These Craftivists Are Making A Statement—With Knitting

Craftivism: “a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper, and your quest for justice more infinite.”

Embroidered image of a soldier and child by Betsy Greer.

1. Betsy Greer: Creative statements as activism

When Betsy Greer saw political puppets at the Village Halloween Parade in New York City, she realized that activism doesn’t have to be “loud and brash.” A creative statement, like the gentle giants of the parade, could be just as powerful.

Greer began combining activism and protest with her own crafting. She coined the term “craftivism,” which she defines as “a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper, and your quest for justice more infinite.”

Greer uses knitting, cross-stitching, and embroidery to convey important messages—like her cross-stitched images of anti-war graffiti. Her latest project involves embroidering statements about the experience of PTSD to raise awareness about the disorder. The domesticity of the medium makes the messages more accessible.

Greer says craft is an effective method of advocacy because of the attention and involvement it requires. “We all have personal histories with crafts in some ways, whether we remember learning to sew at school or recall our grandmothers sitting by the fire knitting.” It’s a personal activity that allows for connection with others, and further connection to a cause.

A handmade message of protest by Sarah Corbett.

2. Sarah Corbett: Thoughtful messages in public places

Sarah Corbett felt she was an introvert whose personality and skills were not best suited to traditional protest methods. Rather than wear herself out with marches, demonstrations, and petitions, Corbett put her talents to work and turned to the slow, thoughtful activism of craftivism.

Corbett started blogging as “A Lonely Craftivist” before branching out to form the Craftivist Collective in 2009. The collective focuses on being positive, non-threatening, and more meditative than preachy. Messages like “Charity begins at home but should never end there” cross-stitched on small, colorful pieces of cloth are inviting rather than confrontational.

Whether it’s crafters cross-stitching miniature messages of protest or passersby noticing the small, inviting banners mounted in public places, Corbett’s brand of craftivism allows people to engage in their own way on their own time. The time it takes to make a work of craftivism allows time to ponder the issue at hand, and group crafting sessions like the collective’s “stitch-ins” are safe spaces for discussion.

Based in the United Kingdom but inspiring action around the world, Corbett and the Craftivist Collective encourage people to thread their activism through all aspects of their lives—hobbies included.

Cat Mazza displays the MicroRevolt logo.

3. Cat Mazza: Textile art protests against globalization

Artist Cat Mazza’s first brush with activism was working with the hacktivists of the Carbon Defense League. Their use of “tactical media” inspired her to start MicroRevolt, a feminist group that fuses anti-sweatshop activism with crafting, performances, workshops, and web-based projects.

The Nike Blanket Petition was a MicroRevolt anti-sweatshop project from 2003–2008 that Mazza says aimed to challenge the corporate monopoly of Nike. The 15-foot-wide quilt bears a large, white Nike swoosh on a crimson background, with multicolored patches stitched along the border. Crafters from 40 countries and every state in the union knitted or crocheted squares for the quilt and signed a petition urging Nike to adopt fair labor practices.

MicroRevolt’s logoknit project featured the (sometimes subverted) logos of sweatshop offenders such as Gap, Disney, and Apple knitted into leg warmers, sweaters, and patches. Anyone can design their own logoknits using MicroRevolt’s free web application, knitPro. The purpose is to “initiate dialogue about labor issues,” says Mazza, who describes herself as an artist rather than a craftivist. She is an associate professor of art at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.