Weary of clicktivism? Get into crafts if you want to make a difference. Holly Welsh finds out how to embroider the truth as she meets the founder of Craftivist Collective, a group that is leading the way in ‘slow activism’
Have you ever scrolled down your Twitter feed, or sat down for the six o’ clock news (yes, people do still do that) and seen how many terrible things are happening in the world and just felt totally powerless? Maybe you felt incensed, guilty about your own situation, or just completely numb?
If you haven’t, well, you must be living under a rock – in which case, why are you reading this? Often, the strongest emotion I can muster in response to those terrible things is an internal ‘urgh’. But then one day I was gifted a tiny miracle. Someone pressed into my hand a little crafting kit, which – according to the packaging – was created “with courage and care” by the Craftivist Collective. It was a couple of pieces of green fabric, a needle and thread.
Intrigued, I sat down with a cup of tea, stuck my headphones in and started to stitch. The pack contained step-by-step instructions for making a green heart, upon which you stitch the name of something you love about our world. The instructions begin by telling the new owner to take time and empty one’s mind of everything except the task: “Be the tortoise,” it urged.
For the first ten minutes I just felt frustrated at my terrible handiwork. I totally messed up my stitching of the word ‘chocolate’, which is of course the reason I love this world and incontrovertible proof of the existence of God. I had to unpick my terrible stitching and start from scratch. But by the end, when I looked down at my little green heart, I felt a sense of achievement and unexpected calm. I was inspired. I wanted to know how I could change the world by being the tortoise every day.
Over Skype, I enjoyed a cuppa with Craftivist Collective founder Sarah Corbett. Before you make assumptions, Corbett is no misguided do-gooder – she’s one of those people who radiates authenticity.
An Everton lass born-and-bred, she tells me she’s been an activist all her life, and she means it. “I’ve always felt that inequality is the root cause of a huge amount of things. Growing up in Everton with huge inequality, that was the big issue for me. There’s a picture of me on the front cover of my local paper, aged three, talking about trying to save local family council houses in Everton – and we did!”
But she started having doubts over what she calls ‘shouty activism’ and the online culture of ‘clicktivism’, characterised by one-click petition signings and flaccid Facebook post shares. “I thought, if we want the world to be more beautiful, more kind and more just, then why is our activism not more beautiful, not particularly kind, and often not very just?” Corbett says.
The solution came about by accident. Corbett was travelling a lot with work and feeling starved of time to be creative, so she picked up a cross-stitch kit for her many train journeys. The effect of crafting on her commutes was instantaneous. “Just with that slowing down, I realised how burnt out, how stressed I was,” Corbett tells me. “And the more I was stitching, the more it got me thinking that handicraft could possibly help.”
“What gets me out of bed each morning is that I do think evil flourishes when good people do nothing. I think the majority of injustice happens because we don’t connect”
Corbett isn’t the first to employ the term craftivism, nor to do it; she cites the example of Gandhi and his spinning wheel, with which he wove garments made from Indian cotton to protest about the crippling cotton taxes applied by colonial Britain. But Corbett created the Craftivist Collective to bring people together and provide resources for groups to “use craftivism as the catalyst and the starting point” into other forms of activism. The Craftivist Collective website is a treasure trove of beautifully curated bits and ideas, from crafty products to advice on hosting your own ‘stitch-in’.
Corbett is nothing if not aware of the importance of making craftivism more than just a nice activity. It should be about “solidarity, not sympathy,” she says. “The slowness of it is a brilliant way to think through [questions like] ‘What can I do?’, ‘Where can I be useful?’, ‘Is [this idea] dignified?’, ‘Are my values threaded through it?’ and ‘Is it to serve others rather than for celebrity?’ It’s that little seed that you can plant out in the world, which is shareable online – that creates interesting conversations with people that you don’t know. Those people might never tell you, but your idea could have an impact on them.”
Corbett also defends the value of craftivism as a method of engaging people who would normally be intimidated or alienated by traditional forms of activism. It’s not about getting the same old faces around the table, it’s about reaching those who can really make the decisions. “You could make a cross-stitch tapestry with ‘Cameron is a cunt’ on it, but I don’t think it’s going to be that effective, except for people who already think Cameron is a cunt,” Corbett explains, possibly alluding to the British Prime Minister’s recent dip in popularity. She’s right, of course, although I think the Collective might be missing out on a potentially lucrative market in satirical political cross-stitch patterns.
The thing which appeals so much to me is that the experience of crafting for a cause or an idea is energy-giving, rather than energy-zapping. It is Corbett’s impatience which spurs on her ‘slow activism’. “It is hard,” she says. “Because we’re talking about things we’re so passionate and angry about, the last thing you think you should do is slow down. You think ‘We’ve got to do something and we’ve got to do it now.’”
But, she points out, it’s important to remember that working with your hands is empowering in itself. “Using your hands, which we do less and less now, is a really therapeutic, meditative tool, and is what activists need. I remind myself of how many gorgeous things there are in the world and how we can make it better, rather than getting depressed about everything. What keeps getting me out of bed each morning is the fact that I do think that evil flourishes when good people do nothing. I think the majority of injustice [happens] because we don’t connect.”
Want to connect? Want to apply balm to the burnt-out activist within you? Want to reclaim some precious time to consider your role in the world? Try embarking on your own craftivism project, either with friends or on your own. In Corbett’s words, “We need to get people’s hands stitching.” For my part, I’m all about finding time to reclaim some compassion. All of a sudden, I wonder why anyone would choose to be the hare rather than the tortoise.