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Curiosity Embedded into Every Stitch: Yarnbombing and Craftivism with Garnapa

by Betsy Greer
craft & maker, featured

Morning in Gothenburg. Challenging myself to follow “rules” through an old, traditional Swedish stitch called #anundsjösöm.

A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

You know when you are scrolling through Instagram and you come across photos that you instantly know are from one particular person without looking at whose photo it is?

That’s how it is with @Garnapa’s photos. They are a world away from the bright pops of pinks and glimpses of shimmer that tend to prevail on Instagram. They are more darkly lit and resonant; a perfect fit for the online photographic home of Swedish artist, Elisabeth Bucht aka Garnapa, who asks questions about social hierarchies and wants to talk about empathy with her work. @Garnapa’s Instagram account has attracted followers from around the globe.

Embroidered tattoo. #embroidery #wishlist A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

Unlike so many of her creative contemporaries, it is as if her photos whisper to you instead of trying to put a pep in your step; they make you want to lean in to hear what she is saying.

In a Skype chat, she referred to her work as “textile communication.” And in seeing her photos of various projects, it’s obvious why.

#embroidery

A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

During our conversation, it became clear how creativity is a journey. We may start in one place, but we may end up somewhere totally different. Bucht’s creative journey is filled with both literal and physical threads, and it began with a desire to start conversations about gender and statues.

After Garnapa saw Magda Sayeg’s yarnbombs, Bucht began yarnbombing statues in her native Sweden, adding clothes to the often tiny and naked female statues in her town. “In the beginning when I was yarnbombing statues, I wanted to bring people together, I wanted people to stand and stop by the statues and start to talk [asking] “What is this”, and “How come all the female statues are naked and tiny?”

A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

“When I was anonymous, I wanted other people to start to talk to each other.” Yet, unexpectedly, the media started contacting Bucht requesting interviews. And people started to follow her on Instagram, too. Their wish to discuss her projects changed her direction, if ever so slightly.

“After awhile, I realized that the world was full of craftivist people and people interested in textile communication, so I got braver and decided to crochet more text, textile letters.” With her work becoming “something more visible,” her following grew and she was asked to do different projects and exhibitions, which has allowed her to tackle other issues apart from her city’s inequity surrounding pieces of public art.

Through the interplay of yarnbombing and the public, Bucht was able to see how textiles can be agents of change by creating dialogue. “Now when I write text it’s me wanting to communicate to other people.”

Bucht also began embroidering words of protest on clothes. “I thought it would be nice to be able to protest against things without saying them out loud.”

I embroidered myself this huge shirt and I hope my mind will grow into it. I try to get my kids used to ask this question from start. In every situation. #embroidery #crossstitch #varhardukoptdenhar

A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

Finished: the garment I should have embroidered at the age of fifteen. Late night selfie in the only room with a satisfying working bulb. #internationalwomensday A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

Her work often plays on what is happening in the world around her and the never-ending well of empathy within society, like with this recent welcome sign.

Less than three hours after I posted here yesterday all the trays were sold – together with some other pieces of my textile works – and the result? 5100 SEK (541 euro or 603 USD) and all the money is now being donated to #unhcr. Thank you for supporting the fundraising. Let’s all keep doing what we can. Every human life is our responsibility. #refugeeswelcome

A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

In the wake of Europe’s refugee crisis, she capitalized on her active Instagram following by selling the trays below and then donating all proceeds to UNHCR. “I can’t go save people, but I can give money to organizations that will know what to do.” Through this work, she proves makers have more resources than their checkbook. Knowing that there is an audience for her work, she uses that momentum to raise funds for worthy causes.

I’ve sent all the money I can afford for the moment to help organizations. Then I remembered these trays I printed while being part of a craft cooperative. Maybe someone out there wants to buy a hand printed quality tray? The diameter is 38 centimeters. 200 SEK (+ shipping) and every single coin goes to UNHCR. All the 22 trays are individual – with many different motifs – and you can see them all on the Facebook page of Garnapa within two hours. I’ll take pictures of them starting right now. Send me a direct message here or a mail on Facebook if you’re interested. A photo posted by Garnapa (@garnapa) on

This winding evolving career path proves that creativity is a conversation between ourself and others. In an email following our conversation, she further explains yarnbombing and textile communication, what it does and gives, “tiny individual leaving traces of warmth, care and human hands in public spaces. Secret messages from one human to another. Statements and questions … Do our public artworks represent the kind of society we want to live in? Do they represent equality and freedom?”

From this it’s easy to see how and why her work has evolved over time, because she has never stopped asking questions as she makes. Her curiosity is embedded into the very stitches of her work, and now spreads across the world both in photos and tangible goods.

Textiles and yarn don’t have to come from from a big box store. Download our free guide, Thrift Store Shopping Tips and get insights on finding materials to use on your own creative journey.

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Betsy Greer

Betsy Greer is a maker and writer from Durham, North Carolina. Her most recent project, You Are So Very Beautiful, is about stitching and sharing affirmations. Find out more: craftivism.com/youaresoverybeautiful/