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Make, do, and mend the world: Crafting change with Sarah Corbett

There’s no denying that technology can be a powerful force in the activist’s toolkit. From keeping women on banknotes, to putting FGM on the Department for Education’s agenda - online petitions can gain incredible traction through social media. But while clicktivism can make a difference, Craftivism offers a more tactile approach to activism. We decided to find out how we can create change with our own two hands, and not just our two thumbs.  

Craftivism is when craft and activism collide - a quieter type of activism that encourages people to use creativity as a form of strategic and mindful protest. This could be a hand sewn banner, or a piece of cross stitch that functions as a political statement. Founder of Craftivist Collective and author of How to be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest Sarah Corbett explains more:

“We are making objects to spark conversation. Using your hands and physically making something is actually very empowering, it gives you that space to actually ask the questions we might find uncomfortable. One of the main benefits of Craftivism is to be offline and use the process of craft to slow down and think deeply.”

Perhaps hand embroidering a hanky with a compelling message and gifting it to a power holder isn’t the first thing you associate with instigating political change, but Craftivism can really work (you only have to look at Lorna Rees’ Pants of Protest campaign to see the movement’s force.)

Originally coined by Betsy Greer, Sarah stumbled across Craftivism on a long train journey to Glasgow: “I was travelling all over the country telling people how to be effective activists and mobilise themselves on international issues and I was burning out. I had joined lots of activist groups at the time because I’d moved to London, but I didn’t feel like I fitted in.”

Doubting whether she could be an activist without burning out, Sarah picked up a teddy and began cross stitching it with messages, experimenting with a different kind of activism. But why is “logging off” from technology such an important part of the process?

According to the report by A Decade of Digital Dependency we check our smartphones, on average, every twelve minutes of the waking day. It’s one of the first things we look at when we wake up and one of the last things we look at before we go to bed. From working at computers to balancing Netflix with checking social media, we’re surrounded by screens.

Craftivism requires our attention to be torn from technology, naturally slowing us down and pushing us into a state of contemplation. Our busy hands can no longer tap away at keyboards or apps, and instead are creating something physical. Of course, artists and psychologists have long been telling us the positive effects of the arts on mental health.

From encouraging a dialogue with our deeper self and increasing control over life circumstances to inspiring change and a sense of belonging, The Arts for Health and Wellbeing state that there are many proven benefits to getting creative. Something which Sarah utilises during Craftivist workshops:

“My Craftivism is very much about repetitive actions. We don’t use machine embroidery because it’s about using tactile, soft materials, and not looking at a blue screen. I have been able to work with neuroscientists and I read a lot about psychology and how craft helps with critical thinking. We’re doing something with our hands and using textiles that can naturally help calm us down when we’re in an anxious state. Repetitive actions also slow down and regulate our breathing.”

Craftivism
Craftivism

Of course technology has played a big part in Sarah’s success as a Craftivist. It’s helped her to build the huge global community she has today, spreading awareness of campaigns and even inspiring other Craftivist groups to pop up organically across the world. But she is quick to stress that the cause should come first, and social media second, warning that it can be “a distraction and not always useful”.

While some of the creations made by Craftivists are shared online, Sarah is also mindful that activists can overshare. Much of the Craftivist Collective’s work is about building up trust with decision makers, leading with compassion and understanding the point of view you are in opposition to. Sarah remarks:

“With anything, we have to make sure that our motives are clear. We’re targeting people who disagree with us and we are trying to change something that's currently in place and is unjust, so we need to be really careful not to look like we're doing stuff just to blame or bully people.”

Sarah believes Craftivism needn’t be a replacement for activism, it’s just another thing you can do to make a difference, which just so happens to also be great for your mental wellbeing. A form of activism you can physically feel making a difference. In Sarah’s words:

“Craftivism is a really useful tool in the activists toolkit but it should be used for certain causes and not others. We should absolutely still go on lots of marches and sign lots of petitions. But I think Craftivism has strengths that can complement other techniques and campaigns.”

So why not give it a go? Log off, pick up a sewing needle and master the art of gentle protest. You can get started with your very own Craftivist kit, or if you’d like to read more about Sarah’s work, you find out more here.

Photos by Craftivist Collective

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