The Hearts on Sleeves Project
by Hannah Valenzuela
We’ve been crocheting Hearts on our Sleeves since March 2022. It started as a way to overcome some difficulties with other forms of activism: signing e-petitions seems too little, but pulling the double shift as parent/carer and full-time wage slave as many women do, it’s hard to contribute meaningfully to environmental groups. For people in many countries, there’s also a restriction in terms of protest; even a peaceful march can carry serious consequences. We were looking for something which we could fit flexibly into the short gaps of free time that we have, which everyone could take part in without fear of reprisals. Of the four of us who started Hearts on our Sleeves, only one was a crocheter, but we were all interested in doing practical things. We all had an interest in how climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss impact women, and wanted to find out more.
So we came up with the idea of crochet craftivism! We set it up so that anybody can find our website – and just start doing it. No need to attend meetings (though we love it when people come along to our online or face-to-face get-togethers), options to work alone or with somebody else, entirely flexible around the busy lives that women live – although, of course, anybody at all can be a Hearts on our Sleeves craftivist. That does mean that we have no idea how many people might be making and sending or hiding hearts – we sometimes see pictures on social media indicating either a hide or a find but we have no formal way of collecting that information. There’s a very small core of regularly active members – but who knows how many more are quietly stitching away? We love to teach people how to crochet a heart, but there is no need to crochet; one member cross-stitches her hearts, using the green and purple to symbolise earth and women.
As well as individual work, we’ve organised projects over the past year, which, again, we throw open for people to join in with as and when and how they can. Our latest, for International Women’s Day 2023, is a set of bookmarks. Free to download from the website (https://www.heartsonoursleeves.net/projects), as all our resources are, they can be printed at home onto card, attached to a heart, and given away, or hidden in libraries or bookshops for people to find. This was a lot of fun to do as it involved lots of conversations about favourite eco-feminist reads so that we could include our top ten on the bookmarks, and a friend of the group offered to design the bookmarks so they look amazing!
Our aim is to raise awareness, and call for change. All our projects include information about how environmental damage specifically impacts women, and our hope is that each found heart creates an opportunity for a conversation. Conversations feel like the grassroots of normalising environmentally-aware behaviours, provoking a few minutes of reflection. We’ve created some teaching resources for schools and not-schools (https://www.heartsonoursleeves.net/teachresource), which again focus on sharing information and promoting discussion amongst children and young people. We’ve collected a bank of information sources so that people can see what where we’ve got our information from, and can find out more (https://www.heartsonoursleeves.net/whydoesthismatter).
We also send hearts with letters where we want specific people to do specific things. So we wrote to UK parliamentarians regarding the export of plastic waste to lower-income countries, we wrote to supermarkets in the wake of the Big Plastic Count, and we wrote to chocolate makers ahead of Christmas, calling for less plastic in their advent calendars. But this again is entirely adaptable to individuals’ time and concerns; our template letter is in English, Turkish and Spanish, and can be adapted to other projects. For example, a group in Quito, Ecuador, has adapted the template to give to local residents and encourage use of recycling facilities.
There’s plenty in the pipeline. We’ve been approached to have a presence at an eco-festival in the summer, and we’ve signed up to the Charter for Compassion. We’ll be crocheting and writing letters and hiding hearts all year in different places and ways. At the same time, being a very small group, we’re careful about capacity – we started this as a way for people who have too many plates to spin to feel like their small actions can make a big difference, and we want to retain that simplicity, flexibility, and do-what-you-can approach.