With a skilled precision on where to prick profanity, Boston craftivist SHANNON DOWNEY stitches the threads of her vision for change into a pattern of revolution that says WIP no more.
With her voice bursting at the seams, Shannon Downey proves that she’s not afraid to be loud and intricate. She pictures her life to be a giant Venn diagram with art and activism being the biggest common ground. “Badassery, strong opinions, and activism play a long and strong role in my family history. It has shaped how I look at the world,” she proudly says. Unstringing the threads of her childhood, we trace back to a long line of strong women in her DNA with a maternal grandmother being one of the first women to join the American labor and paternal grandmother as a Rosie the Riveter who worked in the shipyards in Boston during WWII. “My creativity and art are directly driven and inspired by all of these pieces of my identity and a desire to ensure that I have a positive impact on the world. I want everything I create and do to inspire people to take a stand for what is just and kind and powerful.”
You can say she got it from her mama, growing up in a household who organized a union that fought against an anti-labor ballot measure. “I’ve never been silent. That has been both a blessing and a curse. I blame my parents. I mean, really, it’s their fault,” she quips. “I remember how exciting it was to be standing on the side of the road with a “Vote No on #2” sign as people drove by and beeped to show their support. Having a voice felt good, I was hooked.”
Known to destroy barriers between boys and girls from the get-go, Shannon brings us back to her childhood where she already had the grit to fight against gender roles, having the need to deliver a new homily with the flick of the wrist. “I would ask the priests every week to explain to me why girls could not be alter-boys. I drove them nuts. I created an opinion survey and interviewed my congregation on their thoughts on the matter. They were overwhelmingly in support of allowing girls to be alter-servers,” she shares of her rebellious Sunday morning prayer.
“One of the priests from the parish brought the survey to the Pope when he met with him. No less than 5 years later, girls were allowed to be alter-servers. I am in no way claiming that that decision was because of my brilliant market research but I do believe my tenacity played a small role in that change,” she recalls, innocently starting a platform of discussion for social issues with her own mode of sermon. “It’s funny how these micro-moments in your life shape you and your understanding of people. I have learned a lot about how and when to raise my voice and not give a shit about how others perceive it. I’ve also learned a lot about how to do it strategically.” Hallelujah indeed.
“I love the rich, female-driven history of embroidery. I feel very connected to it.”
Finally finding her own medium to tie the knot with, Shannon finds how embroidery can weave empowerment using nothing but a needle as her choice of defense. “I love the rich, female-driven history of embroidery. I feel very connected to it. I love that there is zero digital technology attached to it. I love its analog nature and its lack of evolution – meaning the tools and techniques have been around forever and haven’t changed all that much,” she shares of her love for the craft. With a stage to finally express her voice, she wastes no time to use her talents to create a string of words that shake it up, call out injustice and inspire women.
Not one to allow growth to stay as a work-in-progress, the craftivist proves how stitching speaks louder than words with works such as Boys Will Be (Boys) Held Accountable For Their Fucking Actions earning something more than the hearts she gets from double taps – courage. “To have created something that spoke so strongly to so many is a testament to our shared experience as female-identified people. It has made me just want to hug everyone who has so bravely shared it and their own stories. They are finding ways to stand up and raise their voices. There has been so much camaraderie around it. I believe women supporting women will change everything. This experience has shown me that that is a fact. I want to do anything and everything I can to keep that momentum going.”
“I believe women supporting women will change everything. This experience has shown me that that is a fact. I want to do anything and everything I can to keep that momentum going.”
With a promise to never hold back, she keeps her drive going in full force as she continues to make room for more people to join the rebellion. In light of the #MeToo movement, Shannon collaborates with like-minded musician MILCK and creates a t-shirt design that speaks loud and clear: they can’t keep quiet, a textile reunion of both their individual tones speaking as one. Born with a timbre of truth in her voice, Shannon never loses any strand of confidence to say the revolution will be stitched.