Artist Shannon Downey melds cross stitch with activism, formulating a new form of craftivism one stitch at a time
Where there is voice, there is power.
~ Shannon Downey
This is not your Grandmother’s cross stitch. Nope.
What happens when old school meets activism in the form of craftivism? Badass Cross Stitch, of course! Straight from the Manifesto on their website, this company exists to inspire, enable, encourage, push boundaries, change shit and engage — in other words, to put down our devices and make something (like meaningful change in the world).
Badass Cross Stitch works exude a sense of old world meets new, legacy in action. Having recognized the stories captured in cross stitch from centuries ago, founder Shannon Downey grew curious about how history got recorded — and began to contemplate the notion of which stories would we leave behind?
“You and I know that our history books are full of half-truths, outright lies, omissions, and erasures. A history told through a white man’s lens. You and I also know that every life and every story matters. That the more voices we hear only serve to enrich our understanding, our perspectives, and our choices.” ~ Shannon Downey
And so a badass and a cross-stitcher was born…and as they say, the rest is Badass HERstory.
If you have a social media account — you’ve likely come across at least one of her many cross stitch works that have gone viral.
So, how could she shift the narrative? Well…one stitch at a time.
Yeah, and as you have probably suspected, Shannon has bold, lofty goals commensurate with her sass and style, already in motion. In what she considers to be her most ambitious project to date, Badass HERstory, she has sent out an invitation to all — to participate in a massive global craftivism project meant to capture and share the stories of as many women, female-identified, and gender non-binary humans as possible.
If you want to learn more about this art installation the likes of which the world has never seen — if you are ready to put down your devices, get crafting, learn to embroider, and use your hands and heart to slow down and create a beautiful analog version of your story — if you are ready to make Badass HERstory, click here.
View the Badass HERstory video
As always, I’m intrigued by the genius behind the messages, the face and the deeper story. I couldn’t resist asking Shannon a few questions.
with Shannon Downey and Kristen Noel
Kristen: Your website tagline reads, “Put more analog in your digital” but clearly you are getting your ‘digital’ on with over 73K followers on Instagram. Tell us how that unfolded. How do you use your digital-dom to your advantage? When did you recognize its potential for good and how do you balance that (particularly when your images go viral)?
Shannon: I love digital. I love social media. Running a digital marketing company for 10 years had me connected to a device 24/7 and touting the potential for social media to do good…until I was blue in the face. I was over it. I needed a break. I started stitching as a way to get more analog time in my life. Creating space to disconnect was exactly what I needed. But as they say, “pictures or it didn’t happen!” Naturally, I started posting my stuff on Instagram and folks were digging it.
I spent the first few years sharing tutorials and creating patterns for folks to encourage them to stitch and engage. As the culture of the country started changing, stitching was a way for me to process or respond to what I was experiencing — and folks definitely responded to that. When a few of my pieces went viral, my audience grew substantially. My digital community really connected with not only what I was stitching, but the writing I was doing to accompany the stitch. I saw an opportunity to really engage with people around hard subjects…to be able to put an idea in front of them for consideration and then have some quality dialogue around it.
It has been amazing! It’s the best side of social media and it feels really important to both model that and expect it from my community. My Insta community feels like a truly brave space for people who want to learn and grow and have challenging conversations. I moderate the shit out of it to make sure it stays that way.
Kristen: Your iconic piece, “Boys will be boys held accountable for their fucking actions” was translated to Urdu — can you tell us how that impacted you? Has the power of potential reach sunk in?
Shannon: That was so incredible to me. Boys will be boys seemed like such a colloquialism to me that I had no idea that it would translate across cultures and languages (although it’s hardly surprising if I spend half a second thinking about it). It was so very cool to me to see that. The reach has been unfathomable to me and really speaks to our shared experiences.
Kristen: Were you surprised by your massive following? When did it start, what does it say for other people? What words of wisdom do you have for people to get their own voices out there and go for it even when it doesn’t make sense?
Shannon: I think anytime you are doing something that is authentically you — you will find your people. Everyone can spot fakes…the folks who are ‘crafting a personal brand’ versus just being themselves. You have to know who you are, what you believe in, what you want to say and contribute, and then stand in that truth no matter what. It takes a lot of work to know yourself like that.
Do the work. Figure out your truth and own it. Understand your intention. My intention is to have a positive impact on the world and to educate others and myself in the process. When you approach the work from a true place of giving and growing — you cannot fail. I say that, having failed countless times when my intentions were selfish because I didn’t know myself well enough yet.
Kristen: Have you received haters / pushback? If so, how have you dealt with that?
Shannon: Hahahaha! I’m trying to topple the patriarchy…haters abound! I have done the work. I know who I am and I can stand in that. I know what I’m willing to sacrifice and I know how far I will go to keep this movement moving forward. That scares the shit out of the haters. In this case I mean true haters, not just folks who happen to disagree with me or push back against an idea I present. Those folks are welcomed and some transformative conversations come out of those dialogues. True haters/trolls/misogynists…they get blocked and deleted. Simple as that. I don’t engage. I simply block and delete. I don’t owe anyone anything.
Kristen: What lights you up right now? What’s keeping you inspired and creating?
Shannon: WOMEN! I am so inspired and grateful for all of the bravery that I’m seeing right now. I’m seeing hard conversations — people pushing themselves — allowing themselves to be uncomfortable in service to growth and true systemic change. I could scream it makes me so happy!