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Review: Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism
Quick Note: During my recent blogging hiatus, I got waaaaaaay behind on reviewing craft books. I have a big backlog, so reviews will be more frequent than usual around here for a bit. Hopefully you won't mind – they're all awesome books!
Betsy Greer has been thinking and writing about the intersection between crafts and activism for a while now - her blog, Craftivism, was one of the first blogs I read when I embarked on my online journey. Betsy is thoughtful and gently incisive, and time and again her writing has opened up new pathways of understanding for me.
Her newest book, Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism is a collection of essays exploring this intersection from several angles. And it's the kind of book that will make you think differently about what crafting means to you.
Betsy expresses things much better than I do, so let me quote her from the introduction:
"The very essence of craftivism lies in creating something that gets people to ask questions; we invite others to join a conversation about the social and political intent of our creations. Unlike more traditional forms of activism, which can be polarizing, there is a back-and-forth in craftivism. As craftivists, we foment dialogue and thus help the world become a better place, albeit on a smaller scale than activists who organize mass demonstrations."
You'll find many examples of this personal, one-on-one style of activism in this book. I loved the story of Sayraphim Lothian, who practices random acts of "guerilla kindness" by leaving small handmade gifts in cities all over the world, so someone might find one, have their mood lifted, and hopefully then ripple that kindness outward.
I also love Kim Werker's story of Mighty Ugly, her mission to get people making ugly things. It's a way to get past their fears about not making "correctly," so they can begin to enjoy the real benefits of making, which are in the process rather than the product.
My favorite chapter has to be the one titled Refashioning Craft, which explores the craftivist potential in the things we wear. Mila Burcikova explores "fashion as experience and service, rather than as object or product." She makes garments from reclaimed fabrics, or pieces of other garments, and her essay about the role clothng plays in our lives and the waste created by much of the fashion industry helped me reframe the constant anxiety I feel about wardobe.
It's difficult, in the context of one review, to tell you about each and every essay that transformed my thinking, or got my wheels turning in a new way. So instead I'll tell you that the essays are divided in four sections: Personal Threads (personal activism), Refashioning Craft (garment activism), Craft as Political Mouthpiece, and Activating Communities.
What's really wonderful here is that each us has our own pathways into activism, and within this book you're sure to find stories that fit your idea of activism – and stories that challenge it, too. But within this context of craft, those challenges are gentle ones, and you're invited rather than challenged to think in new ways.
Along this journey, you'll also see a wide variety of crafts at work – activism in the form of quilting, embroidery, knitting, sewing, and crochet. The essays are illustrated with beautiful photos showing all these styles of activism at work – not the kind of pristine, aspirational "beauty shots" you're used to seeing of finished items, but shots of people wrapped up in the process of making in service to big ideas.
I think it's also worth mentioning that Betsy's curation of craftivist projects here is very thoughtful and deep. I do think craft publishing sometimes becomes an echo chamber of sorts, showing us the same people over and over. But through this book I "met" so many people and projects I'd never encountered online before. In many ways, this is like a whole new world in book form.
(Usual disclosures: I received a review copy from Arsenal Pulp Press, and the title links above are affiliate links.)