Who We Are: Disabled Makers

Content warning: brief suicide mention.

A sketch-style illustration of a seated woman in a wheelchair.
Illustration by Indigo Ayling @gentle_human

Disabled Makers is an Instagram account highlighting the work of disabled makers of any kind, including craft, writing, painting, ceramics and more, as well as working to build an inclusive, intersectional disabled community, and educating about disability theory and experience in an accessible way. It was created by Anna Colwill and Eve Walker, who will soon be joined by more admins.

Anna

About 2 months ago, I made a post using the tag #disabledknittersofinstagram for the first time, writing a bit about myself, and asking: ‘where are my fellow disabled makers?’ Shortly, I got a number of responses from other disabled knitters, including Eve. Eve had also been trying to get this hashtag off the ground, and sent me a message, proposing we do something to increase the visibility of disabled people in the making community. The next day, Disabled Makers was born!

I use the term ‘making’ intentionally because it’s so broad. Making doesn’t even have to be physical. It can be about making space, making time, making connections, and community. When my arms are too achy and tired to knit or throw pots, I can imagine experimenting with new projects and textures. Being a fine artist, I also make conceptual and performance work around disability and labour. Being a disabled person in an ableist world, I try to find ways to create without adding to the workload of an already exhausting life.

I have fibromyalgia, along with a number of other mental and physical conditions. Over the years, as my physical limitations have grown, I have also been made acutely aware of how many of the things ‘holding me back’ were actually due to the way the world is designed for an assumed kind of body or brain; one that I didn’t have anymore. Out of this awareness, my passion for disabled activism and community was born. By speaking openly about the injustice I have experienced, specifically within my university, it became clear that a huge number of others have experienced the same. But because they were made to feel ashamed of their struggles, they were not able to communicate this and find solidarity with fellow disabled people. When that barrier was broken, we felt such relief and affirmation in knowing that it wasn’t just us. Our experience was and is valid. We understood one another when no one else did.

That’s why, when I started following the knitting community on Instagram, I asked ‘where are the disabled people?’ I knew they were out there, because we are everywhere! Even if we are made to hide these parts of ourselves, disabled people exist in every space, especially online, where we don’t need to be physically present to engage. 

I’m not sure we would have had the motivation to start this project without first witnessing the movement of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) speaking out about the exclusion and discrimination they face in the knitting community. Just as the world is designed for the able-bodied and neurotypical as the default, the knitting world’s ‘neutral setting’ was for white women, and it was being exposed in every part of the community.

These conversations have catalysed a questioning of every assumption we have made about who makers are, and who gets noticed and rewarded. Disabled people are erased in various ways: our stories and perspectives are often silenced because they make non disabled people uncomfortable, our physical presence is underrepresented, and prevented due to inaccessible spaces, and our value is dismissed due to ableist standards of productivity and perfectionism. .

Disabled makers don’t have to fit into consumable categories.

– Anna

Disabled makers don’t have to fit into consumable categories. We want to have space to create and live our lives, not in spite of our conditions, but including them. In the community we are building, we want to hold space for positive and negative experiences of disability, and everything in between, without insisting on the search for a cure or a resolution. Disabled communities are so important because disabled people are constantly required to spend our limited energy adapting ourselves to a world which is inaccessible and hostile towards us. We need places to be understood, to rest, and to just be ourselves in all of our disabled joy and hurt.

Photo of Anna outside in winter layers, using a walking cane.

Eve

In 2011, I had a serious riding accident that led to a prolapsed disc which was undiagnosed by doctors for over 6 months. By the time I had the corrective surgery it had been 2 years since my accident, and my sciatic nerve had been permanently damaged. Eventually, I was forced to give up work. The effect this had on me emotionally was huge, and I went through several months mentally yoyo-ing whilst my new doctors tried to find an antidepressant that worked for me, as well as undergoing the dehumanising process of trying to claim benefits under a government whose ‘austerity’ policies hit disabled people the hardest. This led to a complete mental breakdown where I attempted suicide more than once. At the end of that year, I saw a series of adverts on the tv for a knitting magazine. My nan had taught me to knit as a child, but I was always ‘too busy’ to really get into it. However, as an adult with nothing but time on my hands, I decided to give it another go.

Loneliness and boredom are two areas that I especially want to highlight, as I rarely see them addressed in disability discussions. 

– Eve

4 years later, I am hooked! As well as being a knitter, I am now a spinner, a dyer, and aspiring weaver. Crafting has had real benefits for me as it alleviates the boredom, and I can feel like I am still productive (a great example of internalised ableism, but that’s a whole different essay!). It has also given me a social life in the form of knit nights and spinning guilds, which are great for making connections and give me something to look forward to, as these days I am largely housebound. When I do chores, I need time to rest afterwards, which means I can’t go out to socialise very often. This means that the bulk of my social life is online. Instagram is wonderful for being able to see the work of other makers, but I wanted to make a space specifically for disabled makers, to show others who are having similar experiences that they aren’t alone.  Sadly, being disabled is very isolating, and it’s easy to forget that we aren’t the only ones in this position. Loneliness and boredom are two areas that I especially want to highlight, as I rarely see them addressed in disability discussions. 

Photo of Eve indoors with her sewing machine and dog.

Meeting Anna was great, as she is already involved with disabled activism. With our shared strengths, we can build a community, as well as spread awareness by bringing the issue of ableism into the conversation. The support we have received has been phenomenal, and we are so humbled by the stories that people have  shared. We look forward to seeing what the future of Disabled Makers will be. Hopefully, we can get the ball rolling and see some important changes made.

What can be done to help the making community be more disability inclusive?

Representation: Seeing people that look like us, modeling the clothes we want to make, helps us to feel included, as well as the practical aspect of being able to see how it might look on our bodies! We don’t just mean one thin, white, wheelchair user, although that would be a start. We want fat disabled people, disabled people of colour, people with colostomy bags, amputees, facial differences. Disabled models are out there, you just need to look for them!

Accessibility: Use image descriptions and captions in your social media and websites, otherwise a whole lot of disabled people simply cannot enjoy your content. Don’t use fancy fonts, very small text or huge blocks of text without breaks (this also goes for patterns, we recently hosted a discussion about this in our story highlights.) For events, be clear about how accessible the location is, whether there will be sign language interpreters, loud noises or flashing lights, and provide a way to contact you for any access needs. Accessibility can seem like a big deal, but actually, it’s about being receptive and flexible to others needs. Often it just takes a small adjustment to allow people to access something that they previously couldn’t, and it means a lot.


There’s a lot more we could include here, but if you want more ideas, check out our Instagram @DisabledMakers for plenty more resources!

Anna Colwill is a disabled artist and organiser based in South East London. Her practice includes pottery, spinning, knitting, natural dyeing, writing, performance, and community building.  Instagram: @crippleknits

Eve lives in Cornwall with her three dogs, she enjoys many textile arts including sewing, weaving, knitting, spinning and dyeing. When she’s not doing those she can be found out riding or on the beach with her dogs. Instagram: @eve_and_the_woofers


Dear Reader: Our goal is to build community and make everyone feel welcome. We support crafting as an inclusive and welcoming space for people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities, genders, orientations and sizes. Regarding sewing challenge themes, we ask that you take each challenge as you see it fitting in your life, and express your involvement how you like, at the given time. Our challenges are for the pure enjoyment of participation and the love of community. Extended Mission Page Here.