Crafting the Handmade Revolution

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The suffix -ism might only be three letters, but it’s a powerful little one. It can totally change the meaning of a word. Add it to social and you have socialism, while feminine becomes feminism. When you add it to the mix of craft and active, you create craftivism: a form of activism carried out through the practice of craft. And yes it’s a thing! It’s a worldwide movement based on creativity and altruism (another -ism).

Betsy Greer, author of Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism, is considered by many to be the godmother of craftivism and she succinctly defines it as: “a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.” [source]

Craftivism has also been covered academically. The Craftivism Manifesto 2014 was published by Kirsty Robertson, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art & Museum Studies, University of Western Ontario. It’s a series of essays covering the work, the history, the criticisms and the practices of craftivism.

“If we take control of production, we are taking that power back. This is a path for those of us who would nonviolently change society: change its commodities, its understanding of production, of distribution and exchange. Even the way we relate to things personally.” [From the Craftivism Manifesto 2014, Artist Statement, Common Goods, Travis Joseph Meinolf]

Bringing it to the masses, the V&A Museum in London held a 6-month exhibition, ‘Disobedient Objects’ in 2014. The focus was on grassroots movements and how they can affect social change. It was the first exhibition of its kind and displayed a wide-range of subversive works. The exhibition raised many societal issues and challenges, bringing awareness to the activism behind the exbitits.

Carrie Reichardt, a self-professed extreme craftivist, was one of the artists whose work was featured. The Tiki Love Truck was a piece dedicated to the memory of a death-row inmate. For the past 15 years, she has been using screen printing, mural and mosaic techniques to create intricate, highly politicised works of art. In addition to requests for her art installations, Carrie is often asked called upon to speak about the subject of art and craft as a form of protest.

Not all craftivist works involve extreme activism. London-base craftivist, Sarah Corbett, is a great example of one person who started small and is now enacting positive global change with her craft projects. Sarah was a discouraged and exhausted activist who was doubting her effectiveness. She was searching for a way to keep her passion alive and to fight for the change she wished to see in the world. After she discovered cross-stitching, Sarah found craftivism which she describes as slow and gentle activism where you start people thinking by involving their hands, heart and head. Sarah founded the Craftivist Collective in 2009 and now has a global following in the thousands.

At this point you may be wondering how you can change the world by practising a craft. Craftivism can start with one person at a time. It doesn’t have to be extreme. It can be as simple as you using your handcrafting skills for the greater good by starting an art or craft project in your local community, which might then spread to other communities throughout the world. Or if you‘d like to become involved with a ready-made project, take a look at the those that Betsy Greer at Craftivism and Sarah Corbett at the Craftivist Collective have happening at the moment.

A delightful one-man project that put the individual artisan firmly in the spotlight is Nick Hand’s Slowcoast. In 2009 this graphic designer decided to take the slow road and cycle around the British coast. Along the way he stopped to meet, record and post his conversations with local artisans. He followed this up in 2010 with a similar trip around the Irish coast. His collection of over 100 Soundslides document the making of useful and aesthetic objects that uplift people through their functionality and beauty. In the age of fast, it’s a celebration of slow. During the talk Nick gave at Do Lectures Wales in 2011, he talks about why we need to celebrate craftsmen and how we need to keep these skills alive.

An example of a grassroots movement that went global is yarn bombing. Aesthetically pleasing, it’s been used to brighten many a drab urban area. It makes a statement and is community driven. And it’s a project that has captured the imagination of knitters worldwide. Likewise knitting for charity projects have had great uptake worldwide.

Knitting is just one of many arts and crafts. Look around the world and you’ll see signs of a handmade revolution beginning. There’s a movement away from items mass production by big corporations to aesthetic works produced by artisans and traditional crafters.

From a humble start in 2003, Etsy has grown to be the world’s largest e-commerce platform for direct sales of handmade goods. Sales have risen dramatically since the early days with total sales in 2015 reaching over 2 billion USD. This would indicate that consumers have a strong interest in and appreciation for handcrafted products.

In 2012, BBC 2 produced and aired a 10-part series, Paul Martin’s Handmade Revolution. The aim was to put the British back in touch with their strong craft traditions. The crew travelled around the country to visit the various artisans featured in each episode. Pottery, weaving, silversmith, sculpting, master cutlers (scissor makers), and glass blowing were just some of the crafts portrayed. The show stimulated a lot of interest in the process of making products by hand and the show’s free Arts and Craft Handbook is still available to download.

In the States, the former motor city, Detroit, has long been a city in decline. Shinola is one Detroit-based business helping to buck that tread. Founded in 2011, the company’s tagline is: We’re building a tradition one thoughtfully crafted product at a time. The high-quality, handcrafted products – watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals – are made to last.

“We’re building a tradition one thoughtfully crafted product at a time.” – Shinola Detroit

Connecting the creative traveller with local artisans is Skillstourism (and there we go again, one more -ism!). They’re a niche tourism operator who believe in urban self-sufficiency, and creating a positive economic alternative through craftsmanship. Their tours offer an ideal way to combine your day job with learning a desired new skill. You’ll travel to exotic locations to learn handicrafts from traditional masters of the trade: wood, stone, metal, fabric, paint, music, dance, whatever takes your fancy.

And if your tastes veer more towards obtaining modern-day technical skills, Skillstourism has this area covered too. For the Maker / Inventor, they have tours which take place in Bangalore, the IT capital of  India, and offer you the chance to learn how to make a 3D printer, or a 60 cm quadcopter. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to code? That’s an option as well.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s a vacation that promises to transform not only your life, but the life of the person passing on their skills. It’s a contribution to sustainable tourism and how you can tip your toe in the craftivism waters to start making a difference.

So what skill will you choose to craft a new future?

Written by Angela Eldering at A Scribing Hand ( www.scribinghand.com).

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Catherine Cullen

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