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  • Writer's pictureKayla Williams

The Power in Crafting


"Gee's Bend imitation quilts" by katieloehr is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Amid the ever-evolving COVID crisis, political climate, and systematic racism, people are tasked with maintaining their joy in creative ways. With the danger of the virus still at large, many of us are continuing to cope with the reality of staying home. Suppose you spend more than an hour on social media (Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter). In that case, you’ll notice that our new normal inspired people to use their craft to reach liberation, which is nothing new for past generations of women of color. Historically, women of color were champions in combatting all the negatives in our society with something positive, and using their hands was often their mode of escape.

Craftivism consisting of knitting, crocheting, and quilting, has a fascinating but troubling history as most things do in the past for non-white individuals. Although there’s not much history on women of color contributing to the craft sphere, the earliest findings are during slavery. According to freelance writer, Ruth Terry in an article called “Black People Were the Original ‘Craftivist’” black people for centuries, “were the most proficient spinners, knitters, weavers, and sewists in America, and were skilled upon arrival.”

Quilting even has West African roots, even though it is primarily associated with white women. West Africans brought over patchwork and used it to preserve their heritage by adding those stories to their quilts. Many scholars believe that quilting was a way for slaves to develop plans for escape by marking safe houses and routes on the quilts they created, literally using their crafts to bring liberation.

In the 19th century, where people of color still faced social prejudice and racial discrimination, women of Gee’s Bend — a small, remote community of Black people in Alabama, used their hands to create hundreds of quilted masterpieces and still do today. Quilting in Gee’s Bend carries a proud tradition of materials made for home and family. Many households have a collection of three or more quilting works that span four generations of women giving birth to visual conversations among groups of community quilters.

Even in the present moment, when the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery make it extremely clear that we as a country have more work to do; women of color still found a way to foster joy through craft.

The Yarn Mission, a growing organization, founded by CheyOnna Sewell, found a way to build community among protesters in St. Louis following the murder of Mike Brown. She decided to bring women of color protesters who were strangers to sit and teach them knit and crochet. This organization created a space where they were able to share stories and build connections. Bringing individuals together, all for black liberation.

There is power in crafting. It helped women of color free themselves from external constraints and celebrate their culture, community, and creativity. It created the opportunity for women to overcome, and now in today’s society, we take a page from their book using inner expression to move past outer oppression.


Citations:

“Black People Were The Original “Craftivists”. Medium, 2020, https://zora.medium.com/icymi-bipoc-are-the-original-diy-craftivists-5ce6ae19742e. Accessed 20 Jan 2021.

“Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers | Souls Grown Deep”. Soulsgrowndeep.Org, 2021, https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/gees-bend-quiltmakers. Accessed 20 Jan 2021.

“The Yarn Mission”. The Yarn Mission, 2021, http://theyarnmission.com/. Accessed 20 Jan 2021.

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