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Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in Craftivism, succinctly defined by Betsy Greer as ‘a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.’

To date the majority of my craftivist activities have been held within the home as a way of presenting a simpler way of life to my children, an alternative to consumerist culture. Our proudest moments have included producing a homemade Christmas and a subversive response to the Queen’s Jubilee through punk inspired DIY fashion.

Although in this form my craftivism could be seen as a solitary act, blogging about my experiences and reading about the experiences of others has made me feel part of a community with a strong sense of shared meaning and mission. I have however always harboured a secret desire to be part of something bigger, something in a physical space involving others with opportunities to create social change through mass creative participation.

Since my renewed interest in craft, I have watched with excitement the emergence of a new generation of Women’s Institutes spearheaded by the likes of the Shoreditch Sisters (founded by Jazz Domino Holly, daughter of The Clash’s Joe Strummer) who have built upon the organisations long tradition of raising awareness of others’ needs through pioneering campaigns. The Shoreditch Sister’s campaigns use craft as a vehicle to get their message across; their vulva quilt which highlights the issue of female genital mutilation is an excellent example.

Writers Betsy Greer and Amy Spencer have both identified the influence of the Riot Grrrl movement, associated with third wave feminism, with the development of craft culture. It is little wonder then that the WI, an organisation founded by suffragettes, academics and social crusaders has become an attractive proposition to some members of the craftivist community.

Although I have a fear of large groups of women and structured leisure time activities I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and investigate the WI in my area. I had heard on the grapevine that Sutterton was the place to be, with large numbers and a varied programme of speakers; my friend Louise had already infiltrated the group and agreed to take me to the next meeting.

We arrived in good time and as I entered the well populated village hall I couldn’t help but wonder if I was being assessed on my age, appearance and the potential skills I might be able contribute to the group. I surveyed the scene; chairs and tables had been set out in a formal arrangement with some seating reserved by a carefully placed book or bag and there were designated areas for the raffle, most interesting napkin competition and charity stall. The President’s table boasted a beautifully embroidered WI tablecloth and a vase of freshly cut flowers.

The evening started promptly with minutes from the last meeting, correspondence from ‘county’ and ‘national’, a request for money to be paid for a forthcoming trip to Cromer, and members with birthdays were presented with a lipstick sized led torch. There was also a lively debate as to whether future Mystery Tours should remain a mystery – they should!

A Lincolnshire South competition was revealed which involved creating a scrapbook of photographs of members drinking tea; after another lively debate it was decided that their strategy should be to aim to represent 100% of the members and to present a good variation of locations, including a mountain if possible. It was at this point that I saw an opportunity to prove my worth as a new member; an involuntary spasm caused my arm to shoot up and before I knew it I was offering my services as the official photographer for the tea drinking challenge.

After an informative talk ‘my life as an evacuee by Terry Grantham’ where I was impressed to learn that the WI had co-ordinated the official WW2 evacuation scheme, it was time for tea. Photographing members with their tea was a fantastic icebreaker and I managed to rack up over 20 portraits in 15 minutes. The highpoint of this unexpected intervention was speaking to one of the older members on tea duty in the kitchen who made me smile when she declared ‘we need more spunk; we need to take more issues to parliament.’

Although my first experience of the WI was weighted towards Jam and Jerusalem rather than Shoreditch Sisters, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and was pleased to discover a pocket of militancy within the group. With this year’s ‘resolution’ being the ‘decline of our high streets and town centres I left with my head awash with possibilities… I wonder if the ladies would like to meet the King of empty shops Dan Thompson when he spends August in Boston as part of Transported.
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