Tag Archives: Craftivist

Craftivism: How the Arts give voice to causes and communities

exerpt from full plenary presentation March 18, 2022 at the 45th Appalachian Studies Association conference, WVU in Morgantown, WV. Theme of the event was Making, Creating, and Encoding: Crafting Possibilities in Appalachia. Delivered by Convenor and panelist Susan Feller, fiber artist, craftivist,

“Our thanks to Natalie Sypolt for the topic, Emily Hilliard who suggested the panelists, and Beth Nardella lining up the tech. The panelists besides myself are Dr. Dolores Johnson, fiber artist and advocate from Huntington; WV, Shaun Slifer, JustSeeds.org, author, printmaker; and Kay Ferguson from ARTivisim Virginia talking about the Water Quilts community activist project.

Craftivisim was coined in the 21st Century.* It combines craft – using one’s hands and simple tools to create useful objects, usually done at home ALONE and activism – policy or action of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. This relies on MANY TOGETHER.

Today we will present examples where artists working in their studios and at home contribute to change in the societal issues of the time. (Included in this posting)
How a craft brings makers together in a community adding independent work to become a louder voice.
And how an organization can be formed around an issue encouraging arts and activists from the start.
(panelists described the theme’s work in their community, cooperative and organization. Reports submitted separately to be archived at Appalachian Studies Association, 2022 Conference

It is important to find a project within an organization for people willing to create messages using domestic crafts. Many are unable to publicly resist but eager to contribute. They become part of the broader grass roots network necessary for an issue to take hold. Remember the simple knitted rectangle sewn up the sides into a pink hat just five years ago. They were contributed by thousands who watched from home during the Women’s Marches.

Carving, drawing, stitching, pulling loops EMPOWERS the maker. One line or stitch becomes two, over time thousands and a visual message for researchers decades later.

tools, materials and design process, Susan L Feller

I represent those makers. My practice is solitary combining the slow traditional handicrafts of rug hooking, embroidery and applique’ to depict human interaction with nature and document my observations on social issues. The tools I use are simple. Needle, threads, hook and strips of fabric. I am drawn to sewing and rug hooking because of the comforting feel of fabric and seeing each loop or stitch adding to my message. Repetition becomes meditative, even cathartic. I approach a design with an idea, an image I photographed or sketched, phrases, the subject or even the view as I travel West Virginia.

2020 Journal, 54 x 24 each, mixed media Susan L Feller

2020 Journal took two months to complete. The process was and is therapeutic. Spending time with issues and thinking through color, techniques and materials begins to separate me from my thoughts and emotions. I know my work will be seen by others today and decades later inspiring awareness and conversations.

Mountains of Energy, 10 x 20, mixed media including plastic straws Susan L Feller

How human impact affects the natural beauty of Appalachia is a thread throughout my work. There are series about the pipelines cutting straight through forests and fields trying to cross waterways. The protests every step of the way are holding the companies back hopefully blocking this extraction of a limited resource being exported again out of state.

17 x 12, quilting, beads, wire, hooking Susan L. Feller

Mountaintop removal has blasted the peaks of over 500 mountains in West Virginia alone to extract what is left of the coal in our state. The process destroys habitats, poisons and reroutes waters, pollutes the air and produces sludge ponds filled with heavy metals all while people live, work and go to school in the valleys. Please consider where the energy is coming from in your daily life.

ICONIC Liberty, ERA, and VOTE 16 x 20 mixed media Susan L Feller

Iconic triptych spans a century of women’s rights leading to 2016 issue of voting rights for all. The neutral coloring representing 1920 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment adds to the history. By 1973 and the ERA passing from Congress for the states to ratify (still not 50 years later) I used my own Girl Scout badges and a rainbow of colors to portray my youthful outlook on the future. The VOTE palette proudly signals the USA. Names of women I voted for are embroidered around the red, white and blue crocheted doily.

Pussycats Pillow Talk #1, 20 x 20 hooked front, embroidered, applique’ reverse Susan L Feller

I began a series titled Pussycat Pillow Talk with hooked images on the front and embroidered messages on the reverse. Themes have been #metoo movement, persistence, gender equality, climate change, Love, and whatever other social issue can be summed up in a few words. The collection is growing.

By taking hooked rugs off the floor and presenting them as art my work has been accepted in exhibitions and become ambassadors for traditional handicrafts speaking about society in the 21st century. Developing a strong social media presence brings awareness, uniting others.

I can join in the worldwide protests from the solitude of my studio in rural West Virginia.”

I serve on the board of Tamarack Foundation for the ARTS whose mission is to empower artists with business skills and marketing opportunities. We believe their art and economic contributions will help grow the local communities. The organization and several artists exhibited during the conference.

Domenica Zara Queen believes plastic is the 21st Century’s heritage fabric embracing the waste product in her traditional handicraft collection of rugs, mats, plates and vessels.

Robby Moore lives in Beckley, WV and is “inspired by the abstraction of shape, ephemera, tradition and mores; especially those steeped in Appalachia. He tries to express, through his figures, the sadness and confidence that comes from deep thoughtfulness.”

Suzan Ann Morgan is from Buckhannon, WV. She says “my artworks are the result of the examination of my own, often tentative, beliefs. During their creation I am afforded the time to reflect upon my beliefs, note their contradictions, and make manifest their essence. In the end, each piece presents one facet of my truth extending a hand to the viewer hoping to find common ground and a starting place for future conversations.”

We are makers working in our studios but responding to life as we observe it, fitting the definition of CRAFTIVISM.

delivered by Susan L Feller.
*further research Crafting Dissent, Handicraft as protest from the American Revolution to the Pussyhats, edited by Hinda Mandell, publisher Rowman & Littlefield.

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, 2021-August 15

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.