Monday, January 7, 2019

Hardcore Handicrafts

Okay, so part of this entry is a shameless plug. I just opened an Etsy shop of subversive cross stitches and I want everyone to buy things from it. BUT, I also wanted to talk about the kick-ass history of “craftivism,” and of people (especially women) using traditionally feminine art forms to make their voices heard. Because it’s pretty rad. So here.

Three Awesome Ways That Crafting Has Been Used To Fight “The Man”:

1. Allowing people to take economics (and politics) into their own hands.

During the American Revolution, women often made their own clothes and spun their own yarn, but not necessarily just because it was the 1700s. You could buy clothes and yarn in shops all over America, but here’s the kicker—they were all British imports. By making their own cloths, yarn, and textile goods, women were hitting England where it hurt most…its pocketbook. It was just one more way Americans were declaring their independence.


Mahatma Gandhi used a similar tactic during India’s fight for independence. He encouraged the people of India to spin their own thread, rather than buying it from British imperialists. But for Gandhi, the spinning wheel was also a powerful symbol of claiming power non-violently. The act of spinning itself was meditative, and it was a way to show that the people of India could be self-sufficient. By spinning their own thread, they were both hitting British pocketbooks, and sending the message that Britain wasn’t needed. (This is why India’s flag features a spinning wheel.)

And as the punk rock scene (and then like, a bunch of other scenes) has been showing us for decades, making your own stuff is a way to fight corporate greed. It keeps money in the hands of individuals and small business owners, printing T-shirts in basements and hand-drawing posters. If you disagree with the way that large corporations are run, making your own promotional materials is a pretty rad way to show those large corporations that you don’t need them.

2. Giving people a safe place to gather for political meetings.

Who would suspect a group of women gathered in a parlor, knitting socks and hemming quilt squares? It’s just women’s work. Surely they just talk of hats and recipes, not anything radical like the abolition of slavery! Well, joke’s on you, Patriarchy, because that’s exactly what women did for decades. It was difficult, if not impossible, for a woman in the 1800s to host a meeting of abolitionists in her home. Nor could they easily meet elsewhere, without ruining reputation and having to fight sexism ON TOP of racism.

But women found that when they gathered to spin thread, or quilt, or knit, or crochet, or do embroidery, they were left alone. So they used those opportunities to make plans, discuss activism, and create change.

Eventually, these groups started using their handicrafts to raise money for anti-slavery efforts, and began including poems and images to further their cause.

3. Make powerful political statements.

There are so many awesome examples of this, but here are a few of my favorites.

WOMANHOUSE
In late 1971, two female art teachers got real tired of women not being taken seriously in the art world. So they set up a “room of their own” by renovating a California mansion and inviting a bunch of women artists to create installations and performance pieces highlighting women’s experiences. They took a traditionally female space (“the home”) and filled it with all of this thought-provoking feminist art.

Faith Wilding’s “Crocheted Environment,” which is this fascinating combination of a spiderweb and your grandmother’s comforting pillows.

THE AIDS QUILT
In the mid-1980s, activist Cleve Jones got the idea for a quilt of panels with names of those who had lost their lives to AIDS. The response was immediate and enormous, and in 1987, the finished quilt was displayed on the National Mall in Washington. It was the size of a football field and contained 1,920 panels. It was taken to cities throughout the U.S., where more panels were added as money was raised for AIDS research and care. Today, it contains more than 48,000 panels, and similar quilts have been created all over the world.



PUSSY HATS
I still don’t like talking about the November 2016 election and what it meant. But damn if women didn’t SHOW UP to say something about it a few months later. A couple of women in a crocheting class got to talking about their activism and created the now famous pink pussy hat, versions of which were worn by thousands of women across the country in January of 2017. It’s become a powerful symbol of owning womanhood and refusing to be silenced.




My own lil etsy shop ain’t quite the same as an AIDS quilt or installation piece in a Victorian mansion. But I love feeling connected to all of the folks who’ve come before me, needle and thread in hand, ready to change the world. Athena may be the ancient Greek goddess of weaving and handicrafts, but damn if she ain’t the goddess of war, too.



Further reading
Buzzfeed: History of Craftivism
The Woven Road
Medium: Craft's Long History In Radical Protest Movements
Lithub: Ancient Origins of Feminist Craftivism
Timeline: Craftivism, Art, Women
PBS: Knitting Activism
Time: Craftivism Protest
The Wire: Ghandi and the Spinning Wheel
Womanhouse
Aids Memorial Quilt
Pussy Hat Project