Even though cold winds whip through the Ithaca Commons, it’s nice and cozy inside The Art and Found, a small store in downtown Ithaca offering entirely homemade products. The Art and Found embraced the bitter winter season, and began a small endeavor they call the Common Threads project. Common Threads is a collaboration between the Art and Found and other downtown Ithaca stores in a goal to produce 300 hand-knitted or –crocheted hats … and give them away for free.
The Birth of Common Threads
It all started with Olivia Royale, the owner of the Art and Found. She was knitting hats to sell and asked Rebecca Billings, one of the women on her staff, to embroider tags for them.
“We came up with this name ‘Common Threads’ because the yarn we were using was remnant yarn,” Royale said. “So we would blend together different yarns to come up with funky little prints and colors.”
In some of her researching, Royale stumbled across the neighborhood sustainable Tompkins County group, who happened to be offering mini-grants for projects which emphasized creating a better and more sustainable community.
“We applied the Common Threads project to that mini-grant because we felt sharing handmade goods and distributing them during the winter months would be a good way to bring the neighborhood together,” said Royale.
The Art and Found gathered their staff and community volunteers to create hats to donate to the project. They began to offer a knitting circle every Sunday for people to come and make hats for the store to give away, and the project was on its feet.
The Comeback of Crafting
Crafting has become more popular in the recent years, according to Royale and a Common Threads knitting circle participant Helen Clark. She is working on a thesis regarding women’s crafting circles and how they contribute to feminist movements, which she is planning on incorporating into a one-woman show.
“Where a lot of people see [the crafting circle] as a sign for female repression, it was actually an impetus for women to break down the molds that they had been in and discover things about themselves,” Clark said.
Some of the popularity can also be attributed to the popularity of websites like Etsy or Pinterest, where people can post and share multiple ideas. Some argue that the recession also contributes to the popularity of a do-it-yourself mentality, because it’s often more cost-effective.
“I’ve noticed in the last couple years as someone who makes a living off of handmade stuff, is that there’s a movement going on, especially for women, to be able to be self-sustainable through a business that’s a craft business,” said Royale.
“It’s using crafting as a form of activism,” Clark explained. “You’re using crafts to educate the community.”
Craftivism, by definition, is “ the practice of engaged creativity, especially regarding political or social causes.” Craftivism, in its simplest form, aims to get the viewer to think a little more deeply about a specific idea or cause, through a unique and creative outlet.
“[You] make it a beautiful thing, so it’s not just a piece of paper someone’s gonna throw away,” Clark said.
The Common Threads project encourages sustainability and community through its “craftivism” lens, said Royale.
“It opens up a conversation about sustainability also being in a fashion realm, as far as handmade goods and supporting people who hand-make their own products,” she said.
Braking for Spring?
With the winter (hopefully) winding down, the Common Threads project is nearing its finale. Royale believes they are only about 40 or 50 hats away from their goal of 300.
“It’s important because it’s something that I can give back to the community that’s supported me so far with this business,” said Royale.
Clark agreed that the project is important for raising awareness about sustainability and creativity, as well as becoming more aware of what is possible to be made by hand. She argued it’s especially important for those who identify as artists and want to be more active in living a sustainable lifestyle.
“We don’t have to outsource,” she said. “It’s local, it’s economic, it’s sustainable.”