What we learned and active hope

‘I will allow myself space for my heart to break so the hold of community can be poured into those cracks and make it stronger, make it bigger. Because every time my heart breaks it is made stronger.’ Mikaela Loach

In seven months crafters from all across UK and beyond colleKnitted panel round a tree with words saying sending out SOS to the worldctively created 1.5km of knitted, crocheted and sewn climate messages which were displayed in rain and high winds on Glasgow Drying Green on 6th November during COP26 talks.

Stitches For Survival was born in the spring of 2021. Having COP26 in Glasgow felt like a huge responsibility – to make our voices heard and to amplify the voices of those in the most affected countries, many of whom were unable to attend.  The need for countries to take bold and binding action together had never been more urgent.  Yet in early 2021 we were still in lockdown and unable to gather in person. Stitches for Survival was a project that people could work on in their own homes whilst also contributing to something bigger: a giant 1.5km long scarf (the length of the scarf representing the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement) made up of knitted, crocheted and sewn panels measuring 60cm x 100cm. The idea was heavily based on Wool Against Weapons – a campaign to create a 7-mile pink scarf which stretched between Aldermaston and Burghfield AWE in August 2014 as a protest against the renewal of Trident – which many of the organising group had been closely involved with.

Woman holding a large roll of panels sitting on the floor of a vanWhen we put the Stitches for Survival idea out there in early April 2021 we had so many unknowns: we didn’t know if the idea would take off; we didn’t know where or when we would display the scarf during COP; we didn’t know where we would store over 1,000 crafted panels; we didn’t know how we would get them all sewn together; we had an intention that they would be repurposed into blankets for refugees and asylum seekers, but didn’t know who might take them; and we didn’t know whether covid restrictions would enable us to gather together safely in Glasgow or at any other stage of the journey.

As I walked round the drying green on 6th November, in thermals, Gore-Tex jacket and trousers I found myself in tears. So much care had gone into each individual panel; so many people had taken the seed of an idea to their craft group or action group and so many conversations and so many stitches later – here we were. Every single one of us had contributed something of ourselves to create this stunningly beautiful spectacle being tossed by the wind with the autumn leaves. And not one of us could have done it on our own.

So what did we learn?

We learned that high winds and rain will not deter us – and the persistence we found in working in such trying conditions made our actions even more memorable and moving. In some ways we were more in touch with the earth. We are the sun – and we are the wind and rain!

We learned that we can never know what our actions achieve. Whilst the official outcome of COP26 fell far short of what was needed we do not yet know if our campaigning, and that of millions of other people around the world, will help the tide to turn far enough. We know that we inspired vast numbers of crafters to take action – many for the first time, and hope this will continue to snowball – and that we all need to keep engaging – that this crisis needs all of us. May the ripples continue to spread. We learned that there is a huge crafting community out there ready to play their part!

We learned that the journey is as important as the end goal. Throughout Circular idsplay of panels hanging at York MinsterStitches for Survival we encouraged people to be visible locally and to display their sections of the scarf at local actions and places of climate related significance such as the offices of large fossil fuel companies or refineries, local councils to encourage divestment campaigns, climate festivals. The conversations that happened with families and friends and at each public stitch-in, street action or exhibition carried seeds of hope and helped people see that they could make a difference. Each stitch was important. Each local action.

And we learned that creativity touches us on so many levels and enables us to dialogue with others through colour and shape and words in a way that enables us all to see afresh and to move forward with renewed energy. That engaging with the climate crisis through our creativity can bring about some of the inner transformation necessary, as we develop courage to share our work and build new ways of acting together.

We learned that creating together gives us hope and enables us to sow seeds of hope out there in the world. But how do we stay hopeful in such challenging times?

What is Active Hope?

We had many conversations in our household in the lead up to COP26 about hope, and Joanna Macy’s concept of Active Hope. I find it helpful to remind myself that feeling hopeful or hopeless are passing feelings – they come and go – and so we need something more stable to sustain us. As I understand it Active Hope is about turning towards hope even when we feel hopeless or despairing. About still showing up and doing what we know we need to do. Engaging in craftivism can do that. I am grateful to my friend Kristine for sharing this quote from Joanna:

‘Hope and hopelessness, they’re just feelings. They arise and pass. Sometimes I feel hopeful. Sometimes I feel helpless. Sometimes it has to do with what I had for breakfast or what somebody just said to me. So the greatest gift we can give our world is our full presence and our choice moment by moment to be present, to stay open. And when you’re in the middle of a big adventure, you don’t have time to decide whether you’re hopeful or hopeless. David going out with his slingshot… Say, “Excuse me, Are you feeling hopeful?” Or, “Excuse me, Frodo and Sam, how hopeful do you feel today?” We just got a job to do. Don’t waste my time. That question can bring you out of the present moment. It can throw you into imaginings and conjectures when all your energy should be right here in the moment.’

 Rebecca Solnit says something similar when she describes hope as the axe we use to break down doors in the case of an emergency – and us being that axe:

‘Hope comes from action. It’s not a lottery ticket we sit and clutch hoping that we’ll be lucky. It’s an axe we use to break down doors with in an emergency. We are that axe. We will break down those doors together and we must.’

Hands crocheting a blue scarfSo to act with hope in the climate crisis we cannot wait until we know all the answers or the perfect plan for action or know for sure that what we do will have the desired impact. We need to come together, to act with integrity and love and be that active hope that keeps showing up and that can inspire others to keep showing up alongside us. Let us walk forward with all these uncertainties, linking arms with all those committed to creating a life-sustaining society so that collectively we can avoid falling into those familiar holes of overwhelm and panic.

After that stormy, exhilarating day on Glasgow Green we had another uncertainty – where would we dry out 1,500 soggy panels before they could be repurposed into blankets? R:evolve Recycle, our fabulous partners in Cambuslang, decided to take them all back with them and within a few days we were treated to photos of panels being hung up and down Glasgow tenement stairs still spreading their messages of hope whilst drying out!

Thanks so much to all of you for being alongside me on this journey. So, what next, radical crafters?

‘A better world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing’
Arundhati Roy

Justice is always worth fighting for. A better world is always worth fighting for’
Mikaela Loach (Edinburgh-based climate justice activist and co-host of Yikes podcast)

Jane Lewis December 2021

Resources and ideas for climate action

Climate action doesn’t stop with COP.  Here are some organisations, initiatives and resources for ideas and inspiration.

Read more about the ideas behind our aims:

Fossil Free: Divestment

Doughnut Economics

Earth Law Centre

Well-being Economy

Read more about textile reuse charity R:evolve Recycle, our partner on the ground in Glasgow. Check out their website   if you are looking for ways to volunteer with an environmental twist, or if you would like to find new ways to reduce your clothing carbon footprint through swapping, sharing, mending, and making.

Read more about organisations and networks campaigning on climate issues in Scotland:

Scottish Communities Action Network 

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

Creative Carbon Scotland


Transition networks

Extinction Rebellion 

Insulate Britain

Fridays for Future

Craftivist Collective

Glasgow Eco Trust

Friends of the Earth Scotland 

Climate Ready Clyde

Read practical advice on how to reduce your carbon footprint:

Zero Waste Scotland 

Energy Savings Trust

Home Energy Scotland

Remade Network

The Wildlife Trust

Community Resources Network Scotland

Transport Scotland

Cycling Scotland

Living Streets

Scottish Government Net Zero Nation

Stitches for Survival named a must see COP26 Cultural Event

This week The Herald named Stitches for Survival one of 10 great cultural and public events to see during COP26.

The display of the 1.5 miles of stitched and knitted scarf at Glasgow Green Drying Poles on the 6th November was described as “mass craftivism at its best”. The event is an opportunity to see the power of community action, with hundreds of people from around the world contributing to the amazing display of art.

Find the full article here,  and read about the other amazing climate focussed events happening during COP26.

Join us Stitches for Survival on Saturday 6th November to demonstrate public will for action on climate change.

Canadian Students contribute to the Stitches for Survival Scarf

This month two beautiful panels arrived from a class of students all the way from SOLE Alternative school in Toronto, Canada, to join the Stitches for Survival scarf display at COP26 in Glasgow.

After hearing about Stitches for Survival during a virtual event on craftivism, Rachel their teacher was inspired to get involved: “I thought this project would bring together our shared passion for the arts and empower the students to take action on the climate catastrophe.”

Each student worked hard to design and create a quarter of a panel, which were then sewed and glued together. Not only was this their first time back in a school building in months, the class also faced challenges with the hands-on project wearing a mask and observing COVID-19 protocols.

Rachel commented: “We were proud to create two panels to mail, and thrilled when a glimpse of one of the envelopes on a BBC story about the project confirmed that they’d reached their destination in time!”

The Canadian panels will join the 1.5 miles of scarf displayed at Glasgow Green Drying Poles on the 6th November during COP26, in solidarity with those most affected by climate change and to urge negotiators to take bold and binding action together. A massive thank you to all the students and to Rachel for organising. True global solidarity!

Bristol Stitches for Survival meets Camino to COP26 Walkers

In early September, the Bristol Stitches for Survival group waved off the amazing Camino to COP26 walkers from Bristol Cathedral, united in our shared commitment for climate justice and action on climate change.

Camino to COP26 are a faith based group, walking from London and Bristol to Glasgow, for COP26.

As told on their website: The purpose of the walk is to build alliances and engage communities along the route – faith communities and other local communities – and to spread the word about the urgency of the need for meaningful action to address the global climate and ecological emergency. This is an opportunity for connection and outreach and is expressly not a physically disruptive or civilly disobedient action. Those involved are asked to sign up to this principle.

The walk is for everyone in XR and beyond, not just the faith communities – we all have much to give, much to share, and much we can learn from each other. The hope is that local XR groups will take part, and that local groups as well as faith groups will help us locate resources such as community halls, churches halls etc that will host our walkers each evening by providing food, somewhere to sleep and other facilities. It is also hoped that local groups will identify opportunities for walkers to to give talks within the communities through which they pass.

If you want to join Camino to COP26 for a day and hear from the inspiring group, find details of their itinerary here.