Uncategorized, Gender, Social Justice

Meet the fearless old ladies using stitching as activism

Meet Linhas de Sampa, a Brazilian collective using embroidery to change Brazil

“I don’t care if people call me [a leftist],” Lenira says as she takes a puff of her cigarette. “Because I am.”

Lenira is the organizer of an explicitly left-wing collective called Linhas de Sampa (Lines of São Paulo). The group practices craftivism, or craft activism, in the form of stitching. They take on highly political topics, protesting everything from Jair Bolsonaro’s election to police violence.

In Brazil, the terms leftist and left-wing have different connotations. The latter refers to official political parties, such as the worker’s party, Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or the socialist party, Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL.) “Leftist” is often used as a pejorative, akin to when conservative Americans employ the term liberal snowflake.

Lenira jokes that the “very young” women in the group are in their late 40s. She herself has a full head of white hair.

“When people see us, they see a bunch of old ladies,” explains Flori, a member in her late 50s. Part of their impact, she speculates, is that people don’t expect older women to make political statements. Especially not with embroidery.

Linhas de Sampa is an offshoot of the founding group, called Lines of the Horizon, which is based in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. They started meeting in January of 2017, with the intention of making a tablecloth for Dona Marisa, the wife of the former left-wing president, Lula da Silva.

As the former first lady of a deeply polarized country, Dona Marisa faced attacks from the media until her death. Unfortunately, she passed away before receiving the tablecloth. It was given to Lula in her stead. 

Over two years later and the collective has expanded to three Brazilian cities.

Lenira gestures to the row of cloth squares. They stitch everywhere from bars to political manifestations. Instead of paper posters, the Linhas de Sampa make everything from fabric and thread. At this particular protest, they’ve hung up embroidered signs with clothespins. They also pass out cloth “pamphlets” that can be pinned to clothing.

Each pamphlet has a different design. Some say, “Lula Livre” (free Lula), while others make more general claims, such as, “Everyone has the right to live freely.”

There are also piles of unstitched cloth. The collective brings needles and thread for other protestors to make their own embroidery. Anyone is welcome to sit in the circle and stitch. Each square cloth already has a drawn-on template, making it easy for even the most novice craftswoman to make a customized pamphlet.

Having these blank squares enables the group to start conversations.

“When a group of women sits together, it’s good and fun,” Flori affirms. Lenira agrees that it’s a great way to form connections and tell stories. Every time someone leaves wearing a square represents one more voice that’s been heard.

Craftivism is often called soft or feminine activism. These terms are misleading in that they undermine the power of collective crafting. Creating a space for women to communicate with each other often catalyzes change. Linhas de Sampa invites people to craft with them on the streets, as well as in more formal settings, such as embroidery workshops.

The collective refers to themselves as a “listening group.” They encourage women to discuss their doubts and questions. Much like their American counterparts, Brazilians are increasingly worried about fake news, and uncertain about what information they can trust. Fact-checking with other women helps them feel more secure.

By crafting together, Linhas de Sampa aims to create conversations around their principles of justice, education, and democracy.

Collective embroidery plays a significant role in the history of resistance in Latin America. In the 1970s, Chilean women crafted quilts, called arpilleras, to protest Pinochet’s dictatorship. In Mexico, the movement Bordados por la Paz y Memoria has been protesting deaths and disappearances since 2011.

Linhas de Sampa also stands against dictatorship and violence. But their vision is much broader. They attend any event that corresponds with their principles. From autism awareness to the Landless Workers Movement and anti-racism efforts, these ladies make it a point to show their support.

“We can’t accept the idea that anyone is less than a citizen. Every person deserves to eat, learn, and enjoy themselves.”