10 May Social distancing = podcast listening, It’s Complicated with Badass Cross Stitch
Since we all began to self isolate, we’ve seen more and more ways of using social media for good – from online cooking lessons to using social media to promote fundraising challenges. But ‘craftivist’ Shannon Downey’s inventive and intuitive movement pre-dates the pandemic.
In It’s Complicated, Shannon discusses her hands-on projects uniting crafting communities through the global reach of social media. Most notably. Rita’s Quilt, which was brought to global fame last year.
Shannon Downey has an unusual hobby. US based, the crafter likes to hunt through estate sales for antique textiles. If she comes across an unfinished sewing project, a crafter’s instinct takes over which means she has to buy and finish it herself. Such a compulsion may seem quirky, but when considered as a part of the tradition and value in crafting that no piece is left unfinished, is a testament to the strength of the close-knit crafting community.
In one such hunt, she came across a huge quilting project with all the initial work done but in a very early stage of completion. Shannon knew she had to complete it for its recently departed owner, Rita, who she had actually never met and purchased the plastic bucket containing the patterns and materials. But she knew that the sheer scale of this project made it an impossible task for her alone.
She appealed for help on Instagram and within 24 hours had received over 1,000 offers of help from across the world. Facebook and Instagram groups were set up for admin purposes, and parcels containing the necessary patterns and equipment dispatched.
At the time of recording the episode, Shannon was just beginning to receive completed and returned sections. Now debuted on public display at The National Quilt Museum in Kentucky, and with plans to tour it so that all who worked on it may see it in person, Rita’s Quilt is a huge success. However, it has done more than fulfil Rita’s vision. The project has outgrown the vicinity of online groups, and across this community of contributors friendships have formed, some crafters even managing to meet and stitch together!
Although the global interest in the story was a novelty to Shannon, this was not her first endeavour to combine her craft with social media. As someone who has always stressed the importance of finding a good work-life balance, Shannon has found that over the last 10 years this has become synonymous to finding a good digital-analogue balance.
Hence she urges users to remember to put down their devices and do something else. Whether exploring nature, meditating, or crafting, there is great value in creating and exploring with your hands and person instead of through your device.
Before she embarked upon Rita’s Quilt, Shannon was the founder of Badass Cross Stitch, in her own words ‘a community that regularly puts down their devices and feeds their souls with creativity, craft, art, invention, and making’. She believes that social media is a powerful tool for bringing people together and building real life relationships, exactly as shown through the Rita’s Quilt project.
Ultimately, social media was designed for bringing people together and enable collaborative projects – even the web was initially conceptualised and built as a tool to enable long-distance collaboration between scientists. It’s Shannon’s hope that online communities like hers may help us use the internet for the way in which it was originally intended, to help us collaborate. In a world which sometimes seems to have forgotten how digital media can be used for good, Shannon is leading by example.