A cuppa with a Craftivist – in conversation with Sarah Corbett

When the world seems particularly grey, daydreaming provides an escape… but it can also be the spark which starts something that changes worlds, be it individually, locally or even globally. For our Unsung Stories project this year, we’re working with craftivist, Sarah Corbett, to explore the stories of those who dreamt of brighter futures, and encourage more bright beginnings. Last week we caught up over a cup of tea (in true HODs style) to discuss the inspiration behind it all.

First things first - how do you take your tea, and would you like a biccie with it?! 

Medium strength, milky and no sugar please. And yes I always want a biscuit to dunk thanks. grin

Now we’re settled, let’s dive in… you’re the founder of the Craftivist Collective, it’s not a term I’d heard before, can you tell us what craftivism is?

The simple answer is Craft + Activism = Craftivism.

Craftivism clouds can prompt the curiosity of passersby and encourage thought about ways to reach our dreams / © Craftivist Collective

Craftivism is another useful tool to add to the activist toolkit alongside signing petitions, attending marches, letter writing and other useful tactics. Like activism, there are many ways to do craftivism, some of which are more compassionate and strategic than others. I call the Craftivist Collective’s approach to campaigning ‘gentle protest’ which is not weak, fluffy or naive but about protesting against injustice with kindness, compassion and careful strategy that encourages everyone involved to be part of the solutions. It’s about slow, quiet and thoughtful activism.  It’s a campaign-winning methodology that I’m proud to say has changed hearts, minds, laws and business policies. It fits Heritage Open Days perfectly; to inspire, empower and encourage action in our communities, and to be part of the positive change we want to see in the near future. I use craftivism as a tool to positively provoke thought, conversation and action as well as attract media attention and people nervous of activism to come along to our events or take part in our projects alone or with friends.

So how does it work?

Craftivism works on different levels – the making is as important as the final product. Taking your time with slow, repetitive handicraft actions (mostly hand-embroidery and paper craft) offers space to think deeply and more critically about the complexities of the injustice you see, and feel empowered to make a better future. I create ‘crafterthought’ questions for ‘craftivists’ to reflect on.

Some of our projects are for the maker to keep as a physical reminder to be a kind, active citizen, other small craftivism objects are used as intimate gifts to power holders such as politicians and board members to encourage them to be part of improving our world. It’s a great catalyst for us to be critical friends rather than aggressive enemies with decision makers and a very memorable experience that is hard to ignore. We also create small and beautiful craftivism pieces to hang humbly in a public place relevant to your community and issue you care about. These objects engage passersby and people online without being confrontational, they create curiosity about and quietly encourage us all to think about how we can be positive role models and help tackle harm we see in our world.

For our Dare to Dream collaboration with Heritage Open Days, we are encouraging people to use the crafting time to reflect on how dreamers of the past have shaped our present, and how we can learn from them to improve our future.

This year you’re encouraging us to ‘Dare to Dream’ – what dreams or which dreamers inspired you? 

Inspirational dreamers - John Ruskin & William Morris. Ruskin's 'The Nature of Gothic' was republished by Morris in 1892 / © wikicommons

We have a rich history in England of dreamers from the past who have not only shaped local communities but the world. There are so many to choose from! John Ruskin really inspires me. He said that ‘Industry without art is brutality’. This led him to become an art patron, draughtsman, watercolorist, prominent social thinker and philanthropist, working hard to turn his vision into reality and emphasise the connection between nature, art and society in everything he did. He also reminds me that we can all influence others - Ruskin’s most famous protege was William Morris. Morris’ dream, inspired by Ruskin, was that everyone: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’.  Morris created his own interior design company, so that he could practice what he preached - rather than just saying what he didn’t like, he created what he wanted to see in the world. I’ve also been reading about the ‘Dartington Experiment’ in Totnes recently too, who in 1925 set out to explore new ideas and projects which led to the creation of the NHS and Arts Council. Dreams can come true.

Why should people get involved in the project?

We live in such a fast-paced and digital world, so much of our news stories can fuel fear in our communities and our future. We are at a time of personal and political unrest. My aim with this project is not to ignore people’s worries about the future but to create a project that can help us to use the therapeutic nature of craft (even for those of us who have never picked up a needle and thread before) to slow down, remember the heritage of positive dreamers of our past and how they have helped shape our present to empower and inspire us to focus on being solution seekers not problem proclaimers. It’s hard to explain the power of handcraft on the maker and the viewers. I hope people join in with an open heart and open mind and see how it can benefit them and their community during Heritage Open Days.

Find out more

Sarah Corbett

About Sarah Corbett

Sarah is an award-winning activist, founder of the global Craftivist Collective and an Ashoka Fellow. She grew up in a low-income area of the UK into a non-violent activist family, and has worked as a professional campaigner for over a decade, most recently with Oxfam GB. She writes a weekly column ‘The Activist Whisperer’ for lush.com and is a consultant worldwide on her unique ‘gentle protest’ approach to activism that often goes beyond craft.Sarah has worked with a variety of organisations worldwide from GirlGuiding, Unicef, Crafts Council, The Climate Coalition to Secret Cinema, Tate, British Museum and cult jewellers Tatty Devine amongst others. Her book “How To Be A Craftivist: the art of gentle protest” is out now.