Arts A very merry buzzword: craftivism

Knit with a purpose this Yuletide season

If you follow social trends, you know knitting is sexy. Sparkly, feathery scarves, knitted cozies for your iPod and Palm Pilot, and funky skull-motif wristbands are showing up on the streets and the runways, made by everyone from snowboarding high-school guys to stay-at-home moms. The trend started as an activist project by Debbie Stoller, editor of stereotype-defying feminist publication BUST, who decided to reclaim traditional women’s handwork, namely knitting, for her own postmodern feminist generation.

Bobbi Ravicz, owner of the Yarn Barn, stands among the many donated knited caps strung across the shop’s ceiling. The caps along with scarfs, blankets, and other knitted items are collected for distribution to San Antonio’s needy during the winter months. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

With the publication of Stich’n’Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook in 2003, a new wave of women (and men) began knitting in cafés, on subways, in libraries and — for the many celebrities caught up in the craze — on the movie set. But knitting (or crocheting, or quilting, or whatever your craft) doesn’t have to just supply Christmas gifts for friends, or keep your fingers busy while you try to quit smoking.

This holiday season, consider the latest crafting-community buzzword: craftivism, crafting for a cause. Whatever your skill level or your cause, there’s a way to match your handiwork with someone who really needs it. Your projects can help the homeless, the displaced, premature infants, the elderly, and small children from disrupted homes — in San Antonio and across the nation — who may no longer have that special piece of security they once cherished.

Bobbi Ravicz, owner of The Yarn Barn on McCullough, has been accepting donations through the store for about five years. What began as a cap drive for preemies has snowballed into donations of afghans, baby blankets, scarves, and mittens. The Yarn Barn works primarily with SAMMinistries but is also willing to organize donations to and from individual churches, schools, and shelters.

“What I hear over and over again from customers donating their handiwork is how good it makes them feel to have something to give — not just having the ability to impact someone’s life, but the satisfaction that they get from making the item is much greater than if the piece was for themselves. It’s a double benefit,” says Ravicz.

SAMMinistries accepts blankets, scarves, hats, gloves, and other miscellaneous useful items. Amy Phipps, vice president of development for SAMMinistries, says, “Anything that we can have to help keep folks warm at this time of year is helpful. So many of our transitional families, while sheltered, lack warm clothes and blankets when they need them most.” Donations to SAMM can be made at the emergency shelter downtown at 910 W. Commerce, or at the Transitional Living and Learning Center on Blanco Road.

The United Way’s HoliDays of Caring lists each of its individual organizations’ request for items on the home page of its website, Infant, children, and family support programs are especially in need of blankets, socks, and winter clothes. You’ll also find opportunities to volunteer your time — maybe teaching a holiday craft class for kids?

Many of us are still thinking about the hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors, some now finally finding permanent shelter and rebuilding their lives. Several San Antonio charities will be focusing on evacuees this year, but if you’d like to get even closer to the disaster area, consider Squares for Survivors. A Louisiana crafter, Jackie G, is collecting knitted and crocheted afghan squares that go directly to shelters in Louisiana. To date, she’s collected nearly 2,000 squares as well as numerous completed pieces. Find out how to donate, including some great Louisiana state square patterns and color guides, on her website,

Thinking globally, Afghans for Afghans is inspired by the American Red Cross tradition of knitting for soldiers and refugees during World Wars I and II. The organization donates hand-knit and crocheted items to the people of Afghanistan. For the harsh Afghan winter, they especially need wool hats, scarves, and mittens for children. Through their website,, you can also download traditional craft patterns from Afghanistan, make a monetary donation, and even purchase authentic kilim rugs.

If you don’t know how to knit or crochet but are interested, there’s no better reason to learn. You can find classes at the San Antonio Library and The Yarn Barn, as well as helpful advice from any number of local knitting and crafting groups (try Googling them).

Donating a desperately needed item you create yourself is a way to reach out to another human in a way that money can’t, and an investment of time that can be done at your own convenience. For those of us who still like to keep the personal political, craftivism is a way to offer up a creative expression of previously underappreciated skills to the public cause you most believe in.

By Leigh Baldwin

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