Tomato jam and activist cross stitch

Posted by Sarah Pelham Volunteer development officer, campaigns

26th Jun 2012

The Craftivist Collective are putting their passion to good use- how will you use your hobby to fight poverty?

Recently, I've been collecting empty jars, perfecting my stirring technique, and on the lookout for my very own thimble. Why? Well, there's a story to be told. A story about tomato jam, social justice, and how to turn your hobby into a way to change the world.

Sarah Corbett works with the Craftivist Collective, a group she set up to join her passions: activism and craft. I interviewed her to find out more about the group, and their plan to use cross stitch to create political change. Sarah tells me, "Over the summer months we're asking people to get together and stitch messages onto jam jar lids. This is in support of Oxfam's Grow campaign, which focuses on creating a world where everyone has enough to eat."

In the past, while wanting to fight injustice Sarah struggled to fit the mould of a placard waving, slogan shouting activist. "I loved craft and realised it could be an effective way to share my views and engage with others." Sarah's lid stitching idea was inspired by Christine, a Kenyan woman she met in October of 2007. Living in a suburb outside Nairobi, Christine had lost her husband and sister to Aids, leaving her isolated and struggling to make ends meet. Despite this, she took it upon herself to look after and support orphaned children.

Supported by local charity BIDII, Christine and a number of other Kenyan women facing similar challenges formed a co-operative in which they pooled their skills and experience to make products such as tie-dye t-shirts and soaps, to sell at their local market. The lack of rainfall in the area makes it difficult to grow crops, but it was possible to grow tomatoes by creating a 'multi-storey garden' - a system which requires significantly less water than traditional methods (and finally provides an example of a 'trickle down' approach that actually works!). 

So this is where tomato jam comes in. With sugar being available cheaply, Christine was able to use her home-grown tomatoes to cook up a batch of jam for the market. And it was a great success. Sarah smiles. "She's boss. She's brilliant…get that in the blog, can you?" Christine's story struck a chord with Sarah, as she could identify similar parallel situations here in the UK. In particular, she was reminded of Anne, a volunteer community worker from West Everton, where Sarah grew up: "It's one of the most deprived areas in England, and like Christine, Anne is at an age where she should be sat back, knitting and drinking tea. Instead, both women work tirelessly in supporting their communities."

Let's take the lead from Christine and make our own tomato jam. Let's stitch lids to support Grow and get our message out there- it's time to tackle climate change, to champion women farmers and to celebrate all the Christines and the Annes the whole world over.

I struggle to sew on a button and yet craft is like an itch I want to scratch, or maybe a thread hanging loose; I can't quite leave it alone. If you're like me, give it a go. Be inspired to use your own hobby for change.To find out more about the Craftivists Summer Jammin Project, visit their website. You can also watch their jam making video, with tips to make your own tantalisingly tasty tomato jam!

Blog post written by Sarah Pelham

Volunteer development officer, campaigns

More by Sarah Pelham