Friday, 17 July 2015

Making for Change

Craftspace, a crafts development organisation based in Birmingham, has long encouraged social change, from mental health stigma busting through craft to a jewellery making group project intended to give female refugees and migrants sustainable futures. In their latest initiative, Craftspace are bringing social change front and centre. Making for Change will be a social action training programme for 14 - 25 year olds, having their say on the issues that matter to them through craft.

The project kicked off last Saturday with an Inspiration Day at the very swish, gorgeously designed Impact Hub, one of a worldwide series of cutting-edge community spaces for "compassionate,  creative and committed individuals".

I was invited as one of three artists who each gave a drop in workshop and a talk for young people on the day. I chose to focus on my project Apothéké, or #secretsofselfpreservation as it is known on social media. 

Apothéké is a travelling “medicine cabinet” which travelled to the Inspiration Day, which starts conversations about better mental health in a very simple way. I ask participants to stitch one phrase about a way they’ve taken good care of themselves that week, or perhaps a way they could’ve taken better care of themselves, for future reference, on to a ribbon, and keep it in a little bottle to take away with them as a reminder to practice better self care. I call them self care potions, and this year I am stitching one every week. Mine have a little memento of that week in them, too, which you could add later, if you want. But if you’re not a stitcher, you can still get involved; you can tweet, or Instagram, or Facebook, or blog about one simple way you take good care of yourself, and share it via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation.

Craft is good for you. It has been proven to trigger the relaxation response, where your breathing and heart rate become more regular and leisurely, and you get into a meditative state. This is something craftivist Gemma Latham, talking and crafting at the Inspiration Day, knows all about. Whilst the young people hole punched messages with fonts based on cross stitch patterns, Gemma measured their heart rates and fed these into a computer in a way I don't fully understand; coding witchcraft, I think. As their heart rates became steady and consistent (through crafting?) the word "craft" appeared on screen.

 Craft is a good way of meeting likeminded, in more ways than one, people – people reach out to craft, and to the communities it makes, when they are going through life changing, and sometimes difficult, experiences. You will find true friends that way. It is a challenge, it keeps your brain ticking over, puzzling out the best way to make, and it fosters self esteem and pride in your abilities and achievements.

Something I like to do when friends are having a rough time is put together a care package for them, with little gifts I’ve picked up which remind me of them and something I’ve made for them, thinking of them while I stitch it, which will put a smile on their face and, ultimately, let them know I care. Similarly, I’ve found that others in the craft community have really reached out to me when I’ve been down, and let me know that me and my work are appreciated even when I can’t appreciate it myself. 

Craft brings people together – the word textile comes from the Latin “texere”, meaning to weave or bind; thread really does bring people together, and the world wide web, an international interwoven network of “threads”, makes it easier to reach out, and be reached – to create new crafting communities.

All these reasons for crafting, which essentially boil down to craft being good for you and craft being good for others, really sum up for me why effecting social change through craft matters. Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective, who gave a fantastic talk and workshop at the Inspiration Day, defines craftivism as "gentle activism". A quote she used in her talk was Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world"; you have to start with acts of kindness and small changes for yourself before you can make change for others. If you can couple craft being good for you with craft being good for others, I reckon you're on to a winner.

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