Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Craft as Activism

Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Craft as Activism

Article excerpt


Craftivism. Church of Craft. Stitch 'n Bitch. Handmade Nation. Revolutionary Knitting Circle. Anarchist Knitting Mob. Yarn bombing. Red Sweaters Project. Crafts for Critters. Knittaplease. Craft Hope. Microrevolt. Wombs on Washington. Body count mittens. These groups and projects-a mere sampling of knitters, sewers, crocheters, embroiderers, printers, bookmakers, zinemakers, recyclers, and other self- designated "crafters"-are activist craft positioned outside the mainstream of late capitalist consumer society.i "Making your own clothes, your own dinnerware, your own art has become a way to politely (or maybe not so politely)" turn your back on corporate consumption, argues American Craft magazine editor Andrew Wagner (2008, p. 1). It is "a reaction against a whole slew of things, including our hyper-fast culture, increasing reliance on digital technology, the proliferation of consumer culture, and even war," he continues (p. 1). "The crafted object as old-fashioned or traditional has now been eschewed in favor of crafting as a strategy to examine and challenge contemporary issues" (Black & Burisch, 2010, p. 610). The politics range from groups wanting to influence policies, raise funds, or increase awareness of a cause to those making cultural interventions into daily or street life (Bratich & Brush, 2011, p. 249). Craft activism is also sometimes referred to as "alternative craft" (Metcalf, 2008) or "craftivism" (Greer, 2011; Robertson, 2011; Black & Burisch, 2011).

But what is craft, and why craft? "Craft is a way to connect with people, a way to create a community that you are inspired by," begins Faythe Levine in the foreword to Craft Activism (2011, p. 5). "Making things" is a phrase that she uses, along with Rachel Mason, in her extensive work on craft education in the UK (Mason, 1998). Making connects to a fundamental human need (Dissanayake, 1992). Levine ties making to mental and physical focus, and to personal pride: "When the fad passes, we will still be making. Because making things by hand has never stopped, and it will never disappear" (p. 5). Rather than defining craft as certain media or processes, it is this idea of "making things" that is operant here. Craft and making are more democratic, culturally speaking, than art, but this definition does not preclude art. They are more democratic because many people are engaged in them, often without extensive training, making "making" accessible to most who have the inclination. Many crafted items are often part of gift exchange, and often functional, connecting them to daily life. Many of them result in gestures of caring: covers from the cold, for example. Craft and making are often learned informally-from a friend or relative, from books or on-line sources or experimentation, from a community education site such as a craft store or a community center or a group of like-minded learners (such as a knitting circle). Craft making often forms the basis of a community, be it a quilting bee, a knitting circle, a group of yarn bombers (see Endnote 1), or an Internet blog. These are a few reasons why the connection between crafts and activism is currently strong.

Craft making (including but not limited to craft activism) manifests in a number of arenas, from market commodities, to documentaries, to anti-capitalist craft (Bratich, 2010). What is addressed in this paper is this last realm of "anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian craftivist projects" (p. 304) because they are a recognizable form of grass-roots activism, connect to social theories of interest to art and visual culture educators, and involve the informal education of makers and viewers.


Craft activism is a species of do-it-yourself (DIY) culture that is tied to using available resources to create something to share with others. The roots of DIY are in using lo-fi, available resources, and in people crossing the boundary between consumption and creation to exchange ideas, information, images, music, or goods. …

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