All the yarn that's fit to knit!

Come on in, the yarn's fine!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


For the past six or seven years, not only have I been knitting, but I've also been an advocate of the value of knitting and making other things by hand. A long time ago, in a knitting circle, I started talking about how craft and activism have an innate connection as passion for both can lead to the creation of items that express your values, views and opinions. Someone within the group piped up and said, "You could call it craftivism." And so I did.

Much to my surprise, in uncovering more about this connection inherent to craftivism, it led to charity knitting, a MA thesis on how crafting can facilitate community development, essays, blog posts, and a book! It's called Knitting for Good: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social and Political Change Stitch by Stitch and was published by Shambhala last November. Since then I have also started writing a Craftivism column for Interweave Crochet, which is edited by the very talented local crafter, Marcy Smith! At one of those book signings last year, Mary said she needed some extra help in the shop some days and ever since I've been filling in here and there, as of August, every Friday afternoon and on occasions when there's an open shift.

But what about this craftivism thing? What is it all about? It started with the realization of how handmade items touch us in a completely different way than mass-produced ones. Items made by hand not only feel different, but are different because they are made from two hands and not a production line of machines. Wearing something made specifically for you, versus wearing something made for the bottom line, are two completely different experiences. With this in mind, I started knitting scarves, hats, blankets, mittens and vests for different charities that were collecting handmade pieces for various drives or collection. I liked that I could take the strength of knitting, that one has complete control over a garment's construction from design to size to color to gauge, and make something special for someone...especially for someone who desperately needed a vest to keep warm or could be comforted through difficult times by snuggling up with a cheerful blanket. I also liked that I could, in my own small way, fight against homelessness, war, cancer, or other injustices/causes with little else but my own two hands, some sticks and some string. It reminded me of how we're all connected when I felt overwhelmed that there wasn't a magic pill that would save everyone. It reminded me that maybe I couldn't help save a whole country of children, but that I could make a few children's days better by putting my knitting needles to good use.

In allowing the dual effects of knitting (process and product) to resonate, I've found the spot where maybe I'm not so technical, but I am constantly inspired to keep creating. I love that whether I'm waiting at the doctor's office or watching a movie or talking with friends I can be simultaneously working towards making someone's day better through knitting, whether it's my grandmother's or a stranger's. At first, my mother was worried about the "activism" part of craftivism, as didn't that entail lots of waving banners or breaking windows or something else not so positive? In time, however, she came to see how "activism" is not rooted in negativity, it's rooted in kindness and care and action. Positive action towards making the world a better place to be. That kindness and care is the heart of craftivism, uncovering how we can take our individual gifts and talents and use them to help others. And it's at the heart of knitting and creating, as we make items that are beautiful and sustainable with our own two hands, embracing the past and welcoming it into the future.
What is your favorite way to express your giving spirit?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, Betsy. I have not picked up the book yet, so I am glad to read some of your writing. I have knit healing prayer shawls, and am now working on scarves for the nursing home patients of a nurse friend of mine. The whole idea of the shawl is the inter-connectedness you speak of, enhanced further by prayer for the recipient, who is often unknown to the knitter. The shawls always get to exactly the person who is in need of one at the right time, so the knitter has the sense that their work and prayers are for that special person, even before we know who it is. Thanks again for your work in this area.

Leslie said...

My daughter in law works for the Army in Colorado (son is a soldier there). She collects baby size blankets for soldiers spouses, then she & her group fill them with 'goodies' for mom and baby. Triangle Machine Knitters have been MOST generous with their talents and I take or ship dozens a year to her.

Cathy said...

Thanks, Betsy. Your book inspired me to start a little project of my own. I gathered a few friends and we began knitting scarves and hats for Somali refugees who are now living in icy cold Maine. Our needles just kept on clicking until we had a huge box to ship up north. What a wonderful way to spend time with friends...

Sign up for our email Newsletter!