Standing in front a rainbow-coloured wall of fabric puzzle pieces, embroidered with images and quotes – encouraging, inspiring precepts like: ‘Live simply so others may simply live’ – it was hard not to get a little bit emotional. I was at the People’s History Museum in Manchester to witness the culmination of more than four months of hard work by a dedicated group of craft lovers – a giant art installation making a beautiful, powerful statement: we want to see an end to world hunger.
The Jigsaw Project was organized by the Craftivist Collective in support of Save the Children’s Race Against Hunger campaign. When it launched in October last year, on World Food Day, it was given a social media hashtag – #imapiece. As I stared at more than 600 individual pieces, and found mine among them, I really did feel like I was part of something. It was the first time in ages that I’d felt this way.
Years ago, I was an activist – a member of my university’s People & Planet group, and later president of the student Amnesty group there. I signed petitions, attended protest rallies, organized events, raised funds, wrote to my MP and even won an award for my work to further the cause of human rights. But after graduation, things changed. Real life seemed to get in the way, and cynicism seeped in to tarnish my passion. What difference could I really make?
A decade passed. And then I met Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective, which aims to tackle poverty and injustice, not through violent, aggressive protest, but quietly, gently, beautifully; engaging people and encouraging them to stop and think, to change themselves as well as the world.
‘We’re all part of the solution if we want to be, rather than part of the problem,’ Sarah said as she welcomed everyone to the unveiling event on Friday night. ‘Look at this beautiful thing we’ve created together!’
And it was beautiful. No wonder the project caused such a buzz in the craft community and beyond. Some 2,334 tweets with the hashtag #imapiece reached more than 7 million people, while 180 blog posts were read by an incredibly 19 million people, not to mention all the newspaper and magazine coverage the project attracted.
Those of us who gathered to see the visual representation of all the passion and hard work that has been poured into the project so far were unanimous in our admiration.
‘I think it’s amazing,’ said artist Sarah Terry, of Guerrilla Embroidery. ‘It’s inspiring, seeing so many people coming together with the same aim.’
Lucy Adams, president of the Manchester Women’s Institute, agreed: ‘It’s fantastic. It looks absolutely stunning – it’s like Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat! At a distance it looks beautiful but the closer you get the more interesting it becomes.’
Craftivism isn’t just about raising awareness or even changing policy at a government level, though both of these are vital. Instead, it is a chance to reflect on issues of poverty and injustice, and what we can do about them. It took me several hours to cross-stitch my puzzle piece with the phrase ‘Evil triumphs when good people do nothing’, and during that time I had the opportunity to think about how I can continue to play my part.
My small act of craftivism will, hopefully, go some small way towards changing the world. But more importantly, it has changed me. I have remembered the truth of the quote Sarah Corbett has stitched onto the inside of a suitcase that she takes to every Craftivist Collective event: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’