My mother knitted and my grandma crocheted, so from the moment I was old enough to be aware, I knew that knitting was a woman’s handicraft.
I knit so hard I snapped the blue needle in half. It belonged to my mother 40 years ago
At 7 years old, however, I had an experience that changed the way I viewed working with yarn. I was in second grade and had just been transported from a classroom in Michigan to an “Interdisciplinary Team” at McKinley Elementary in Appleton, Wisconsin. The move was difficult in a number of ways, not the least of which was that I had already surpassed McKinley’s second -grade reading curriculum by the time I joined the classroom mid-semester. This was in the 1970s, in the days before there were “Gifted and Talented” programs or No Child Left Behind assessments. I suppose it is possible that the school administration didn’t quite know what to do with me. But my new second-grade teacher, Sue Tabbert stepped in. In a small reading group, consisting of me and one other student, she introduced me to the novels of Eleanor Estes and her characters the Moffats. My partner and I flew through the pages, but Miss Tabbert found new ways to engage us. One day, she appeared in class with yarn and two pairs of knitting needles. One of Estes’ characters, Rufus Moffat, was knitting washcloths to send to GIs fighting in World War I. We were going to learn to knit washcloths, too. She showed us the cast-on, and then I knit my very first stitch. I won’t say my washcloth was a success; it was an ugly brown and about the thickness of a doormat. But, in making a washcloth just like Rufus Moffat, I learned that knitting was political, it was patriotic, it was a show of solidarity with strangers who stand up for us.
(Check out the WWI”Knitting for Victory” story here).
That is why the Pussyhat Project has been so meaningful to me. A quarter-million women will assemble in Washington and at at statehouses around the nation on January 21, wearing the hats as a symbol of solidarity while they rally, once again, against threats to basic women’s rights. Critics have dismissed the pussyhat as “silly headwear” or “a stunt” that will distract from the substance of the protest.
But for me, the pussyhat is the protest. The manner of its making, the collaboration required for its distribution, and the solidarity shown in wearing it all attest to very vision of the world the marchers are standing for. In a time when the president-elect is grossly inflating the power of corporations, doling out cabinet positions on a pay-to-play basis, and disparaging women around the world, knitting has once again become a political and patriotic act.
First, in a coporatocracy (“Corporations are people, my friends”), the hand-made item is a disruptive object. In a few short weeks, thousands of individual women and men have created tens of thousands of hats in a decentralized process that by-passes corporate control. Sure, some of the yarn is coming from Michael’s or Wal-Mart (“but not if I can help it,” says my mother-in-law), but it is also coming from independently owned yarn shops or grandma’s stash in the attic. The sea of pussyhats is a visual reminder that corporations do not have a monopoly on the means of mass production. Second, in a pay-to-play climate, the Pussyhat Project demonstrates a disruptive alternative by creating a gift economy. Gift economies benefit both giver and receiver without the exchange of money. The vast majority of knitters in the Pussyhat Project are giving their hats to marchers, not as a quid pro quo, not as charity, but as a statement of thanks and solidarity, akin to the way that civilians knit washcloths for soldiers during The Great War. The marchers are returning the gift by wearing the hats at the march, where they will serve as representatives for those of us who cannot be there. That is a valuable exchange, and it has the added benefit of creating interpersonal connections at a time when the nation is more divided than it has ever been. Finally, when tens of thousands of women wear the pussyhat in a demonstration of women’s political engagement, it becomes a banner of resistance. Women are watching. We will not be made to go backwards in our rights, our dignity, or our autonomy.
The Pussyhat Project, for me, ups the ante on that old bumper sticker “Perform random acts of kindness.” The knitters and marchers are showing what is possible when we perform organized acts of kindness. And that is the kind of world I want to bring about, for my children and for everyone.