Written by Cath Janes


Why I’m a craftivist

Crafter Cath Janes has got the needle. Here’s why.

mansplainers cross-stitchI first embroidered the word ‘fuck’ after a trip to Hobbycraft. Fancying a bash at embroidery I checked out the store’s magazine display for funky designs and cool slogans. Instead I found teddies, kittens, cottages and – deep breath – pixies.

So I checked my Delorean’s flux capacitor in case I’d landed in 1869, bought DMC thread 321 (red, to the uninitiated), stitched the word ‘fuck’ and found myself entering the ever-inspiring world of craftivism.

Craftivism is a mash-up term that describes using craft as a form of activism, mainly with traditionally domestic crafts such as knitting, sewing and crochet. It’s about empowering women, encouraging us to use our crafty skills to raise awareness of social issues rather than just raise the hems of our kids’ school uniforms. Think dumping the button fixing to stitch images of Roosh V with his bollocks being fed to a dog instead.

craftivism swear-minge-300x300Me? I’m all about feminism, making brooches that have such phrases as ‘Ugly and Frigid’, ‘Lavender Menace’ and ‘Feminazi’ in an attempt to wrest control of these terms from the idiots who use them.

Some women knit vulvas and vaginas to raise awareness of FGM while some stitch little blood bags to raise awareness of donation. Crafters even crochet objects and leave them in random places, on the street, for others to find and contemplate.

Now I didn’t even know this world existed until my four-letter foray into embroidery. I started by Googling ‘cool embroidery patterns’ and somehow found myself at Craftivist Collective, the starting point for anyone who wields a needle with political purpose.

I shit you not, if you’ve never seen the world of craftivism you’ll have your eyeballs blown out. I defy you to check it out and not want to immediately knit a lamppost jacket condemning every man who ever grabbed your arse on a busy bus.

But my love of craftivism really kicked off when I started my business, Kraken Kreations. It’s where I make fabric home decor and accessories in bright, shouty fabrics, because I’m sick of the high street force-feeding women ditzy, floral, vintage prints. So it was natural to include my feminist craftivism and even though it started with brooches, I’ve gone on to make wall hangings and a piece for an auction for a service helping sufferers of domestic abuse. You have no idea how good it felt to embroider the words, “I’m not your pussy, babe or shag. I’m not YOUR anything” and then release it into the world.

ugly and frigid broochAnd OK, craftivism may not be as nation-grabbing as perishing under the hooves of the king’s horse but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. In fact, the power of craftivism is in its subtlety. Imagine all the women who have been taught to sew or knit each quietly creating a piece that reads “Equality. NOW!” And imagine all of those pieces being hung on the streets of every town in the UK. The Daily Mail would shit itself into oblivion. Now THAT is powerful.

What I love most, though, is creating what looks like a traditionally pretty piece only for it to contain a hard-hitting message. Picture a pink, floral, delicate cross stitch, the type you’d have found on the wall of a grandparent’s house, which simply contains the words “Stop raping me”.

Oh, and don’t think that craftivism is about creating perfectly stitched pieces of art. It’s about creating a message and if the message is about an ugly situation then you can make your work ugly too. Want to knit about the isolation of postnatal depression? What could say more than a piece made of scratchy grey wool that’s knotted, confused and unravelling?

Even practising craftivism makes a difference. I know, that makes me sound as if I’m snorting crushed-up healing crystals but hear me out. I also embroider images of human anatomy, often in coffee shops, and without fail strangers sidle up to me, asking why I’m stabbing at an embroidery hoop.

inner ear embroideryAs soon as I show them the uterus or heart or cochlea I’m creating it sparks a conversation. They look at me with anything from excitement to panic; I’ll tell them that I’m sick of the narrow parameters that modern female sewists are forced into and boom! I’ve made my point.

So don’t be fooled by those craft magazine displays. It’s not the art of sewing or knitting that’s the problem, it’s what modern women are expected to sew or knit. Had an abusive partner? Stitch the pain onto calico and show it to everyone. Get paid less than a male counterpart? Knit unravelling fivers, and put them on the internet.

And failing that, just take those cottages, kittens and pixies and give them broken windows, matted fur and ugly faces. It’s time to take back the needles and turn them to our own perfectly snipped ends.


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Written by Cath Janes

Cath Janes is the brains and stabbed fingers behind Kraken Kreations, which sells shouty, hand-sewn home decor and accessories for modern women. She also sews feminist and anatomical embroidery, dances in her sewing shed and once had a snapped sewing machine needle embedded in her right tit.