London is jam-packed full of people who make a unique contribution to our city. This week we talk to craftivist Sarah Corbett…
Sarah Corbett passionately believes in political Activism. She dedicates the bulk of her life to raising awareness about social injustice. She is serious and focused about campaigning and she does it largely via the medium of cross-stitch.
‘I found it really hard to fit into activist groups,’ she smiles, brushing a strand of reddish hair from her face as we wander the streets of Shoreditch. ‘I’m not a vegan. I don’t ride a bike and I don’t like shouting at people. So I ended up falling into this instead.’
She flips open a battered vintage suitcase. It’s full of knitted, embroidered and cross-stitched pieces of political protest. Corbett points to a woolly face mask which compares Kate Moss’s £3 million fee for her Topshop range to the low pay of factory workers in the developing world, and explains her intentions to mount the piece on a foam head and sneak it into a window display in a high street store. A floral hanky embroidered with the phrase ‘Please use your position to fight for a more just and fair world’ is a remnant from her ‘Don’t Blow It’, campaign, in which politicians were lobbied via handkerchiefs. It’s all so cute, it’s hard to call this activism.
‘Ah, that’s our point,’ she grins. ‘It looks very cute, which opens you up to it, and when you’re up close, we whack you with a fact.’ Presumably it’s an easier way to enrol fellow campaigners, too? ‘Yeah, and I’m passionate about recruiting non-activists. We’re a stepping stone: we’re mainly for craftspeople who are open to learning more about politics. We try to be as welcoming as possible.’ Their Southbank get-togethers consist of a motley crew of ‘shy creative types’, the ‘odd person who turns up wearing a Nike T-shirt’ and, occasionally, men – ‘although they generally come looking for a date. They leave quite soon.’
We turn a corner, pass under a grotty railway bridge and Corbett announces our destination: Shoreditch House. ‘I want to put up a banner,’ she explains. ‘There are more and more members’ clubs, and it feels like society’s becoming increasingly segregated. These places trade off people’s insecurity about their status. It doesn’t help.’
We head off, as Corbett needs to be at her first formal workshop on craftivism in Curtain Road. ‘It all just spiralled,’ she says, ‘from it being just me with a blog called “Lonely Craftivist”, we’ve ended up with Tatty Devine making us a bespoke keyring to use as part of a campaign and Josie Long inviting us on stage to stitch a quilt during her Soho Theatre run last year. Now we get craftivists from as far afield as Mexico emailing us photos of their work’.
Outside Shoreditch House Corbett hones in on a lamppost over the road. A twitch of cable ties later, and a piece of retro fabric is informing passers by that ‘Britain is the third most unequal country in the developed world’. ‘I hope it stays up,’ she sighs. But surely the Hoxton hipster crowd is sympathetic to craftivism? ‘That’s the problem with east London, actually,’ sighs Corbett. ‘People tend to take our banners straight away, in case they’re valuable street art. You can but try, though.’ Alexi Duggins
For more info, check out craftivist-collective.com