Living by the ocean, I often have my head down examining the shells and pebbles beneath my feet. Imagine my surprise when I turned over a group of shells that had caught my eye to discover inside them a series of affirmations inscribed with golden paint. ‘You are worthy’, ‘you are amazing’, ‘this is for you’…these abandoned sea shells had been turned into something of value and had been placed carefully and thoughtfully with the sole purpose of being found by a stranger. It was a beautiful discovery. A gift. Someone had taken the time and trouble to leave a message of hope and positivity for someone else to find. This act of ‘guerilla kindness’ filled me with unadulterated happiness and led me to ponder on the power of the written word when it is delivered with love and how crafting something this simple could help make the world a better place.
In the podcast, ‘Material Matters with Grant Gibson’, from December 2020, Sarah Corbett, founder of the global group Craftivist Collective, suggested that to make a ‘kinder and more beautiful world’ we all would benefit from being ‘creatively courageous’. Craft can be meditative and comforting and, as Corbett points out, it can make you slow down and think critically about complex issues that are important.
Corbett is an eloquent strategist and campaigner based in the UK who has managed to win several campaigns through the ‘art of gentle protest’ and continues to use the techniques of craft to address injustices in a ‘thoughtful and fair’ manner. She emphasizes that gentleness should not be seen as a weakness but as respectful; this is indicative of her own self-control. Her passion is activism but she acknowledges that protests can be threatening and harmful, fuelling division, often demonizing others. So, for Corbett, ‘craftivism’ is part of her strategy for political and cultural change.
The phrase ‘Craftivism’ was coined in 2003 by American Betsy Greer, whilst living in Bethnal Green and working at Prick Your Finger knitting boutique. She combined the terms ‘craft’ and ‘activism’. Greer soon realized craft was related to activism and using knitting in an intentional and proactive way as an effective call to action was the start of her journey. She started looking at her own craft skills particularly knitting and reflected on how a lineage of mostly women had used craft activities and textiles to connect socially which in turn had given them both the strength and power to start discussions on difficult social and political issues. Knitting and activism gave Greer the room to connect with people and, importantly, to connect with herself; stitching, knitting, processing with confidence and happiness, have enabled her to make positive changes creatively and infuse those changes with beauty. However, perfection is not the goal, it is about “using creative energy to help make the world a better place” (Greer 2003).
Similarly, Corbett challenges herself to decide on what is the best way to persuade and inspire power holders, decision makers and influencers, to make changes on issues of political or social injustice and inequality consistently using the tools that are available to her.
“Scissors to shape the future into a more harmonious world. Thread to weave intimacy through protests where there is currently enmity. A needle to stitch love and kindness through structures that are lacking. A seam-ripper to cut through the knots, tangles and seams that hold systems of oppression in place. A pattern to follow with courage, care and compassion where a robust plan of action is needed.” (Corbett 2017)
Lothian, S. (2018) Guerilla Kindness and other acts of creative resistance, Mango Publishing
Corbett, S. (2017) How to be a Craftivist; Unbound