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Craftivism Excerpt: Jamie Chalmers’ ”Don’t Get Angry, Get Cross Stitch!”

Written by Betsy Greer. Posted in Betsy Greer

Here is my last post featuring an excerpt from the anthology Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism! Thanks for putting up with my not knowing any Swedish (we Americans are a bit crap in the language department, sadly). If you have any craftivism projects you are working on at the moment, I would LOVE to hear about them, you can tell me about them by emailing me at: betsy@craftivism.com.

This last excerpt is from Jamie Chalmers’ (who is also known as Mr. X Stitch) essay, ”Don’t Get Angry, Get Cross Stitch!” In his essay, he also talks about the work of both Fine Cell Work and the Craftivist Collective, sites which you also might find interesting. Thanks for letting me share the book with you this week and for your interest in craftivism in general, yeah!

Cross stitch is one of the humblest forms of embroidery, yet within that simplicity lies a huge amount of power.

For as long as anyone can remember, cross stitch has been part of our cultural heritage. Who hasn’t seen cross stitched samplers from the 18th century, an important training tool for children learning the important handicrafts in school? Cross stitch samplers have often carried with them religious and social messages, and we look back fondly on these works when we find them, as though they are windows into an era long since passed.

Thanks to the simplicity of its form, whether you are eight or eighty years old, cross stitch is easily achievable, with a short, not very steep, learning curve that swiftly leads into the gentle process of stitching the tiny Xs. Many people believe that they lack the patience or the skill to undertake cross stitch, however upon trying it, they adapt into their own rhythm with surprising ease, and before long are lost within the creative space stitching forwards and backwards across the fabric, creating pixelated images and artworks that are part of our cultural fabric.

The very act of cross stitching promotes a meditative-like state. The process of guiding the needle and thread through the holes in the fabric in a repetitive style forces slowness of approach and a natural rhythm that cannot be made much quicker. While there are many crafts that can be done at any pace, or in varying degrees depending on the production process, there is such a regularity and constraints within the traditional cross stitched format that the rhythm becomes everything; much like breathing or waves upon the sea shore, the stroke of the needle inwards and outwards, up and down, is something that is pleasant to experience and can lead to a relaxed state of being.

“…We all do find a feeling of calmness and we all do come together to help and support each other, just like a family and these two things are so rare to feel and find in prison.”*

Since 1997, the charity Fine Cell Work has worked with 300 prisoners across the UK improving their experiences through the power of embroidery and needlecraft. Working with volunteers, prisoners are taught the skills of embroidery, and provided with the materials that they may stitch in their own cells. The testimonials featured on the Fine Cell Work website give an indication of the power of embroidery as a healing tool. There are many moving accounts of the embroidery providing an escape from the darkness of their reality, and is a creative pastime that actually gives them a sense of purpose, and brings them a joy that had long since escaped them. ”Lock-up was always hard for me as I was finding it difficult to cope with my brother’s death, but having something to keep me busy helped deal with my own issues. Now, five years on, I have not self-harmed in three years. I have remained on the unit to do my courses, and went from a violent, disturbed prisoner, into a respectable rule-abiding prisoner; 90% of that change has come from the great work and support the Fine Cell workers have given to me.”

Cross stitch, as with all embroidery, is also bound into a socio-political debate about gender, wherein it is traditionally considered a past time for women, particularly those of older generations. It is this gender bias that adds to the success of cross stitch as a political media. One cannot help but feel a kindness towards cross stitch, as though it had been created by a senior matriarch, and therefore when the cross stitch contains a message of anger, of activism, or of social commentary, the impact is much greater than expected.

The Craftivist Collective use cross stitch as a simple tool in their battle for changing hearts and minds. The contrast between the gentle art of cross stitch, and the powerful act of political activism, acts as an amplification of the message contained within the work created. The recent #imapiece campaign inspired hundreds of people to create hand embroidered jigsaw pieces, containing messages of hope and inspiration. Their very nature, being made by hand using textiles, made it hard to ignore the level of time and energy put into creating the pieces. Put together as an ensemble installation, the jigsaw created an overwhelming sense of power and emotion for anyone who saw it.

“I’ve never really been politically active before,” said Andrea, one of the crafters at the Milton Keynes #imapiece workshop, “but with this project I feel I’m able to make a statement and show how I feel about poverty.”** This is one of many such statements that form a part of the on-going narrative of the #imapiece campaign. Traditional forms of political activism can be overwhelming, and for many people it’s simply not feasible. The gentility and familiarity of cross stitch transforms the political power into something that is more manageable. Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective, encourages crafters to reflect on the message they create, and allow the slowness and meditative processes of stitching draw them into deeper contemplation of the content.

Thanks to the simplicity of creating cross stitch, anyone can produce profound messages and make statements that really matter. And in this day and age, messages that take a long time to produce a much-needed antidote to the world of instant gratification and political spin. The familiarity of the production process instils a sense of gravitas in cross stitched work as people recognise that this is not a quick craft to create. Images that might be hard to digest in printed or digital form become almost overwhelming when translated to stitch.

*Quote from a Fine Cell Work prisoner testimonial, which you can read here.

**Anecdotal quote from a member at the ‘imapiece workshop I ran in Milton Keynes in December 2012

Craftivism Excerpt: Tarlen Handayani on Running a Craft Space in Indonesia

Written by Betsy Greer. Posted in Betsy Greer

Today’s Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism excerpt is from Tarlen Handayani, who runs Tobucil & Klabs in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. What I love about this excerpt (I think it is part of a longer piece) Is that it shows how you Tarlen incorporates craftivism in a unique way, through a lens of literacy.

While most craftivists workswith textiles, it really can be done with anything. For example, here’s a review of talk given by Philadelphia’s The Clay Studio head Garth Johnson on ceramics and craftivism. In this talk, he talks about Michael Strand’s Cuplomacy Project, which is excellent example of craftivism! Yeah!

And here is a talk given by Michael at TEDxFargo in 2012, Which talks about his work, which, if you have a few minutes you should watch before reading Tarlen’s excerpt (in blue). What I like about it is that it’s totally unlike other craftivism projects you may have ever seen! It includes religion and community and connection and I find it quite beautiful in the way in invokes such a quiet, lasting change…


I founded Tobucil & Klabs, A Small Bookshop (s info shop and community space) in 2001, only three years after the New Order regime (after 32 years) collapse and the Beginning of the Reformation. At that time, there was no place like Tobucil in my hometown, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. Therefore, Tobucil became a pioneer operation, into being an alternative place where you can meet people from many different backgrounds and communities and then share knowledge and ideas with freedom of expression. One of its missions is to support the local literacy movement with the aim of capacity building, in order to produce new thoughts and evaluate them. It Also Supports The Craft movement as well.

At the start, it was not as simple as I thought it would be to run a place like Tobucil as One That is independent, and not dependent on funding Organizations or sponsors. The biggest challenges have been finding sustainable ways to run this place and maximizing its financial resources to finance all programs, without deviating from our spirit of independence. Keeping this independence is a form of activism, by Ensuring That we are free to speak and create with our own minds, Note Those of big funders.

In 2007, after Tobucil moved to its third location, it started to find new approaches from Which to survive and grow. Tobucil & Klabs was built around the idea of ​​fitting the literacy movement into its daily programming; Also it has separate programs with two different approaches, clubs and classes. Every club, like the Philosophy Club and The Reading Club, allows people to join for free. And for classes like basic photography, photo stories, knitting, Bookbinding, public speaking, essay writing, and fiction writing, people have to pay a tuition fee to join them (at a very reasonable price), as They have instructors who will be teaching Them skills. Everytime tuition fee is shared, with 80% going to the instructor and 20% for Tobucil. Anyone Can Be an instructor of a Tobucil class, as long as understand Tobucil’s mission and DIY spirit. Surprisingly, some of the instructors have actually been highly qualified In Their individual fields; They teach the classes at Tobucil Have Become Part of paying back Their Social Responsibility to Their community.

At Tobucil, We Have Realized That When people pay for a class, They feel more responsibility towards the programs and Achieve more program goals. But, the Most Important Thing has been the built-in sense of Belonging from the public, as it keeps them Contributing, thus assuring Tobucil’s survival. Another method of Funds is the shop, Which has Become One for the community. Here, the people who create something in the classes can sell theirproducts into Tobucil. The other DIY approach Is that People Who Are Involved and working at Tobucil’ve become members of the cooperative micro-finance organization That is owned and run by its members Jointly, who share in the profits and benefits. This cooperative has Become One of the financial supporters for Tobucil & Klabs. Its existence Creates a Mutually beneficial relationship for all Who Are Involved in Tobucil & Klabs.

Since we started Tobucil, Supporting the literacy movement has been our main goal. Literacy is not only about the skills of reading and writing, but is overpriced the way to understanding everyday life and how individuals can improve themeselves. Through this aim, Tobucil has’ve become a hub for any individual or community to exchange ideas and spirits on the same DIY frequency. In the effort to Implement literacy into everyday life, we Realized That craft offered a friendly and fun way, with a Do-It-Yourself spirit, to reach Widely bothering audiences and Tobucil’s goals. Through the craft programs at Tobucil, we have taught skills and spread the DIY spirit by reinventing craft tools from the tools of everyday life. We have taught knitting, crocheting, printing by hand, book binding, photography, sewing, embroidery, stop motion, scrapbooking and drawing. 

Craftivism Excerpt: Sayraphim Lothian’s Guerrilla Kindness

Written by Betsy Greer. Posted in Betsy Greer

Here’s another excerpt from Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism. This time from Sayraphim Lothian, whose sense of play I really admire. Sayraphim uses play in relation to crafts and community in a unique way that can turn what seems like a simple journey out on the town into an adventure of discovery. Please note that this is only part of her essay in the book, as for the rest of it, that is for you to uncover!




I want the world I live in to be a wonderful place. A place where neighbors chat to each other over fences and where people new to the building are welcomed with a plate of home-baked treats. A place where, walking along a footpath in the city, you might find a random piece of art hanging from a tree or a poem inscribed on a wall that someone has left for you. A place where magic or surreal moments are commonplace, where you never know what’s going to be around the next corner and, thusly, the anticipation is always there.


Hi, my name is Sayraphim Lothian and I’m a joyful optimist.


As the well-known quote says, we “must be the change [we] wish to see in the world.” I have taken this saying to heart and am trying to do exactly that. I think the importance of lovely things occurring to someone cannot be understated. Therefore, I make small handcrafted artworks to leave around the streets of cities around the world for people to find and take; I practice random acts of guerilla kindness to lift people’s mood and make them happy. The world needs more moments of joy, more unexpected lovely things happening to people, more enveloping moments of beauty that catch your eye and your heart, even if only for a second. If acts of road rage can create a ripple effect that sparks more road rage, then surely acts of loveliness can ripple outwards, too?


I’ve walked down alleys and found stenciled artwork on bits of fence palings left there for people to take, found interesting tiny sculptural works half hidden on windowsills, and seen hundreds of bells hanging from a tree on pale ribbons in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD (Central Business District). I’ve found magic in the strangest places and always loved the thrill of the find and the chance to own an amazing work of art, an item created with care and love by an (sometimes anonymous) artist. I get the same kind of thrill from street art, finding beautiful, amazing painted works of art down alleys, discovering interesting stickers on the backs of signs and strange, but wonderful figures nailed to light posts and fences. Walking through the city is an adventure, causing some days to feel like I’m on an art safari. When I was younger, I always wanted to contribute to the evolving gallery that is the streets; however, I’ve never been that good at painting or drawing. My skills lay in the vast and endless possibility that is craft.


Musing on that fact some years ago, I decided that I’d make a start in streetcraft, something you don’t see a lot of, aside from the mad amounts of yarn bombing about the place. At the same time, I wanted to do something nice for strangers, as a way of making the world a better place. I wanted to make something that I could leave out on the streets for people to find and take. A friend of mine, Bianca Brownlow, founded The Toy Society, a worldwide collective of people who make toys and leave them out to be found by kids and families. It’s such a beautiful, simple idea: taking the time to make a toy, then leaving it in a Ziploc bag in a park or at a library somewhere with a note that reads “Take me, I’m yours.”


When I first found out about The Toy Society, I reveled in its grassroots rebellion. This transaction takes all the corporations and all the government officials and all the media employees who usually get a say in how we interact with each other and the world out of the picture, reducing it down to just a couple of people. My rebellious, DIY heart rejoices at the thought of this. A Toy Society drop (which is how they refer to the act of leaving the toy, how spy-cool is that?) is this deeply personal exchange between two strangers. One stranger spends time at home hand making a toy, devoting hours and materials, creating it specifically to bring joy to someoneelse. When they’re done, they then go out and leave it somewhere, where another stranger finds it, takes it into their house, and gives it to their child to play with. Not only does it end up in the geographical heart of someone’s life and home, it also lives in the imagination, mind, and heart of their child. For me, this act is an incredibly close and touching encounter between two people who will never meet.


With The Toy Society project in mind, I wanted to emulate the idea of “dropping” a handmade something, something lovely that someone would be thrilled to find, but to do so with something aimed more at adults than children. As adults, we so often lose that joyous sense of discovery in the world and I want to help coax this back. As I was musing on what the actual item might be, a prop-maker friend of mine was absentmindedly chatting about a fake cake he’d made for a display and how easy it was to create – nothing but expanding builders’ foam, spackle (that thick white stuff used to fill holes in walls), and a bit of acrylic paint. In that moment, I was sold. I’d make fake cupcakes to leave on the street, with a little tag that read “for you, stranger.” Nice, simple, and clear.


The cakes were simple to make and fun to paint and decorate. A friend of mine, Holly McGuire, makes hand-carved stamps under the name Two Cheese Please, so I asked her to make a “For you, stranger” one. It also has my name (which is also my twitter handle) on it “@sayraphim,” but the “@” sign is in the shape of a heart. Therefore, the tag reads like a little card:

For you, stranger, ♥ sayraphim


I put my name on it in case people wanted to look up the project and see what it was all about, but I’m just as happy if they don’t. It’s not about taking credit or being contacted; the main aim of the project is to simply create a moment of loveliness in someone’s day. The inclusion of my name on it just makes it a little more personal, a gift from me to the finder.


Once created, I then go on a daylight mission into the city to drop the work. It’s an interesting and challenging task to find places to put them in the city. Put them too high or too low and people won’t see them, hide them too well and they may never be found. Once I’ve spotted a good place to leave one, I put the work down, photograph it, and then walk away. The temptation is to stay and watch, to see who picks it up, but I’ve learned that this changes the act itself. Deciding that you’ll stay and watch what people do with it makes the act of dropping the work actually an exchange, becoming a matter of “sure, you can have this thing I made, but I want to watch what you do with it.” It makes the finder an unknowing participant in a voyeuristic kind of performance that’s sort of creepy. In this regard, guerrilla kindnesses have to be put down and walked away from.


Craftivism: The Beginnings

Written by Betsy Greer. Posted in Betsy Greer

Craftivism cover

For the past 13 years, I’ve been writing about craftivism, the place where craft and activism meet. A few years ago, I decided that i wanted to share the work of fellow craftivists in an anthology about the subject. So, as one does, I started talking to publishers and Arsenal Pulp  Agreed with my vision of the book. Therefore, I started talking to fellow craftivists abouttheir work and ended up with a bookthat longer includes 23 interviews and essays, alongwith 10 Shorter projects.

This week on this blog, I’m going to share some bits from the book to Introduce You To note only craftivism, the topic, but overpriced Craftivism: The Art and Craft of Activism , The Book. Today, here’s a piece from the anthology’s introduction.

We’re all bombarded with messages about making ourselves better by buying this or Obtaining That, but where are the messages about how we make ourselves better by sharing with others and listening to ourselves?

In 2000, I was living in New York City in my aunt’s amazing apartment in Greenwich Village. It was pre-9/11 post-turn of the century. A pretty good time to be in New York, really, even though That case, there was a hotly contested presidential race between Al Gore and George Bush.

So, unsurprisingly, that Halloween, there was a political bent to the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade that runs down 6th Avenue. On Halloween night, I walked to the corner of my block, King St and 6th Ave, and was not surprised to see the bright costumes and colors and heavily-makeupped drag queens and general merriment. However, I was struck by the presence of literally larger-than-life puppets of both Bush and Gore. Suddenly, the parade went from boisterous and cheerful to solemn, as the election was just in a few days, and, well, everyone was worried, no matter what side you were on.

The puppets went past and then the parade went back to a whiz of colors and sparkles and sequins. Loud, happy, celebrating the holiday. But there was something in that schism between the loud and the quiet that spoke to me. I did not put it together until later on that fall when I began to knit. As I sat there on my aunt’s comfy sofa knitting, I began to think about what I could do with the items that I was making. How I could donate them to worthy causes and make them for people in need. And my mind was brought back to those puppets. And how their presence in the parade was an activist act, even though prior to seeing them, I always thought that activism had to be loud and in your face.

Maybe it was the quiet of the puppets that resonated with the quiet of the knitting. But there was the something that case that got me starting to think about how activism could be quiet. And how craft could be a part of it. And, as good ideas tend to do, this sat there and tumbled around in my brain for awhile like a load of clothes in the dryer. A few years after the parade, and I was living back in North Carolina, I mentioned the connection between craft and activism at a knitting circle. One woman, nicknamed Buzz, spoke up and said, ”You could call it craftivism.” I posted about it on the online journal I had at the time, and was given lots of support to make a website; Susan Beal, a contributor to this anthology, was one of the women I had met through Getcrafty.com who was an early champion. When I first started writing about it, it was in reference to a research proposal, and on November 11, 2002, I wrote that, ”the creation of things by hand leads to a better understanding of democracy, because it reminds us that we have power. ”In March 2003, I bought the domain name craftivism.com.

And it was through that initial support that I was able to talk about craftivism to others, because suddenly it just was not a crazy idea in my head, and legs and it was out in the middle of the day, walking around online. And then people I did not know started to write me about how they agreed with me that craft and activism were related. Then I learned while there has always been craft related to political and social causes, that people needed a term to hang their crafts on, and ”craftivism” fit this bill. And gave people a quick way to explain what they were doing, a term to call themeselves (craftivists), and a platform from which to create. I guess, in a sense, for me, the old adage from Field of Dreams, ”if you build it, they will come,” came true. I just needed to have faith in my idea first.

Many of these contributors I have collaborated with over the past 10 years, and I am happy call them my friends, peers, and colleagues. It is my hope that this anthology will give you an idea of ​​the breadth of craftivism, and how you can use your creativity to improve your own life as well as that of others. Some of these pieces speak to how individuals created their own paths as they ventured into their careers, some share with us the works of others that have inspired them, and some share with us their experience with and in communities around the world.