Book Review: Craft Activism
Activism enriches our lives through the change it generates, or prevents. But what makes an act 'activist', exactly? Is it exclusively the purview of someone willing to chain themselves to a gate or tussle with the police, like the Pankhursts? Or can someone be an activist while quietly knitting a square for an Afghan for Afghans blanket?
I think that the answer is that both people are activists. So I hope I'll be forgiven for opening up Craft Activism, by Gale Zucker and Joan Tapper (2011, Potter Craft) and expecting something a bit more...out there.
Sure, the nice lady knitting for charity is well-represented, as she always has been, as is the lovely embroiderer keeping her grandmother's craft alive. And I would never want to chuck them out in the cold. But their sister with the anarchy tattoo is left out stewing in the backyard, and the crazy cousin with the Free Tibet t-shirt has to cool his heels in the bar around the corner.
This book should be a winner - it's got plenty of great interviews, gorgeous photography, fun projects. It just doesn't have the crazy, precious, thought-provoking cacophony that a bit of controversy would have brought to the table.
Perhaps I've always defined activism quite narrowly, but I think the inclusion of an opinion slightly wackier than 'drivers should stay out of bike lanes' would have made for a more interesting - if less marketable - book. In an age of Occupy Wall Street and pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, activism is livelier than ever, and this book doesn't reflect that.
What's it about? Craft Activism tells the story of several movements in crafting: the desire to make a statement with craft, the preservation of traditional crafts in new forms, the desire to do good through craft, and the formation of global craft communities.
The projects: these projects, from apparel to toys, are ridiculously covetable. I immediately wanted to run out and buy materials to make the Craftitude Vest, a sweater vest included in the section highlighting Ravelry's role in building craft community.
I also dug the Bella Brooklyn Housedress, and definitely want to visit the shop where it was created.
But I feel that there's a problem with a book on craft activism that makes me want to buy stuff more than it makes me want to change the world.
What else is there? Plenty of interviews with interesting people, and lots of descriptions of other folks and organizations whom you can check out online.
My problem with the non-project content - in addition to what I've already stated - is that Craft Activism's virtually a girls-only club. I find this a bit worrying - is any discipline or culture sustainable if only one gender's contributions are celebrated? (There are a few-a very few men-interviewed, but none make it into photos, except the co-founder of Ravelry and some sweater models - the face of craft as presented by this book is a female one.)
One of my own personal craft activisms is getting more men involved, so this bothered me.
Craft type? This book covers quilting, embroidery, sewing, knitting, crochet and basic metalwork. If you have a friend who's on the fence about craft, this would be a great gift: it offers lots of ideas on where to take any number of crafts, and it gives a sense of craft's potential as a world-changer - it just doesn't go all the way.
To do something a bit subversive - and easy! - order this book through your local, independently owned craft store. Knitmap is a great app for finding your local yarn store - and failing that, Indiebound will help you find a local bookstore.
Do you think I'm being too hard on Craft Activism? And who's your favorite craft activist? Please leave a comment and let me know.