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Why I Make: Therapeutic Release

Photo by Kristen Barry

Photo by Kristen Barry

Photo by Kristen Barry

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I'm not a professional craftsperson. I'm a writer and activist who has spent two years working to end mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. Mountaintop removal is a destructive form of mining that blows off mountain peaks to get to the coal seams beneath them. It poisons waterways, destroys ecology and causes drastic health impacts in adjacent communities.

Fighting to abolish mountaintop removal is intense and heartbreaking work. Years of effort can go in to lobbying legislatures, compiling scientific evidence and staging direct action campaigns- often with no immediate results. While we've had incredible success as a movement, not being able to see how I've directly impacted the struggle can be disheartening. To stay sane, I try to remember the supportive words of friends and those beautiful moments when the anti-MTR movement has stood without compromise. But also, I craft.

My particular brand of tonic is knitting and fiber arts. Through this work, I carve out space to be alone and think through my life and ideas (most of my activist work is highly collaborative). Craft lets me slow down and not worry so much. When making something, my biggest challenges are using my materials and executing my process well. If I mess up, I haven't lost that much, but I have gained an opportunity to experiment. If I do it right, I'm using a process and getting a specific result, which is very different from the uncertainty inherent in anti-mountaintop removal work.

In my activist work, I'm fighting an industry that puts profit above people and ecology. In my craft, I'm making small-scale objects by hand. There is a faster way to get a hat or pair of gloves, but I'm choosing to work the human way. This reflects my desire for a human-scale economy, one where earth moving machines don't drudge coal out of the ground as quickly and relentlessly as possible.

Working in fiber, my chosen medium, provides an outlet for the frustrations I experience doing environmental justice activism. Because I've founding crafting to be the most effective anecdote I have for burnout and depression, I want to share my skills with other activists fighting on the front lines. I want to create space for the act of making in the struggles I participate in, and within it, the remembrance that we are human, and that we are fighting for a more human world. In the next few years, I'm hoping to collaborate with craftspeople working in diverse mediums who are interested in sharing their knowledge with activists and others who might benefit from craft's centering and therapeutic properties.


Wren Awry is a writer and crafter who has worked on environmental justice issues in Appalachia and blogs at Photo at left by Christopher Walsh.

Why I Make is a guest series exploring the human impulse to create. Read more posts in the Why I Make archives or submit your own story.




I just opened an Etsy, too! Check it out at:

I have crafted as long as I can remember. It has been my getaway from an abusive father, broken home, the stress of being a young single parent going to school and supporting and nurturing a family all at the same time, later it helped me deal with the stresses of being a woman working in a predominantly male job as a corrections officer in an all male prison, and now it keeps me sane dealing with being handicapped due to injuries sustained on that job. If I ever lost the ability to create I would be completely lost! I have done many forms of arts and crafts over the years ( it's the learning of techniques that enthralls me) but my lasting love it Tatting, I can take and do it anywhere, and it can be used in all sorts of other things. I also paint, make things from Polymer Clay, embroider, make renaissance costumes, draw, sew, do Quilling.

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