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Anna Ruth Boonstra

Published date
27 Jun 2018

Soft Activism in Britain (1974-1984): The Understanding of Handcraft as a Communicative and Feminist Practice

College: London College of Fashion
Supervisors: Simon Thorogood, Professor Jane Harris, Pauline Kenny, Dr Jessica Hemmings - External Advisor


This thesis analyses the ways in which domestic handcraft, both as a practice and an object, functioned as a vehicle for conveying socio-political statements through Dress and Textiles in response to periods of social uncertainty and political realignment in Britain (1974-1984). This research utilises a multidisciplinary approach to examine the efficacy and communicative capacity of inserting dialogue into cloth through text constructed from handcraft (stitch, knit, fabric paint, appliqué) by the amateur maker to propel social intervention in communal, non-art spaces. This study will investigate the relationship between words and cloth to understand how meaning is generated, portrayed and transmitted by politically charged messages crafted by hand.

Context and background

Although domestic handcrafts have been traditionally recognised by the western world as ‘women's work', society at large is less familiar with the feminist reappropriation of craft as a practice of resistance, which is a central focus of this research. Embracing the DIY (do-it-yourself) aesthetic movement of the 1970s and 80s, amateur makers brought handcraft out of a domestic setting, utilising it to articulate societal concerns in the public domain. This thesis will examine three case studies representing historic manifestations of handcraft as a protest medium utilised in Dress and Textiles: Feministo postal art (1974-1977), Punk anti-fashion (1976-1980) and the Greenham Common Peace Camp (1981-1984). Since the circulation of activist art and dress often occurred outside of organised institutions, informally displayed, exchanged, and worn, many examples have yet to be systematically investigated. This research will draw on theories of semiotics and position them in relation to fashion, feminist and social activist movement theories to generate critical understandings of handcraft as a practice and object of reform.