I just finished Betsy Greer’s Knitting for Good: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change, Stitch by Stitch (2008, Trumpeter Books) and wanted to share some thoughts. Having discovered the ‘personal’ benefits of a regular craft practice over the past month, I was compelled to seek out writing on how to connect these benefits to broader questions and issues (as previous movements have taught, the personal is political).
Each chapter is written in an autobiographical voice, including testimonies from other knitters. Each chapter also includes a pattern for various ethical knitting projects. While the book is mainly about knitting, I think that its main principles apply across the crafting spectrum. Specifically, Greer re-iterates the importance of sharing creativity during personally and politically trying times. She identifies creativity as a human need:
Beyond providing people with basic needs such as food, water, clothing, and shelter, creativity is the most important thing we can pass on to those in need. Being able to embrace your own creativity is a step away from hope. (129)
I thought long about why I felt this to be true.
I realized that creativity is not merely a step away from hope – it is an enactment of hope. Crafting and creating enact the courage, conviction, and confidence (however shaky) in our own transformative agencies – the belief that something beautiful, good, and true can be crafted from raw materials and shared, whether these materials are our most beloved craft media or are, for instance, our social relations, or the difficult circumstances that we are often thrown into and have no choice to confront. In the various forms they take, I try to see struggles as raw material for fashioning – in the least – some understanding and compassion. I only have to remember the times when this agency felt foreclosed to really appreciate that creativity is a profound enactment of freedom and hope.
For Greer, this kind of creative engagement stems from self-knowledge – discovering what is within our own physical, financial, emotional, etc. capacities to give, and giving from that place. The key point that I think Greer articulates is that there is no standard for giving and no standard giver – the meeting point between someone’s resources and an existing need in the world will differ from person to person:
The key to working towards the greater good is knowing what to give and when to give it….Once we know what we can give, our power lies in that sphere. If we’re lucky, that sphere will become larger, expanding our capacity to want and need to work toward making the world a better place.
What resources and talents can you share to make a few people’s lives a little better? Although writing a check is a good thing, what if you either don’t believe in throwing money at a problem or don’t really have much money to throw around? Consider the basic needs we all have…Create items that address those needs. (129)
Her concrete suggestions include knitting protest banners; using knit/crafted pieces to share and express our perspectives; donating handmade items, or their proceeds, to global and local charities we stand behind; and starting local craft groups for exchanging ideas and mutual support. These are all great ideas that are compelling me to think (and craft) bigger.
For now, I would like to hold the idea in mind that creating is an ethical beginning in its own right: it enacts a desire for the better – a vision of the good – in concrete material ways while producing, cultivating, and also sustaining the person who creates. It’s a sustenance that gives me enough stability to reflect deeply on where I can take further action, and gives me enough joy to buoy me through, allowing me to pursue my course of action in the face of doubt and skepticism (both others’ and my own). Creating can also generate hopeful, joyful, and even comic symbols (words, objects, images, sounds, icons, amulets) that remind us of our strength, humour, and resilience – the stuff of longevity.
This hopeful creativity, I’m learning, can be a very effective antidote to fear and its by-products. Art and craft are one way of engaging with difference that does not reproduce the fearful politics of recrimination that we see emerging around the world today. Similarly, this book reminds me that taking a critical stance on social inequalities (a lot of recent talk has focused on ‘calling out’ and refusing to normalize forms of discrimination) is not mutually exclusive to cultivating joy and exuberance in our everyday lives. I sometimes suspect that cultivating and sharing creative exuberance (love this word) can be a powerful form of lived critique, and may have as great an impact on our communities as more direct forms of protest. I write this with an awareness that different forms of mobilization have their importance, but I think this message is at the heart of Knitting for Good, and I continue to reflect on it.
Wishing you creative peace & pleasure in the week ahead!