago where she raises funds to grow and protect immigrant and refugee rights and power through civic engagement and language access. She’s also adjunct faculty at Columbia College and DePaul University where she teaches Creatives how to build empires that will pay the bills and change the world.
Shannon is best known, though, by her alias – Badass Cross Stitch – where her shenanigans tend to get the most attention. In this role, Shannon is a community organizer disguised as a fiber artist and craftivist. She blends politics, activism, and art into projects that are designed to inspire others to take action, think, discuss, engage with democracy and their community, and find some digital/analog balance to boot! Her work has recently been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Time, and Money to name a few.
Shannon’s Boys Will Be Boys embroidery went viral as part of the #metoo movement.
When a fast fashion brand used it without her permission on the pocket of a pair of jeans, hundreds of people embroidered their own messages in acts of craftivism using the #rebuttal hashtag.
Shannon and I connected recently when she helped me to get the attention of DMC, the embroidery floss company, while I was working on an article about a recent contest they were running. In the process, we discovered that she’s from a town not far from where I live now and I was fascinated to learn that Shannon’s grandmother was a Lowell mill girl.
It turns out that Shannon grew up in a family that was deeply involved in the labor movement. She was literally an activist from the day she was born and in our conversation, she explains the warmth and excitement of this kind of upbringing.
Shannon with the giant embroidery hoop she stitched for the Women’s March in Chicago.
Shannon learned to cross stitch while attending Catholic school as a child but didn’t really get into it until a few years ago when she working in digital marketing and craved time spent away from the computer doing something with her hands. Although she was always drawn to irreverent designs, her work took on a craftivist bent when she stitched the shape of a gun and posted it on Instagram and her followers asked for a pattern. Soon, she was organizing an art show, raising money for an organization in Chicago that works with teens who have been victims of gun violence.
#EndGunViolence opening night reception at Project F.I.R.E.
Since then Shannon has used cross stitch and embroidery to organize people around political and social issues both on and offline. Several of her efforts have gone viral, attracting national media attention, and she’s got more planned. We talk about how she works to deliberately set the tone in each of her posts, how she sets limits in the comments, and how’s dealt with being trolled. I also ask Shannon how she responds when people say, “Keep politics out of crafting.”
Shannon’s next big project is Badass HERstory and you’re invited to participate. Get notified of the details here.
And, of course, I asked Shannon to recommend great stuff she’s enjoying right now. Shannon recommended:
This episode is sponsored by Folkwear Patterns. Since 1976, Folkwear has provided high quality sewing patterns based on authentic vintage and folk clothing from around the world. Folkwear’s sewing patterns are loved by home sewists, costumers, re-enactors, and any who loves to sew with creativity. Order yours today and use the code WSN20 at checkout to get 20% off your order.
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