Social Activists Use Yarns and Needles

There have been Marches for ….. media coverage under the banner BREAKING NEWS … and social media memes for and against every step leaders make these days. The constant onslaught on established programs is exhausting and many, myself included, have emotional burn out. Yet we can not stand by watching others march, protest, advocate, use their skills to speak out. Instead many have used traditional handcrafts to create visual messages. My reason is by threading a needle and making stitches, or pulling a loop of fabric repetitively I am channeling my thoughts and concerns, slowing down from the angst created by the first alarm and making a lasting visual to be shared in exhibits and online. This action is followed by many and even has a term “craftivism” – Interpretive activism using slow hand crafts. This is not new, think Betsy Ross stitching a flag, Colonial women weaving their cloth in place of purchasing from England, quilts made with symbolic motifs and fashions worn by the Suffragettes. The massive AIDS quilt project is 30 years old and recently the pink hats made and worn on the Women’s March in 2017.

Here are three fiber artists who have chosen issues to spend time with. Polly Webber, retired immigration judge from California created a series of hooked rugs portraying immigrant’s struggles. “Refugee Dilemma,” uses multiple rugs to tell a story about people fleeing from persecution to a safe haven. Indeed, it is a tribute to the thousands of people who seek refuge from their places of origin annually all over the world.


“Fleeing from Persecution:” The first rug pays homage to now extinct but iconic San Diego traffic signs and the fleeing refugees they sought to protect. The plea “Help us!” appears in Spanish, Mayan, Haitian, Arabic, Pashto, Somali, Sudanese, Russian, and English.

“Caught in the Covfefe:”
The second rug depicts a border patrol officer taking a young girl from her undocumented mother, who is pleading in Spanish, “Don’t take my daughter!” Covfefe is a made-up word tweeted by Donald Trump. I use it to describe the confusing, nonsensical, inhumane hell that Trump and Homeland Security’s Border Patrol put families, and especially children, through as they attempted to assert asylum eligibility at the border and secure a safe haven.

“Safe Haven:”
The third rug depicts two Central American women and their children, in a place of relative safety. For some, this is still aspirational, while others have succeeded. Their smiles are tired smiles, but full of hope. The pattern for this rug was developed from a rug that my aunt, Emma Webber (1917-2015), hooked decades ago from a 1950s UNICEF card. Knowing how much my aunt would have appreciated this group of rugs, I wanted to honor her as well.
Polly has created wearable art from these rugs providing the profits to a variety of immigrant rights groups.

Polly’s website is PollyWebber.com and the scarf, tie along with male and female styled t-shirts are described and available for purchase.

India Tresselt lives in Vermont working with needle and thread on issues of mindfulness, thoughtfulness and peace. Her website is YarnDanceVt.com and she has an active presence online in a variety of social outlets. Parallel to an ongoing resistance project since the US inauguration daily stitching “THIS IS NOT NORMAL” , she purposefully set out to make art weekly about PEACE.

Practice Empathy And Compassion Every day, India Tresselt 2019

Hold Your Peace, India Tresselt 2019
Give Peace a Chance, India Tresselt 2019

India says she wanted to structure her pieces around a governing theme, and so she decided to stitch 52 small meditations on peace. Peace can be global, local, and personal. She is exploring each of these kinds of peace in the 52 meditations.

I too have found the need to speak out on equality, human impact on the environment and the plight of refugees worldwide. A gallery of my work in this category can be found at ArtWools.com/gallery in Currrent Events and Human Impact.

Iconic ERA hooked, braided, embroidery, quilting, applique’ Girl Scout badges earned by Susan L Feller 1963-1973
Mountains of Energy, hooked, applique, paint with plastic straws Susan L Feller 2018 The piles of pipes appeared in a field along the highway in spring, by that fall the field was empty, ready to become hay for the cows the next year. The pipes were buried in straight lines scarring the forests and open fields of West Virginia.
Merging Paths, hand stitched depicting the “yellow brick road” to safety, freedom, peace which over 25,000,000 people are traveling around the world-refugees from their homes to new lands. There are an estimated 28,548 stitches. This piece will be part of the thousands of panels stitched by people thinking about these people. The collection is coordinated through the website 25millionstitches.com with first full installation at the
Verge Center for the Arts, 625 S Street, Sacramento
June 5, 2020-August 15 Opening Reception: Friday June 5, 2020, 5-7pm

Working with a needle and thread or hook and strips of fabric hour after hour my mind reflects on the subject, at the end I have a “voice”. The featured artists are only a handful of makers around the world currently creating statements with our fiber arts. Suggested sites to investigate are 25millionStitches.com, Craftist-Collective.com, CulturalCloth.com and the book Rug Money describing the economic empowerment rughooking has made in Guatemala.

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