What is craftivism?

By John-Paul Flintoff

Craftivist mini protest banner

The term “craftivism” spells out what should be obvious but is often overlooked: by the very act of participating in a craft you are making a difference to the world. The word was coined by the American writer Betsy Greer: “It is possible to go beyond banners, email petitions and chants as a way of fighting for a cause you believe in.”

In her book Knitting For Good, Betsy describes how knitting gradually became more than just a way to pass the time, or create her own garments. “It calmed me, it connected me, it inspired me, it soothed me with the repetitive movements that also symbolised the growth of a garment or an accessory.”

Making my own clothes, I came to feel the same way – and I subsequently realised that this applies not only to making clothes. Making anything can be a pleasure in its own right – quite separate from the end result.

Betsy Greer At the same time, I was aware that there was more to it than merely personal satisfaction. Betsy (pictured) used to live in London, where she fell in with Rachael Matthews and the Cast Off Knitting Club. Together, they went knitting in public with much the same explosive impact as Gandhi had when he sat on the floor to spin cotton at political meetings. (The knitters were thrown out of the Ritz – despite taking care to dress appropriately, and ordering drinks.)

Somebody else much taken with this idea, and connected to both Betsy and Rachael, is Sarah Corbett, who set up the Craftivist Collective to encourage craft practitioners to recognise their revolutionary potential (and to encourage revolutionaries to see the potential of craft).

I have always been especially keen on Sarah’s mini protest banner kits (“make a small, unthreatening protest banner on an issue that you care about, then put it up in a relevant public space”).

In 2012, I met Sarah too, and was impressed by her vim, and cheerful determination. Since then, she has impressed thousands of others with campaigns on a variety of important issues, high-profile public talks, demonstrations of craftivism, and shows of her own work in galleries. In 2015, she asked me to join a campaign to promote a Living Wage for employees at Marks & Spencer.

Top: mini protest banner (Craftivist Collective)

Posted: June 1, 2012