Creative Genius: Craftivist Sarah Corbett

Take a cue from craftivist Sarah Corbett, and engage in the act of gentle protest, one craft project at a time.

By: Lish Dorset
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When you think of what a craftivist is, do you have a definition? Sarah Corbett, founder of The Craftivist Collective, wants that definition to include someone who is a compassionate, caring individual hoping to use their DIY talents to change the way others think, one carefully created sentiment at a time.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

As the author of the newly released "How to Be a Craftivist: the art of gentle protest," Sarah stresses the importance of using human interaction to help impact big change with small, handmade projects. From delicately embroidered handkerchiefs to thoughtfully created collages, Sarah and her fellow craftivists have helped make significant social change in the United Kingdom since launching her organization by asking leaders to take a moment and listen to what they have to say. It’s not about yelling at someone you don’t agree with. Instead, it focuses on engaging in the act of gentle protest to have a meaningful dialogue. Anyone can get involved, no matter where your crafting skills fall.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Coming from a family dedicated to helping others and making the world a better place, Sarah’s desire to make an impact goes back to her childhood. In a world where opinions are fueled with passion, Sarah is working to ask those people to reimagine the point they’re trying to get across and how they’re trying to deliver it.

What do you think it means to be a craftivist in today's climate?
I always think craftivism is like the word "punk." When it comes to punk music, there are so many different bands that sound completely different, but they're all under this umbrella or this genre. Betsy Greer, who coined the term "craftivism," said that it's basically craft + activism = craftivism. With my background being in activism, I'm challenging readers in the first chapter because I talk about how activism isn't fundraising or awareness raising or even donating. A craftivist is someone who puts activism first, and crafting is the tool. The best craftivist is someone who has a strategy of what they want to change that's realistic and knows that they can be part of the solution. My strategy is always focusing on discovering what is the vision that we can all work towards together and how can we reach it. You're really looking at what's the cure, what's the root cause of injustice, and how can we change that.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Do you think there is something that is drawing people to use craft as a medium to express their opinions now more than ever?
I've been doing craftivism for over 10 years now, and I think it's changed a lot over the years. At the beginning when I was doing it, there weren’t many craftivists around. When I Googled “craft and activism,” and the word “craftivism” popped up, there weren't many projects or groups. But I think the big trend that I saw was people feeling and knowing that they wanted to be both creative and empowered, and people wanting to come together. Crafting is an empowering tool. Now you’ve got more people who have craft in common and love the idea of using their craft for good. I'm getting many more people who are feeling like the world is so divided and who didn't expect politics to be the way it is right now. It feels like people are only talking to people that they agree with instead of finding out how to talk to people they disagree with.

There are lots of different reasons why people get involved. And one of the reasons for writing the book was my way of trying to gently nudge people to say, “I know you could cross stitch swear words into something to make your point, but is that helpful in the long-term for the cause? And is it helpful for me in the long term?” Because if you're fighting hate with more hate, that's not good for anyone. There are different forms of craftivism out there, which is why I hope the book helps people wanting to try it out to think more strategically and carefully about their goals.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Why is it important to engage in discussion?
It's empowering to build bridges with people. There are a lot of people who still want to crochet voodoo dolls of world leaders. Again, that can make someone feel good in the short term. But I really challenge people to realize that you might get lots of likes on Instagram with people that agree with you for a project like that, but I would say it's more harmful than helpful because you're demonizing people and saying, "You’re either with us or against us." You want to treat people how you want to be treated, and no one wants a voodoo doll made out of them.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

You have the desire to help others and make change. What led you to put your vision together in "How to Be a Craftivist"?
I’ve done lots of workshops and talks, and people wanted to know if my information was written down for them to use. More and more people were asking me for it. And then we went on to win a major campaign in the UK where 50,000 people were given the living wage. We were told directly that the campaign was what sort of made it happen, which is amazing because often in campaigning you don't hear that.

I love reading, and more and more people were asking me about the strategies. And I thought, since there's only one of me, and I want as many effective craftivists in the world as possible, maybe this would be of use for them. I got my book deal and asked my supporters if they wanted a book, and they did.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Photo by: Tom Price

Tom Price

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

For someone who’d like to use their craft skills to make a difference with a cause that’s important to them, or have a thoughtful discussion with someone with a differing opinion, how would you encourage them to explore that paired with your book?
Along with the book, there are lots of free resources online, starting with our manifesto on our website. There are lots of talks that I’ve given, and several projects you can do, too. Be curious and explore our website, and see where it takes you. If you’re thinking about starting a project, research your topic. Get to know it and the people involved with influencing it. Think about how your craftivism might be helpful with changing the path of a topic, whether it be at the beginning, middle or end.

Do you have any favorite examples of a craftivism campaign that has been especially effective?
Our project ideas can be paired with and tailored to the topic you’re trying to influence. I love when people share the embroidered footprints and tell me personally what they're going to do with that inner activism, whether they're going to change habits or talk to people differently or work in a different way.

To me, I really liked the hanky projects we did with Marks and Spencer's. It was amazing to hear from the chair of the board and the board members and find out how much impact it had.

I also love the mini fashion statement scrolls because it's the newest project. It's not sewing. Instead, it uses ribbon and pens to create something beautiful.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Photo by: Tom Price

Tom Price

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Do you think there are any craft mediums that might work better too?
I get lots of knitters who want to help by way of knitting. From my experience, everything we do is text-based activism; your final product needs to be clear on what change you want to see with your statement when the recipient is given it. You want people to understand your question or what you’re trying to challenge. Knitting can sometimes be challenging with that. Our projects often go outdoors, so knitting may not always wear well.

I focus on paper crafts and hand embroidery that's mostly back stitch or a cross stitch. And that's because they're all about using your hands, not a machine. It's very accessible. I've done hundreds of workshops all over the world. There are people who’ve never picked up a needle and thread in their whole life, but they’re still able to be involved, and I think that's really important. For people who have decades of crafting experience, then they can go a step further and embellish it and do it in different ways.

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

Image courtesy of Sarah Corbett

For someone who doesn't think that craft should be used as a way to express these types of messages, what would you say to them?
I just made a card for my friend because she had really bad news about her mother's health. I cross stitched her a lovely heart. Of course I'm not going to put an activism message on that card because that’s not what this particular card is about. But if we want to make the world a better place, then craft could be, at times, a useful tool. It would be a real shame not to use it, especially when so much of the activism we see now is angry. I think craft is such a lovely way to try and get everyone on the same page and then try and encourage everyone to be part of a better world.

For example, I understand if someone wants to go to a quilt exhibition and not be presented with quilts containing political messages. But at the same time, we do have injustices in the world, and I don't want to be silent against them. I think it would be a real shame if we didn't keep fighting for people to be able to fulfill their potential and for our worlds to stay happy and healthy. I think we should be respectful to people, and that we can approach politics in a respectful way with craft and still be lovely.

What do you hope people take away from your book and efforts?
I think the main thing I want people to take away is that activism can be gentle. If we want to make the world a more lovely place for everyone, it really shocks me that our activism can be so hateful. And for me, that is what gets me up in the morning: the idea of the gentle protest element. I get emails and social media comments from people who didn’t think they could be an activist because they’re an introvert or because they don't want to scream. But with craftivism, they can do it in a gentle way and use craft to see activism not as something scary and something that only certain people do, but something to help us better shape our world.

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