Craftivism: Changing our world one stitch at a time, Sarah Corbett

So, what on earth is Craftivism? Sarah Corbett, Founder of the London-based Craftivist Collective in 2008, tells us it’s a form of activism using craft to get the message across. Despite sounding rather benign, it is actually a clever and politically savvy way of being activist, without all the noise. Betsy Greer, a writer who first coined the phrase, says “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”.

Sarah has been involved in social justice issues since she was three years old, when her community occupied council houses in Liverpool earmarked for demolition, during the turbulent mid-eighties. The houses survived and Sarah has been an activist ever since.

Her working background is in the charity sector, but she realised that she found the traditional methods of activism to be too confrontational and aggressive, and therefore often counter-productive. And because of her naturally introvert personality she also found it exhausting, and felt burned out after several years.

So Sarah turned to craft – cross-stitch – as a form of therapeutic escape, and had a light bulb moment: she thought she could combine craft with activism to better ends. She did some research, contacted Betsy Greer and set up the Craftivist Collective. The ‘collective’ is formed by the all people who join in and contribute, whether that is using one of the kits available on the website, or using their own form of craft to be activist.

Women have long used craft to make powerful statements – think American Quilts and Suffrage Banners – and the Craftivism movement is gaining a foothold in activist circles. It is not without detractors; many harder-core activists think it is too cute, too soft, but the fans say it’s just another string to the activist bow. A quieter, more considered, more strategic and low-key string, which can attract a whole new type of activist.

Sarah teaches and runs workshops with various groups, including prisoners and charities, and finds that the considered approach helps people discuss difficult topics and avoid arguments. You need to concentrate when you are sewing, so eye contact is reduced, and you are also prompted the think hard about what you are involved in. She finds that a lot of people who would not normally get involved in activism say it feels safe to do so with craftivism. They can be effective alone or in groups. If you have been bothered to sew a message on a fabric circle and make a pot of jam to attach it to, people are far more likely to stop and think than at any number of click-campaigns. In fact the activist is more to likely to think about it too.
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Sarah comes across as likeable, engaging and funny, but there is a steel behind those eyes. She is not messing about here, is passionate about this vocation. Her tattoos attest to this, echoing her passions in ink. She says she has managed to engage people in dialogue, including her MP, far more successfully using craftivism than she ever would have by shouting through a loud-hailer or clicking endless online petitions. Her MP told her online clicks were a waste of everyone’s time, so instead she presented her message embroidered on a handkerchief. The effect was to cut through their previous barriers, allowed them to set up a serious dialogue, and they were able to work together for several years.

Sarah’s talk was inspiring and uplifting. She outlined her ‘top five’ types of activism (Inner Activism, Gentle Activism, Intriguing Activism, Inclusive Activism and Transformational Activism) explaining how she thinks this way is effective, both for the activist and the ‘target’. And she urges us to be the change that we want to see, to make it part of our lives. It can be effective, thought-provoking and rewarding.

Part of Hebden Bridge Arts Festival 2015     Tuesday 1st July