Searching for Craftivism at the WI

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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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Punk Britannia

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When my 11 year old son recently came home from school with the invitation to ‘dress as royalty’ to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee his initial apathy soon led to a subversive adventure in punk inspired DIY fashion.

Jude has spent the majority of his primary education pushing the boundaries through his creative approach to learning which, much like marmite, his teachers have either loved or hated! The marmite lovers have nurtured, encouraged and celebrated Jude’s creativity whilst those with a sensitive palate have attempted to quash it. Fortunately Jude’s positive experiences have out-weighed the bad and it is with thanks to his time spent with inspirational teachers Sarah Maltby-Smith and Fern Parsons that he has retained the confidence to explore the world with awe, wonder, curiosity and intrigue and defied any attempts by the marmite intolerant to limit his imagination.

As Jude has reached year 6 with his creativity intact, his suggestion to create a Jubilee outfit fit for a Prince of Punk seemed like the most fitting opportunity to celebrate the square peg of a spirit that has refused to be hammered into a round hole. We therefore set ourselves a design brief to create a DIY outfit in red, white and blue with undertones of anarchy and a nod to the punk spirit of ’77.

Keen to make an artistic statement, we gathered together jeans and a couple of plain T-shirts, pillaged my sewing and art supplies for suitable accoutrements and trawled local charity shops for a small  jacket that we could customise with our stash of Poundland Union Jacks.

What followed was a week of frenzied pre and post school making. I took on the task of deconstructing the jacket to add in the Union Jacks and Jude double splattered his jeans, first with bleach and then with red batik dye. We worked on the T-Shirt together using a stencil of the Queen (from Angel Adoree’s Vintage Tea Party book), car spray paint and a ridiculous amount of safety pins.

Once completed, the Prince of Punk tried his outfit on to admiring looks from his fashion conscious sister who was mightily impressed with his DIY/charity shop chic. This initial trying on session did however highlight the need for a suitable hair style to compliment the look for which we looked to John Cooper Clarke for inspiration and invested in a can of super hold hairspray. Topped with dark glasses Jude was good to go, a walking playful statement of creative freedom and self expression!

There are more images from our photo-shoot over on Flickr

Christmas Craftivism

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Homemade Christmas Lovliness

OK, so I’m a bit late with this one but it may go some way to explaining my absence from the blogosphere for the last few months!

Back in September I made a brash decision to make the majority of my Christmas gifts for friends and family with the help of my children. I often describe myself as a ‘time poor crafter’ and although there has always been an element of the homemade in my Christmas efforts, last year I decided to push the limits of seasonal crafting.

There were a few reasons for setting myself this ambitious challenge and once I started to unpick them I realised that I was engaging in a spot of craftivism! I do love Christmas but always feel uncomfortable about the materialism that surrounds it. This feeling has been magnified since having children and as they approach their teenage years I don’t want them to develop an excessive desire to possess more ‘stuff’ than they could possibly need or use.

The other contributing factors were waste and cost. I don’t like waste and it makes me really sad to see beautiful (and expensive) wrapping paper and packaging binned and as I have had to cut back on work to complete my MA funds are tight!

Mum and Dad

Mum and Belinda

When I was seven my parents embraced the Good Life. They had grown up in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and after overdosing on Tom and Barbara decided that we should swop hustle and bustle for a simple life. We moved to a small Lincolnshire village and the adventure began; soon we had rabbits, goats and a sprawling garden filled with home grown produce. One of my earliest memories of this new life was being part of a homemade Christmas card production line. I remember it involved lino printing with oil paint and it being very blue and very messy.

With this memory in my mind I called a meeting of the ‘Project Christmas’ steering committee (me, Abigail and Jude). We decided that we would create hampers by making use of our garden produce. I didn’t inherit the self sufficiency gene from my parents but we had a bountiful crop of apples, a very bushy bay leaf bush and Jude’s greenhouse chillies.

An internet search provided recipes for Christmas chutney, chilli jam, bay leaf infused olive oil and Delia’s Christmas cake; a winning combination. I have four male cousins in their twenties, (one a Drum and Bass DJ), so we decided to substitute edibles for graffiti art in their case.

Christmas Chutney

Chilli Jam

The making mission was epic and quite early on I was haunted by a throw away remark I had made years earlier about a mum at my children’s primary school. She had made mini Christmas cakes in spaghetti tins for the complete staff team and I had concluded that she had far too much time on her hands! The making mission ate up every moment of my spare time; it was relentless and required stamina and dedication. As my car had been towed away for scrap it also involved death defying trips back from Tescos on a bike loaded with bottles of cider vinegar! We also broke the electric whisk and I got what felt like second degree burns on my hands from the chillies.

Jude the Graffiti Artist

Abigail and Jude were willing helpers and by the time the cakes had tipped over into double figures they could follow the recipe without adult intervention. Jude spent a lot of time in the garden painting, splattering and spraying canvas, Abigail became our product brand poster girl posing as a Beaton-esque shooting star and I learnt how to ice a cake!

Inspired by Beaton - Abigail the Shooting Star

The 25 Christmas cakes, 18 jars of chutney, 15 jars of chilli jam, 12 bottles of bay leaf infused oil, 6 graffiti canvases and broach for my mum were all packaged using recycled fabric and trimmings and placed in jute shopping bags and distributed. I definitely underestimated the time involved in Project Christmas but it was a hugely satisfying experience. We have had some lovely thank you letters and there have been no reported cases of botulism which is a bonus.

Jude and Abi's Scrummy Christmas Cake

Button and Bead Broach

I am very grateful to Nigel Blackamore for taking the beautiful photographs of our Christmas Craftivsm over on Flickr.