Meld­ing crafts, activism to spread mes­sage

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - By Melissa Kossler Dut­ton

The cen­turies-old art of craftivism has been used to spread aware­ness and sup­port for sev­eral causes.

Colleen Ha­raden-Gorski uses her em­broi­dery skills these days to em­bel­lish quilts made by stu­dents at school and com­mu­nity-cen­ter work­shops on themes of so­cial jus­tice and work­ing to­gether to make a dif­fer­ence.

Re­cently, she em­broi­dered images of barbed wire and the se­rial num­bers of con­cen­tra­tion-camp vic­tims on a square about the Holo­caust. An­other time, she worked on a square ex­plor­ing prej­u­dice within the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity about skin tone. Work­ing on quilts that ad­dress his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tices and cur­rent con­tro­ver­sies pro­vides her an out­let to com­mu­ni­cate about is­sues im­por­tant to her, and she is in­spired by the work of the young peo­ple.

“I found my voice. It makes me feel hope­ful,” said Ha­raden- Gorski, of Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia, who also ex­presses her con­cerns by call­ing and email­ing leg­is­la­tors. But “get­ting an au­to­matic re­ply to an email or hear­ing a mes­sage that the leg­is­la­tor’s voice­mail is too full — that’s not hope­ful,” she said.

The com­bi­na­tion of craft­ing and activism — some­times called craftivism — is cen­turies- old. African-Amer­i­can slaves re­layed in­for­ma­tion about the Un­der­ground Rail­road through quilt squares. Suf­fragettes used sewing cir­cles as a means of shar­ing po­lit­i­cal views. And women on both sides of the Civil War knit socks for sol­diers to sup­port the cause.

Early this year, women knit “pussy hats” ahead of Women’s Marches in Wash­ing­ton and around the coun­try to protest Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion as pres­i­dent.

That post-elec­tion surge of activism is com­bin­ing with a years-long trend to­ward do-it-your­self crafts and a step back from tech­nol­ogy, said El­iz­a­beth Gar­ber, a pro­fes­sor of art at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona in Tuc­son. Hand­made goods also have new vis­i­bil­ity be­cause of on­line sites like Etsy. co­mand photo-shar­ing plat­forms like In­sta­gram.

Time spent craft­ing of­ten leads to prob­lem-solv­ing be­cause it stim­u­lates cre­ativ­ity and pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to process emo­tions, said Betsy Greer, founder of the web­site Craftivism. com. Hand­i­work can be a “softer” way to start po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions, she said: “It can pro­vide a way to talk about things that are hard to talk about.”

Ha­raden- Gorski vol­un­teers for the So­cial Jus­tice

Sewing Acad­emy in An­ti­och, Cal­i­for­nia. The or­ga­ni­za­tion mails the quilt squares to her and other vol­un­teers to em­bel­lish. The fin­ished quilts are dis­played to pro­mote aware­ness and activism.

“We’re re­claim­ing these crafts,” said Acad­emy founder Sara Trail.

Some crafters seek out such projects to be­come part of a pub­lic ef­fort, while oth­ers might knit or sew items that they qui­etly do­nate to a home­less shel­ter, Gar­ber said.

“It ap­peals on dif­fer­ent lev­els,” she said. “Some women want to be stri­dent, but you could also do this in your own home and con­trib­ute some­thing good.”

Danielle Chris­tensen of Ea­gle River, Wis­con­sin, didn’t attend the Women’s March in Wash­ing­ton but wanted to do some­thing to show her pas­sion for the cause. An avid knit­ter, she be­gan mak­ing pussy hats and sell­ing them on­line. Prof­it­ing from the sales didn’t feel right, so she be­gan do­nat­ing her earn­ings to Planned Par­ent­hood.

“It felt re­ally good,” she said. “I’m not the type of per­son to ap­proach some­one to try and change their po­lit­i­cal view­points.”

At­tend­ing a women’s march in Lans­ing, Michi­gan, led screen printer Marcy Davy to add prod­ucts to her line that pro­mote fem­i­nism and tol­er­ance. She’s cur­rently work­ing on a poster for restau­rants to hang in their kitchens out­lin­ing the rights of for­eign-born work­ers.

“This was a big de­ci­sion. This is how I make my liv­ing,” said the res­i­dent of Yp­si­lanti, Michi­gan. “I want to use the skills that I have to carry the mo­men­tu­mof re­sis­tance for­ward.”

See­ing how up­set and con­fused many women were af­ter Trump’s elec­tion, yoga teacher Tracey di Paolo wanted to do some­thing. Af­ter knit­ting her­self a pussy hat, she de­cided to host a knit­ting cir­cle af­ter one of her classes at the stu­dio where she works in Phoenixville, Penn­syl­va­nia.

The get - t ogeth­ers quickly be­came about more than knit­ting, she said. The women shared con­cerns about pol­i­tics and their com­mu­nity.

“While we knit­ted, we talked. It cre­ated a sense of com­mu­nity,” di Paolo said. “It’s very easy to feel alone when you’re feel­ing fright­ened by what’s go­ing on in the world.”

The group, which rou­tinely was call­ing leg­isla- tors about na­tional is­sues, started look­ing for other ways to make a dif­fer­ence. They or­ga­nized a com­mu­nity cleanup and raised funds for hur­ri­cane vic­tims. Now, they are knit­ting hats for ba­bies and chemo­ther­apy pa­tients at the lo­cal hospi­tal.

“The pussy hats and knit­ting — it cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate and talk and fig­ure out how we could be use­ful to our com­mu­nity,” di Paolo said.


This photo pro­vided by the So­cial Jus­tice Sewing Acad­emy shows Ye­se­nia Madrid cre­at­ing a so­cial jus­tice art quilt with the help of SJSA Vol­un­teer, Lynn Hick­man at Bay Quilts in Rich­mond


This un­dated photo shows the “Wel­come All” sign, cen­ter at bot­tom, cre­ated by Marcy Davy, on a class­room of­fice door at the Early College Al­liance on Eastern Michi­gan Univer­sity’s cam­pus in Yp­si­lanti, Mich.


This photo pro­vided by the So­cial Jus­tice Sewing Acad­emy shows Don­nell McNeal, a ju­nior at Bal­ti­more Polytech­nic In­sti­tute, a high school in Bal­ti­more, Md., cre­at­ing a so­cial jus­tice quilt block ex­plor­ing the is­sue of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and redlin­ing.


This photo pro­vided by the So­cial Jus­tice Sewing Acad­emy show­cases the ‘X is for Mal­com X.’ block cre­ated by Bianca Mer­cado and em­broi­dered by Dr. Melissa John­son, a pro­fes­sor at Illi­nois State Univer­sity. This block is just one in Bianca’s “Ac­tivist ABC’s” quilt series.

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