The Power of Making: Crafting a Better Story
In her book, ‘Strange Material: Storytelling Through Textiles’, Leanne Prain writes this, “knitting, weaving, embroidery- no matter what the medium is, textiles are both by products and generators of narrative.”
Her message is clear, textiles can tell stories.
She adds,“there, amid the warp and weft, are social commentaries, personal confessions”, she continues, “the secret lives of oppressed people, and a snapshot of the world as the individual experiences it in his or her lifetime.”
Storytelling through textiles and craft can come in more obvious forms - perhaps it’s a tapestry of a battle scene or a stained glass window in a church. But storytelling can also be more implicit. It’s the way that fashion historians are able to look at the length of a skirt and tell you something about the attitude towards women at the time it was made. Or how historically colour was used to convey something about the wealth of a person. It’s the way that different techniques be it weaving or block printing can be tracked to specific cultures and time frames.
It’s seen even in the clothes that we wear or the objects we have in our homes. They’re an expression that is able to convey something of our value system. Both as makers and as consumers of textiles and craft, we have the power to tell a story.
The concept of ‘Craftivism’ (a term first coined by writer and maker, Betsy Greer) is one of those more obvious examples of storytelling through craft. It’s a wordplay on, ‘craft’ and ‘activism’, and is a way for those who don’t identify with the more aggressive or loud forms of activism to play a part in addressing injustice through their creations. The hope being that this more gentle approach will promote discussion that’s founded on compassion and will in turn affect positive change.
Sarah Corbett is the founder of the Craftivist Collective, a movement and community equipping people to engage in this form of creative activism, as well as the author of ‘How To Be Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest’. In her TED talk, she tells the story of a campaign she led which sought to encourage M&S to implement the living wage. At the start of the campaign, herself and a group of others hand delivered personalised gifts including stitched handkerchiefs and letters to all 14 of the company's board members. After 10 months of continued discussion, M&S announced to the media that they were going to pay the independent living wage.
By Sarah Corbett’s definition, Craftivism could look like stitching a handkerchief with a gentle but provocative question about a social issue, and giving it as a gift to someone in a position of power. Or it could be embroidering fabric with a dream you have for the future. Even more than storytelling, Craftivism is about inviting people to imagine a better story.
Artist and author, Makoto Fujimara writes, “artists are border-stalkers - they imagine the world beyond, and invoke abundance in their midst, even though the world around them cannot see or believe what they do. Artists acknowledge a limited resource environment, but use the resources given to create into the world of abundance beyond the horizon.” Fujimara is suggesting that artists, craftspeople, and makers alike have an ability to look beyond the world as it is and create in spite of it, imagining the world as they want it to be.
So it seems that there’s power in craft to tell a story, even to rewrite a story. The question is what story are we telling? How are you (and we) conveying something of our values as we create?
And what’s the story we are crafting at AMMA? We hope it’s one of kindness both to people and planet. That amidst the physical labour of dyeing our yarns, is the evidence of a determination to see sustainable jobs in the textile industry. Woven into our fabric is our care for the earth, demonstrated by gentle handmade processes. And stitched into the seams of our products, the story of incredible women advocating for change in their own community.
We love this quote by photographer and patagonia contributor, Amy Kumler, “If you're looking for a place to start, plant a tree. Only an optimist would do that.”
So go and ‘plant a tree.’ Go and weave with some ‘kinder to the earth’ naturally dyed yarns. Go and repair your clothes with beautiful visible mending. Go and embroider slowly, each stitch a rebellion against this fast paced world. Go and cook a meal with locally grown ingredients.
Holding tight to the belief that as you create you have the opportunity to rewrite the story of a kinder and better world.
Only an optimist would do that.
Written by Cleo Rigby.