Craftivism – Interview with Sarah Corbett


Last year I went to the launch of the #imapiece campaign and it’s really made me think a lot about how craft can be used for good. For bigger purposes than just making something pretty. It is very inspiring.

So I wanted to talk a bit more to Sarah Corbett, the founder of the Craftivist Collective, and one of the creative forces behind the #imapiece project. I think her take on activism is really great. Especially for someone like me who doesn’t like marching in the street, waving signs. There are gentler ways of changing people’s minds and I really like that.

Thank you, Sarah!! xx

What is craftivism? 
The quickest way to explain craftivism is “craft + activism = craftivism”. Betsy Greer coined the term in 2003 and we love her definition: “craftivism is 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”.

The name ‘craftivism’ is being used more and more nowadays which is great but often used wrongly such as to explain upcyling, recycling and making crafts to raise money for charity. We say that “we use craft to reflect on injustice issues and give us a voice to move ourselves and others to create positive change.” Craft is the tool to give us time to reflect on global issues, think about what we can do as individuals, consumers, voters, mothers, colleagues etc to make the world a better place and how we can challenge structures keeping people poor and to then take action & hope others take action too. Craft is the catalyst for activism rather than the end goal.

In a July 2010 interview with Betsy she wrote “I’m glad that Sarah [Craftivist Collective Founder] has really understood what I was trying to get at all those years ago. The heart of the idea is so important to me that it makes my day when someone else sees the same power in it that I do”.

How did you become involved with craftivism?
I got involved in craftivism by accident. I moved to a tiny room in London 5 years ago for a job with a charity nurturing young adults from marginalised communities to engage in global injustice issues and support them on their activism journey. I didn’t have space in my flat to paint and I was traveling a lot with work, working long hours. I’ve always been creative so started cross-stitching because i could do it anywhere and it helped me feel less stressed whilst also being creative.

I also joined activist groups in London to meet like minded people but just didn’t feel like I fitted in. I’m too scared to ride a bike, I love fashion and reading Vogue. I’m not a natural extrovert so don’t like dressing up, waving placards or the way many activist groups demonise people to change their ways rather than challenge them in a respectful loving way (which I think is more effective long term). Plus you were never given much opportunity to discuss issues because there was aways so much ‘doing’ to do. I was frustrated by shallow forms of clicktivism and slacktivism where you just signed lots of petitions but didn’t have to give an opinion or really buy in to an issue.

When crafting I realised that it really gave me the time and space I needed to reflect on the issues I could campaign on. Reflect on how I could be the best global citizen by using my talents, passions and my own voice.And to think about how I could reach out to engage more people in these issues and challenge peoples’ actions as a loving critical friend.

My mum has always bought me and my siblings up to use our gifts and talents to make a positive difference in this world and fulfill the potential of what the world can be- a beautiful place for all!

So I started thinking about how craft had these unique benefits of giving time to reflect, a canvas to be creative and give introverts a voice. Craft makes people feel part of a community and is naturally an nonthreatening medium. It provokes a response in people because they can see something is handmade and unique with time and effort gone into it. Craft created a space for sharing and supporting – I could go on and on!

So I Googled ‘Craft and Activism Groups’ and the term Craftivism popped up. I contacted Betsy to ask if there were any groups or projects I could get involved in and there weren’t  She was more of a commentator on how craft was being used or had been used. So I came up with an idea of doing Mini Protest Banners and I checked in with her to see if it fitted her definition of craftivism (which it did *phew*) and created a little blog called A Lonely Craftivist to document my craftivism.

People suddenly started contacting me wanting to join in and saying that they too didn’t feel they fitted the traditional activism mould and also wanted to use their love of craft in this way to help eradicate poverty and suffering. So the Craftivist Collective was born! Now I create projects for people to do, products to sell, deliver talks and workshops and work in partnership with art institutions and charities to engage the craft community and others in this form of activism for introverts and others. All by accident really! :)

At #imapiece launch

Have you seen a craftivist project have a real impact?
We focus on really helping people challenge their hearts and minds to be the change they wish to see in the world long term and with deep engagement on issues. Therefore sometimes it’s very hard to show tangible results but I see our role as focusing on long term transformation action that’s much more beneficial to help people on their journey as responsible citizens than getting x amount of people quickly signing petitions which is much more transactional.

Every week I often read a blog by a crafts person who has become involved in one of our projects on their own or in a group and then writing about how they didn’t realise that activism could be done through the love they have for crash. Often people say they were nervous of activism and it just wasn’t for them but now they realise that they can do activism as a craftivist.

We’ve had some great discussions with people in public places who have come up to us and asked what we’ve been up to and then we’ve had open and honest respectful discussions with people on how most of us can do more to challenge injustices and be part of the solution not problem. Often these discussions result in both sides thinking about what actions they can take as voters, consumers, friends and be their best self in a way that helps others rather than harms.

One banker received one of our prints challenging extreme unbridled capitalism – he emailed the gift giver friend a week later saying that the print was a catalyst for him and his wife to think deeply about what they can do in their privileged situation to support vulnerable people and also got them thinking about the banking system as a whole. We also have used hand stitched embroidered handkerchiefs as a tool to engage local constituents with their MP and build a relationship between them so that lobbying isn’t seen as scary or alien to people. And so MPs are encouraged to use their power and influence for good (rather than ‘blowing it’ – don’t blow it= get it! ;p).

This positive way of engaging with your local MP in a loving and encouraging way means that we can go back to them and ask then to vote on X or ask the Prime Minister to do Y and remember that they should keep striving to make a positive different. We have had a really warm reception from MPs reacieving these so far (and some senators and other politicians around the world who have received hankies from their voters).


You’re working with Save the Children on the #imapiece project – how did the puzzle piece idea come about?
The jigsaw piece idea came to me about 1 month after Save the Children asked us to work with them to engage the craft community in their Race Against Hunger Campaign. I was thinking for a long long time about how to talk about hunger in an accessible way that didn’t seem too huge an issue because I was worried people would be defeatist and overwhelmed and think ‘yeah right, how can little me eradicate hunger?!”

Hunger is such a big issue that does not have one simple answer, root causes of hunger include the effects of climate change on farmers growing their crops, lang being grabbed by companies and foreign investors turfing people off land they would use to grow food for their communities and to sell. Gender equality is a huge issue with the majority of small-scale farmers being women but women often not being given an education or rights to their land.

Livelihood and food price spikes by companies means that people often can’t afford to buy food on their local market or people in low-income families in the UK struggling to buy food in the local supermarket here. There are so many problems that it might seem like we can’t do anything! But life is like a puzzle, it all seems a mess but when it gets finished it looks brilliant. This project aims to show that we are all connected and our actions make a difference.

There is no one solution to the problem of injustice but we can all play a part in a movement for change. We are supporting Save the Children because, as well as being a conscious consumer, this is a vital time to effect long-term change through campaigning and meeting your MP. We can’t miss this opportunity

How can people get involved with the #imapiece project?
The project will create an art installation that can be put together in different ways at different locations with loose jigsaw pieces forming a trail enticing people to see the final artwork to raise awareness. We want to  show that the craft community wants the Government to use its power and influence as host of the 2013 G8 to tackle injustice. Each piece of the puzzle will be stitched with a message to remind us we can all improve the world and help fulfill its potential to be a more beautiful place for all.

There will be craft events across the country from Manchester to London, Cardiff and Brentwood. Crafty activists are invited to do the project on their own, with friends or set up their own event as well as spreading messages and images about the project through their social media platforms using #imapiece. The aim is that people make a jigsaw piece for the artwork, a piece for themselves to keep as a reminder to be part of the solution, and give a piece stitched with the words “I’m a piece” to their MP to ask them to be the positive change they wish to see in the world.

As part of the #imapiece project you visited Indonesia. What impression did this trip make on you? Is there a particular moment/experience that stood out?
As part of the project I took 3 pioneers in the craft community to Indonesia to see first hand what Save the Children are doing with communities to tackle child malnutrition and extreme hunger. They were graffiti knitting street artist, Deadly Knitshade, Hilary Pullen, writer of social media tip blog ‘Craft Blog UK’, and Mr X Stitch.

We were all nervous about the trip and what we would see but it was incredibly inspiring. We came back wanting to share our stories of what is happening in Indonesia to tackle hunger and felt that the UK had so much to learn from what they are doing!

One example of a project was that we saw mums given seeds and training to create home gardens which produce food for their family as well as sell on the local market. They also share tips and recipes with each other and the kids learn about where food is grown and made – it was genius and Jamie Oliver would love it! :)

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