Knitting is one of those activities that for years has been equated to female hobby work. It falls in line next to other hobbies such as crocheting, embroidery, sewing, etc. These crafts are not only hobbies but also livelihoods; they provide the textiles we use to clothe ourselves, keep warm, keep clean, and so on. For years, that has been their main use. But since the early 2000s, knitting (and other textile crafts) has blown up in popularity. Looking at Betsy Greer’s essay titled Craftivist History, it would appear that one of the main reasons why is because of Activism. Craft can be a vehicle to opening people’s eyes to issues in the world.
“…I began to think more and more about the intrinsic connection between the words craft and activism. Both of the terms tended to produce strong reactions, but what if they melded in such a way that allowed and encouraged people to use imagery and creativity as their activism?…What if they could each use the energy created by the other to take on a new idea?” With craft being the “younger child not taken seriously by art” and activism being a scary word that reminds people of protestation, riots, and law enforcement, it is so far fetched that it just might work.
I think about other artists we have read about like Sabrina Gschwandtner, Liz Collins, Allison Smith, and Cat Mazza. In short I think I can say that these ladies use craft (typically knit-ware) to address political issues. Everything I read paired knitting with politics, or more correctly, activism. I wonder why this seems to be the only type of knitting that is even remotely taken seriously as art? Any other knitting seems to rank in a very low class of craft, spoken about in hushed tones and usually coupled with whispered words of craft fairs and Etsy. My question is not why other knit-wares are not found in galleries, but rather what is the big deal with knitting (and other textile arts) centering around activism?
Well, I think that the textile arts are something that many people are familiar with. Techniques and knowledge are passed down from one to another through the years. My grandmother taught me how to sew when I was quite young; I still remember her sitting with me in the back room and pulling the needle and thread up through the fabric so far and so quickly (I was scared she would stick her eye or her cheek, every time)! My mother showed me how to push fabric through a sewing machine not long after. Sarah Williamson (my art mentor, 10 years my senior) taught me how to crochet when I was a sophomore in college. So as you can see, textile skills are usually passed from woman to woman and they make us feel as though we are capable of making or fixing something.
Maybe that is why textiles are frequently used for activism; they darn holes, keep us warm, emanate love and care. I think of Marianne Jorgensen and the Cast Off Knitters with their Pink M.24 Chaffee–an army tank covered with pink squares of knit yarn. Suddenly something used for destruction and intimidation becomes an image of warmth and coziness, even happiness. Betsy Greer wraps it up for me when she says that craftism is the idea that creativity can be a catalyst for change. Craft draws people in communally; it is easily recognizable and familiar. It is something that others can take part in. Because of this, I suppose it makes sense to utilize it in such a way that will draw people in to matters ongoing in the world that might otherwise be forgotten.