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Fighting Unfair Fares with Needle and Thread: An Interview with Founder of Craftivist Collective Sarah Corbett about Saturday’s Protest
Craftivist Collective stitch-in, London
Sarah Corbett of Craftivist Collective and Tasmin Omund of Climate Rush. Photo: Craftivist Collective

This Saturday, April 16th, the activist groups Craftivist Collective and Climate Rush will undertake a “Railway Adventure” in protest against the planned 31% raise of train fares in the UK, and its potential social and environmental consequences. They will take a petition of a very special kind with them: the UKs largest ever train bunting, which has been hand-sewn and -stitched in the joint efforts of numerous activists. I talked with Craftivist Collective founder, Sarah Corbett, about the project, and about craftivism (craft + activism) as a non-aggressive, inclusive, and creative way of protest.

Frauke Ehlers: You organized stitch-ins at train stations all across the UK to produce little bunting train carriages, stitched with protest messages, which will be sewn together and taken on a train ride in demonstration against the planned excessive fare raises. Where did you get the inspiration for the project, and how did the collaboration with Climate Rush come about?

Sarah Corbett: Climate Rush asked us to be part of the “Railway Adventure” project, and I gave Climate Rush some ideas of what we could do, once I was told the objectives of the campaign. We always make sure that our craftivism projects can be delivered by craftivists wherever they are in the world. Also, we believe that the more delicate, hand made, pretty and unthreatening the project, the more likely people are to get involved or ask what we are doing. Plus, we try and make sure that all of our projects can be delivered in public spaces, so that people can ask us what we are doing…With these points in mind we came up with the idea of the train bunting, because you can make them alone or in a group, on the train, in a café, or whilst watching TV…[Y]ou can write your own personal message on this specific campaign, or you can use some of the suggestions we give you.

FE: You and the other members of the Craftivist Collective have a very creative approach to expressing your critical opinion: you use crafts, creating small protest banners and cross-stitch graffiti (yarn spread on fences in a way that makes it look like cross-stichting), for display in public spaces. How does crafting relate to activism?

SC: There are many craft methods that can be used to write a message. We mostly use cross-stitch and hand embroidery because our craft pieces are small. I started doing craftivism because I was a bit of a “burnt out activist:” I had been on so many demonstrations, protests and signed so many petitions, it was feeling a little repetitive and robotic for me personally.

Sometimes activism can feel very negative and aggressive rather than empowering and positive. I do not like the way activists often demonize people such as politicians or business people. We are all human and should tap into the intrinsic values we all have by treating each other with respect, but respectfully challenging each other to be better human beings and show our love for our global neighbours. I do not ride a bike, I am not vegan and I love reading Vogue—so I felt like I didn’t fit into some activist groups…[But I] wanted to join my love of craft with my passion for social justice.

Craftivist CollectiveCraftivist Collective London Stitch-inLeft: A completed handcrafted carriage petition. Right: King’s Cross Station Stitch-in, Saturday, April 10, 2011. Photos: Craftivist Collective

I am aware that many politicians are getting numb to petitions and e-petitions, and the trend of ‘clicktivism’ is having [little impact on political change]. When politician[s], member[s] of the public, media and companies see that we have spent time and love crafting a handmade, unique craftivism petition, it often has more of an impact on them than a signed petition card, because it shows we care a lot and spent time in hand-crafting our messages.

Also, activism is often about shouting your message to your targeted influencers or the public rather than having a two-way conversation. Often people shout down megaphones what we should be doing, which can seem preachy and aggressive. We do not tell people what to think, [but] write facts, statistics, quotes or personal views on our craftivism projects and hope they provoke people to think about the issues and make up their own mind—therefore taking ownership of that issue and their views on it.

FE: How do you see your work in relation to (other) public art?

SC: We are big fans of public art, whether that’s statues and ceramics by Carrie Reichardt, or political graffiti. There is a place in our hearts for all public art that provokes people to think about equality and justice issues. We are passionate about our public kitsch craft, because its a conversation starter for people when they meet with their friends and say what they have just seen. I’ve seen people take photographs of some of our public art or go up to them as a group with a smile on their face and then leave with a pondering look on their face. It’s really satisfying. Any public art that people can’t NOT talk about it a success story in our eyes.

FE: In the end, the fabric carriages will be sewn together into one long bunting petition. Do you know already how long it will be?

SC: We had around 100 people across the country attend our stitch-ins. Plus, most people brought one petition with them and then made one during the stitch-ins. Also, people who could not attend the stitch-ins have been and will continue (until 15th April) [to] post me carriages they have created to add to the train-bunting. So it is going to be pretty long!

FE: The petition will be taken on a 30 mile train ride, a Railway Adventure, as you call it. Can you give us an idea of what that the protest ride will look like?

SC: Both Craftivist Collective and Climate Rush are known for our projects being pretty, kitsch and quite feminine. The train ride will have similar elements to the stitch-ins: packed picnic baskets of jam sandwiches, cakes, tea and fruit. Homemade cakes and bread will have campaign messages on them, either as little flags or in icing on cakes. We will be playing games, crafting more carriages, and enjoying the English countryside. It will be cute, unthreatening but thought-provoking, and fun.

The bunting will go on our train journey. Then, [it will be delivered to] Minister of TransportPhillip Hammond MP (by Climate Rush).

FE: What are the demands you are making with the demonstration? What reactions do you hope to achieve from the public and the Ministry of Transportation?

SC: We are  supporting and working with Better Transport, who are a campaigning and advocacy organisation that work[s] on policy issues on UK transport. They are experts in their field. Our skill lies in making people aware of injustice issues. We are not a campaigning organisation, but rather awareness raisers and provokers.

We hope that the public and politicians see how much hard work and skill we are putting into raising awareness, but that we are doing it in a warm, friendly, unthreatening, positive way. We want the public and politicians to remember how lovely it is to go on a train journey and how much better it is for the environment and global warming to get a train rather than [a] car or [a] short-haul flight. We also want to show the Ministry of Transportation that the public wants fare fairs and support to tackle climate change. [W]e haven’t forgotten that they have the power to create fair fares. [T]hey should stick to their promise of being the greenest Government.

FE: For all those interested in participating, how can they do that?

SC: If you can please come and join us on the 16th April for our railway adventure from London.

If you would like to join the Craftivist Collective and Climate Rush on their journey, or just see them off, then please meet for a Railway Rally under The Monument, Fish Street Hill, London at 12noon on Saturday 16th April.

“Bring jam sandwiches, your Oyster card and an appetite for adventure.” – A Railway Adventure project


Frauke Ehlers
Frauke Ehlers holds a B.A. Arts & Culture with a specialization in Arts, Literature, and Culture, and is currently a candidate for the MA Arts and Heritage - Management, Policy, and Education at Maastricht University, Netherlands.
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  • Joanne P

    Great interview! I agree with Sarah, there will be so many protests going on over the next couple of years it will be nice to take part in something different. Hopefully it will encourage people who don’t see themselves chained to railings to join in and have a voice.

  • Rayna

    Such an inspiring campaign!

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