Craftivism


Craftivism

Craftivism is a form of activism, typically incorporating elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism or third-wave feminism, that is centered around practices of craft - most notably knitting. Practitioners are known as craftivists.

Contents

Background

The term craftivism was coined in 2003 by writer Betsy Greer in order to join the separate spheres of craft and activism [1]. Her favorite self-created definition of the term states, “craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite”[2]


Although the term craftivism is a recent addition to crafting lexicon, the use of craft as subversive can be found throughout history. First, the word craft is often associated with trickery. To call someone crafty is to identify them as clever and cunning [3] In Greek, one would say to “spin” a plot. Similarly, the French word for trick is tricoter, which means to tie or knot together [4]. In the novel A Tale of Two Cities, the character Madame Defarge, a worker for the French Revolution, secretly encodes the names of those soon to be executed in her knitting.

Third-wave feminism

Most forms of craftivism identify strongly with the Third-Wave Feminism movement. They use the language of choice, and the freedom to pursue whatever life interest they desire. Unlike their mothers’ generation of Second-Wave feminism, who rejected all things associated with the home, Third-Wave feminists are reclaiming knitting, sewing, and other crafting activities traditionally feminized and associated with the private sphere. Through this reclamation, contemporary women want to reconnect with the female-dominated art, to legitimatize the importance of undervalued craft, and to show that 21st century women have the privilege to express themselves through craft, thanks to the hard work of the Second-Wave feminists.

Traditionally associated with idle work and unproductive female activity in the home, craft was never integrated into profit-making systems. Rather, it was marginalized and undervalued [5]. As a result, women’s significant and creative work in the private sphere—clothing the family, knitting blankets, weaving the loom—did not receive the same respect as male-dominated activity in the public realm. Furthermore, the patriarchy has been successful in claiming these domestic values for women and using it as a way to keep women in subservient roles [6]. Third Wave feminist crafters are attempting to subvert this association by embracing domestic arts while identifying as feminists who are making the choice to embrace domesticity. This act of resistance and shattering of the public/private binary is expressed physically through public knitting and craft circles who take a private-sphere activity and insert themselves in the male-dominated spaces of the city [7] One example would be the Anarchist Knitting Mob who held a "Massive Knit" event in Washington Square Park to honor the death of activist and urbanist Jane Jacobs.[8] Knitters decorated the trees, benches, and light posts with colorful yarn and unique patterns.

Environmentalism

Craftivism is also centered around ideas of environmentalism and sustainability. When buying new materials, many craftivists choose organic fabrics and fairly traded products such as home-spun yarns. Yet, even more popular within the movement is the utilization of vintage, thrifted and repurposed goods in order to minimize waste and promote reuse. This display of resourcefulness acknowledges the finite resources on Earth, and the valorization of quality over quantity. Craftivist, Betsy Greer, is quoted saying, “While I think that crafting has become something fairly elite and cliquish in some areas, at its heart, it is very much made for individuals who value both their time and their money” [6].

Anti-capitalism

Historically, craft was the pre-capitalist form of production, where each created item possessed a “use-value,” a term comparing the usefulness of an item to the exchange equivalent[9]. Now within a capitalist system of mass production, craft has become a commodity to be bought and sold for money, where it is now referred to as having an “exchange-value” [10]. Due to this movement from use-value to exchange-value, there is less emphasis on the time and skill expended to create an object, and more importance on making it available to the masses as inexpensively as possible. Traditionally associated with a strong community so vital to the creation and distribution of craft, crafting has since lost its use-value and has been “captured by capital” [11].

A popular way to resist the commoditization of craft is through the Do-It-Yourself or DIY movement. Popularized through "zines" of the 1990’s, DIY inspires people to be self-sufficient and to rely less on the market for basic necessities that can easily be created on one’s own. DIY is a resistance to the both the capitalist nature of the fashion industry and pressures to conform and buy a style [12]. An example of this is the Counterfeit Crochet Project, which seeks to "debase and defile designer items one step at a time" [note 1]. Crafters have also subverted the market through the use of open source patterns and information sharing on the internet. Sites like Burdastyle allow crafters to upload and download sewing projects at no charge.[13] Similarly, Cat Mazza's online software KnitPro[14] allows users to download images into detailed knitting patterns at no charge.

Anti-sweatshop

Efforts within the craftivist movement against capitalism focus primarily on the international issue of sweatshops. Some craftivists believe that either sewing one's own clothing or buying only hand-made is the best way to protest unfair labor practices around the globe. Other craftivists take the issue even further, using the act of crafting as a protest against sweatshops. Artist and activist Cat Mazza created a campaign against the inhumane labor practices of Nike through the creation of a giant blanket depicting Nike's trademark swoosh. From 2003-2008, international crafters were asked to mail in 4x4 inch stitched squares to border the blanket and to sign a petition against Nike[15]. Mazza also created a second web-based software called Knitoscope that transforms video into animated knitted stitches.[16] Each video has a corresponding testimony featuring various professionals who work against sweatshop labor.[17]

Artist and Activist Kirsty Robertson feels that the subversive efforts of craftivists against capitalism are limited by their dependency on the internet and new communication. She points out that for this reason, global justice knitters are not completely removed from the economy themselves [7]

Anti-war

Some craftivists see their art form as a protest against war and violence. By juxtaposing a colorful, soft, and fuzzy yarn with cold and dangerous weapons, anti-war craftivists choose to make their statement. In 2006, Danish artist Marianne Jorgensen stitched a giant pink “tank blanket” and placed it over a M24 Chafee combat tank to protest the Iraq war.[18]. She has been making these blankets since Denmark entered the Iraq War, and doesn't plant to stop until it is over. She writes on her website that, "Unsimilar to a war, knitting signals home, care, closeness and time for reflection...When [the tank] is covered in pink, it becomes completely unarmed and it loses its authority" [18]. Much like Jorgensen, Canadian artist Barb Hunt works to tackle the acceptance of military logic into society by creating knitting land mines and bombs out of wool [7].

Similar to her campaign against Nike, Cat Mazza started an anti-war effort entitled "Stitch for Senate" on the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War. She enlisted two people from each state to knit a soldier's helmet liner which would be sent on to every senator. Unlike the apolitical Operation Home Front efforts that knitted gear for soldiers, Mazza wanted "to start a dialogue about the war and to get politicians to keep the promises they made during the midterm elections" [19].

The Viral Knitting Project is an anti-war effort that translates the 0/1 binary code of the dangerous Code Red computer virus into a knitting pattern of knit/purl.[20] The color and code relate to the anti-terrorism alerts of post 9/11 United States. The project is attempting to "draw together links between technology, culture, capitalism and war" [7].

Protest models

When craftivists take to the street, they utilize various protest models.

A popular form of protest is the "knit-in," where knitters infiltrate a public space and knit. They might ride a subway, occupy a civic building, or sit in a park. They use the knit-in to draw attention to their issue of concern. The Revolutionary Knitting Circle of Calgary, Canada stage a knit-in in front of Calgary's financial office buildings during the summit of the G-8 nations in 2002 [19]. The Knit-in not only provides an opportunity to protest against injustice, but also allows for a running discussion about social issues between the stationary knitters. Dr. Jack Bratich of Rutgers University argues that, "Knitting in public also creates a gendered question of space. It rips open the enclosure of the domestic space to public consumption, exposing productive work that has contributed to women’s invisible and unpaid labor"[21]. Women are, thereby, able to gain power from an activity that previously symbolized their repression.

Another form of craft-themed activism is guerilla art. The Texas-based group Knitta places street art such as street pole cozies and antenna warmers in cities throughout the country.[22] Similarly, a blogger in England named "The Lonely Craftivist"creates textile art with political messages in public spaces.[23]

In transition

In the spring of 2009, an online debate began over the definition of craftivism. The debate spread after the self-titled Craftivism team on Etsy had an inner-group argument about the political affiliation of its members, causing some members to leave the group. The original description of the group states, "The Etsy Craftivism Team is a team of progressive Etsyans who believe that craft and art can change the world. Some of us use our work to carry messages of protest and political activism. Others believe that the act of making craft can be an act of resistance. Still others see that by buying and selling directly from the maker we are challenging the all pervasive corporate culture that promotes profit over people."[24]. Conservative members accused the group of assuming a liberal agenda, and argued that politics should not be involved. Some members of the group felt that the mere act of crafting itself was political, while others felt that the act must also be attached to a political message. Rayna Fahey from Radical Cross Stitch replied to a thread stating “Personally if a John McCain supporter joined this group and told me that my latest piece in support of indigenous sovereignty was a well-made piece that serves the purpose for which it was designed well, I’d think that was awesome and I’d have hope for the future of this world.” [25]. In contrast, craftivist Betsy Greer believes that "the personal is political," and that you cannot separate the two [26].


Notes

  1. ^ Counterfeit Crochet Project by Stephanie Syjuco http://www.counterfeitcrochet.org/


References

  1. ^ Greer, Betsy. 2008. Knit For Good! Boston: Trumpeter.
  2. ^ Crafting a Green World. What is Craftivism? Division over the Definition Explodes Etsy Team.
  3. ^ Bratich, Jack. 2006. The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. 29.
  4. ^ Bratich, Jack. 2006. The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. 30.
  5. ^ Bratich, Jack. 2006. The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. 11.
  6. ^ a b Sabella, Jennifer. May 12, 2008. Craftivism: Is crafting the new activism?. The Columbia Chronicle.
  7. ^ a b c d Robertson, Kirsty. 30 March 2006. How to Knit an Academic Paper. Queen's University.
  8. ^ http://massiveknit.blogspot.com/
  9. ^ http://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/engl/theory/marxism/terms/usevalue.html
  10. ^ Bratich, Jack. 2006. The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. 27
  11. ^ Bratich, Jack. 2006. The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. 25.
  12. ^ Higgins, Charlotte. January 31, 2005. Political protest turns to the radical art of knitting. The Guardian
  13. ^ http://www.burdastyle.com
  14. ^ http://www.microrevolt.org/knitPro.htm
  15. ^ Microrevolt Blanket. http://www.microrevolt.org/web/blanket.htm April 10, 2009
  16. ^ http://www.turbulence.org/Works/microRevolt/testimonies.html
  17. ^ http://www.turbulence.org/Works/microRevolt/testimonies.html
  18. ^ a b Pink M.24 Chafee. http://www.marianneart.dk/ April 10, 2009
  19. ^ a b Gohil, Neha Singh. March 13, 2007. Activists use knitting needles to make their point. Columbia News Service
  20. ^ http://www.kirstyrobertson.com/viral%20knitting/viral%20knitting.html
  21. ^ Bratich, Jack. 2006. The Other World Wide Web: Popular Craft Culture, Tacticle media, and the Space of Gender. Revision for Critical Studies in Media Communication. 7.
  22. ^ http://www.knittaplease.com
  23. ^ http://alonelycraftivist.blogspot.com/
  24. ^ Crafting a Green World. What is Craftivism? Division over the Definition Explodes Etsy Team. <http://craftingagreenworld.com/2009/04/04/what-is-craftivism-division-over-the-definition-explodes-an-etsy-team/> (2009, April 10).
  25. ^ Radical Cross Stitch. http://radicalcrossstitch.com/2009/04/06/whose-craftivism/ April 12, 2009
  26. ^ Greer, Betsy. 2008. Knit For Good! Boston: Trumpeter. 30


Bibliography

  • Greer, Betsy (2008). Knitting for Good!. Trumpeter. ISBN 978-1-59030-589-8. 
  • McFadden, David Revere (2007). Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting. Antique Collector's Club. ISBN 1851495681. 
  • Spencer, Amy (2005). DIY: The rise of lo-fi culture. Marion Boyars Publishers. ISBN 978-0714531052. 
  • Railla, Jean (2004). Get Crafty. Random House. ISBN 0-7679-1720-0. 

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