knitting as a political statement
I’m in the mood for redefining this blog. Why do I want to write about knitting? Why is sharing free knitting patterns important? Why do I knit? Can knitting be revolutionary, and does it need to be?
According to Chris Hedges [http://americablog.com/2013/12/hedges-pre-revolutionary-society-extremely-dangerous.html], change needs to happen. How? “It’s going to come off the ground, it’s going to come by stepping outside of the mainstream, it’s going to come by articulating a very different vision about how we relate to each other, how we relate to the economic system, and ultimately how we relate to the ecosystem.”
I can accept that definition of the change needed to direct a revolution, and with that definition comes my conviction that art, and knitting in particular, can be revolutionary.
Historically, women sewed directives into quilts made for the Underground Railroad. In literature, women solved murder mysteries by studying a woman’s needlework, inconsistencies being clues…and of course Madame Defarge wreaked revenge on the elite through knitting their names and death sentences into her needlework. In Greek mythology, the Fates spun, measured, and cut thread, symbolizing the creation of lives and the determination of their lengths. We can knit names, messages and slogans in intarsia and lace. The Iraq War saw protesting knitters constructing body count mittens.
During the American Revolution, boycotting British goods led to homespun, handsewn, and handknitted being marks of a patriot. And around the world, peaceful protestors have stood or sat at doorsteps to powerful places knitting. Knitters in Denmark knit a pink cover for a military tank.
Hand crafts have come to define women. In the book The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine, Rozsika Parker equates the separation of women’s crafts from the fine arts as the beginning of not only marginalizing their work, but their lives as well. Men’s work was more important. I’ve become frustrated when someone close to me asks (repeatedly) “what are you sewing?” and I have to answer, “I’m knitting…” I see now that not even remembering what craft it is I’m practicing seems to trivialize it and, by extension, me. When he observes me knitting and says “ah, I see you’re knitting on my sweater in that beautiful tweed yarn”, I’ll know he appreciates what I do. (Sing that to the tune of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and dance around in your ruby slippers while your at it.) I’m working on my own revolution at home…
These may seem like insurmountable odds against being taken seriously while doing “women’s work”. My list of what I did today may be long and leave me exhausted, but if it consists of washing dishes and clothes and babies, vacuuming and sweeping, washing windows, baking bread, cooking dinner, and knitting for charity…it’s not as important or difficult or commendable as driving to work and bringing home a paycheck. Even being someone else’s housekeeper and nanny carries more weight than doing it all at home.
Knitters and other artists who want to be taken seriously often sacrifice some of who they are in order to commercialize and commercialize their art. Quantity becomes as or more important than quality. We knitters are fighting to earn a living against products with brand name tags that have been stripped of any relation to how, where, or why they were produced.
There are a few things we knitters can do to become revolutionaries. Think about the points Hedges made: the movement has to come from the bottom of society, not from politicians, presidents, celebrities, or pulpits. Yes, all are encouraged to participate, but unless there is a GROUNDSWELL, it won’t succeed in creating any meaningful change.
How we relate to each other as knitters is revolutionary. We relate in online knitting and reading groups, as members of or visitors to a blog, as members of the queer community, stereotypical grannies, feminists, designers, yarn shop owners, authors, bloggers, pregnant women, yarn bombers, children, DIY enthusiasts, college students, and poor people dependent on an unsteady income from their knitting. All of the above in the same knitting group: chatting in the same online forum, working on the same knit-along projects, reading the same books while we knit, or sitting in a circle in a living room or in a yarn shop.
How we relate to the economic system and the ecosystem is more complex: we exist in it and at the same time outside of it. We raise sheep, process fleeces, spin, dye, knit; shop online for knitting supplies; shop online for ready-to-wear department store clothing; and make our own clothing, household goods, toys, and even pet clothing. We raise and buy organic fibers and we fall in love with a sparkly metallic polyester.
Ultimately, Michele Obama inspired me with her interview as part of the summit on working families in Washington. [http://www.c-span.org/video/?320109-3/michelle-obama-working-families] She nailed it when she told the story about how she found her voice; what situation empowered her to speak her mind as to who she was and what she wanted from a job. The point I carried away was that sure, now everything has changed for her and she’s living in the White House — but we all have to find our voices and speak up. It’s time. There needs to be a movement, Michele said.
That’s why it’s cool that she spoke up, as First Lady. That’s why it’s important that you and I speak up. There’s no right way to be, no right words to say. We each have to be genuinely ourselves and speak our hearts. Not some newscaster’s words, not some words we read in a book, but our words.
In the article “Knit and the World Knits With You” the author states, ” String, yarn, baking, whatever. It’s all women’s work, right?” [http://article25news.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/knit-and-the-world-knits-with-you/]
Wrong. What we do matters and we aren’t all women: we are women, men, children of all ages and persuasions. Knit in public, so people see first hand your pride in what you do. When they ask you what you’re knitting (or crocheting, if they don’t know the difference), be ready to include words that make your statement. If you’re a gay guy, tell them you’re knitting a one-of-a-kind gift for your boyfriend, or your dog. If you’re a granny, you’re knitting an heirloom blanket that will become a shawl on your granddaughter’s wedding day. Or you’re knitting hats for the homeless; helmet liners for GIs; designing a new pattern by knitting it up in a washcloth first; knitting a pair of wool socks for your grandma who always has cold feet; knitting squares for a yarn bombing project your knitting group is planning; or knitting a toy for a child with cancer. Whatever project you knit, think of it in artistic/charitable/giving terms that will slowly change the world. We’re knitting up peace, joy, care, compassion, laughter, and prayers.
I offer links to free patterns here because turning everything into a commodity for sale really sucks. I don’t want to sell you a rainbow, an idea, a dream, or a laugh. You may find something to buy on these pages, and maybe I’ll get a little if you do. I may grow some of my own food but I still buy seeds and fertilizers, and buy food I can’t grow. I buy yarn and pay for spinning lessons. We all have to live through this transition towards — not self-sufficiency — better cooperation. Live simply, that others may simply live — that sort of thing. Sitting on my deck knitting uses only a little oxygen, leaving you your share. Knit, breathe, enjoy, and join the revolution.