audiences, conversation

in conversation: cupcakes, motor bikes, knitting nanas and reclaiming the streets

Part 2 of my conversation with Sayraphim Lothian and Robert Reid of Pop Up Playground (and many other things). This one is all Sayraphim and all about craftivism. What is craftivism? Short answer? Awesome. Long answer:  


Knit Your Revolt Tricycle Gang

SFB: Last week someone asked me what a craftivist was and I tried to explain. I said ‘it is Sayraphim!’

Sayra: Well, nice and succinct, craftivism is using craft for activist purposes. That is the short and non-fluffy answer. It is about using craft to change the world, either change people’s perceptions of an issue or change someone’s world on a personal level; making someone’s day with a piece of craft or beautifying the world around you; reclaiming public space for the actual public rather than corporations or the government.

SFB: What is it about craft?

Sayra:  I can do it. One of my super powers is that I can make anything out of anything else. Craft is a way that I can create in the world. I’ve never been any good at drawing or painting but I’m awesome at knitting and sewing and crocheting and I drift towards the things that I’m good at, which sort of makes it sound like ‘well if I can’t paint then at least I can knit’ but it’s not really about that. It is more interesting and it’s more tactile and it’s 3D. I’m more interested in 3D than 2D stuff.

Sarah Corbett, who runs the Craftivist Collective in the UK, talks about just sitting in a public space and sewing. People come up and ask ‘oh what are you sewing?’ and then you can gently introduce them to the idea rather than standing there and shouting about things. It is a very domestic, approachable, gentle form of protest.

There is also a group called The Knitting Nanas Against Gas. They are a legion of older and younger women in New South Wales near Grafton who are protesting against the coal/gas seam and they go and knit, which completely disarms police and other protestors. They don’t really know what to do with these gentle old ladies who are sharing cake and knitting.


Knit Your Revolt Tricycle Gang

And there’s an awesome one called The Knit Your Revolt Tricycle Gang. They are in Queensland where there are these incredible draconian laws that are referred to as ‘the Bikie Laws’. The government are trying to stamp down on motorcycle gangs so anyone who rides a motorcycle can be stopped. Anyone who has tattoos can be stopped. Anyone who associates with these people can also be stopped. So by you sitting here talking to me, you could be stopped by the cops because I have tattoos. So there are a couple of women who have decided that they are going to protest. They get tricycles and they yarn bomb them – cover them in crochet and stuff – and they have banners that say ‘I associate’ and they go and tricycle along next to these bikie gangs which I think is awesome and they’ve gotten a lot of press recently. They are bringing attention to these ridiculous bikie laws in a really fun, tongue-in-cheek way. These grown women riding around on children’s tricycles with all these bikies! I love it! I’m a proud member too. I got my Knit Your Revolt gang patch and I’m just deciding what to sew it to.


For You Strange, Sayraphim Lothian

I do craftivism on a much more personal level. When I leave stuff out on the street, like the For You Stranger cupcakes, it changes the day of the person. The niceness behind it ripples out through the photos. People see it online and they get heart warmed and the photos get shared. I’m making the world a nicer place one hand-crafted item at a time.

I didn’t actually think it was craftivism at first because it is such a new thing. It is still evolving and still trying to understand what it is. Betsy Greer coined the term in 2003. I was a big fan of her work but I’d never really thought of my work as craftivism until she contacted me September, 2012. I was walking down a London street and an email came in from Betsy Greer – and you’re like ‘Fuck! Betsy Greer!’ – saying that she’s putting together the first book on Craftivism and she wants me to write a chapter for it and I went ‘I will do that!’ And since then there’s been a lot of talk about what craftivism means and the ideas have expanded out.


Yarn Bombing as anti-war protest. The squares are contributed by crafters in Denmark, the US and England as a protest about their countries involvement in the Iraqi war. It’s called M.24 Chaffee by Danish artist Marianna Jorgenson.

The other one is beautifying public space. Reclaiming it. Mainly yarn bombing. Yarn bombing is knitting thing and crocheting around trees and stuff and a lot of people don’t like it because they see it as street art for chicks. Although I’m a bit bored of it because it has been around for a while and it is a very safe form of street art (and councils are using it, which pretty much mainstreams it right there), I think it is a really low barrier for entry for street art; for changing your environment and re-claiming public space as your own space. So I think it is great. It is such an easy way for people to go out and add something to their environment so I’m all for it.

Thanks once again to Sayraphim, Rob and Sarah for her proof reading. Also a look at this gorgeous video of Sayra talking about her art:


Yarn Bombing, uncredited