Knitting as a Political Act

Knitters (and nonknitters) came together around the world on January 21, 2017 to make history. At the Women's March on Washington, held in cities big and small around the world, a sea of pink hats could be seen. This isn't the first time that knitting has been used as a political tool to promote positive change. Around the world, knitters have come together and used their skills to create public awareness about the causes that matter most to them, and to promote equality, freedom of speech, awareness of environmental issues and justice for all.

This last Saturday, I was one of the millions of people around the world who attended the Women’s March on Washington. One of the millions of people who had came to the realization that they could no longer stand by and do nothing.

For every act of intolerance, the world must respond with inclusiveness, and kindness. For every act of ignorance, and hate, we must respond with compassion and love. 

Not only do I identify with that statement, but I also identify as a knitter. So when I realized the enormous impact that knitters around the world had been having via the PussyHat Project, I was both impressed and in awe.

Image found on Twitter: @rmayersinger via www.pussyhatproject.com

It’s inspiring to think that something as simple as two knitting needles and a ball of yarn can be used to help propel a revolution forward. Knitting has been shrouded with stigma and stereotypes for decades. It’s associated with visions of old women sitting knitting away in rocking chairs, with younger generations unenthusiastically holding up that not-so-attractive handknit sweater that Grandma made. But it represents so much more. That in an age of people bent over their smartphones in public places, we can still create something beautiful with our own two hands.

That we don’t have to buy that super cheap blouse on sale for just $6, made by a factory worker in Asia.

That we have a choice. And with that choice, comes empowerment.

It got me thinking, of all the various ways that knitting can, and has, been used as a political tool all over the world throughout the years.

1. In protest of nuclear warfare

Wool Against Weapons was formed in 2012 with the purpose of knitting a 7 mile long scarf to connect the Aldermaston and Burghfield nuclear weapons establishments in the United Kingdom, where nuclear weapons are made. Thousands of people from all over the world came together and sent in handknit scarves, and they reached their goal in time for August 2016, on the anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped by the U.S. in Nagasaki, Japan.

2. For the environment

The Knitting Nanas Against Gas (KNAG) knit at protest events to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of unconventional gas mining and to make their voice heard.

Other knitters, such as the Rock Vandals, have used yarnbombing to voice their concerns over environmental issues such as the 1985 sinking of the Manolis paper carrier ship which was carrying hundreds of liters of oil in Atlantic Canada. This shipwreck has been described as a “ticking time bomb” before a greater oil leak occurs.

And what about Margaret Wertheim, the math scientist/crocheter who uses crochet to recreate and raise awareness about our disappearing coral reefs.

3. To break down stigma and stereotypes.

A group of men in Chile known as the “Hombres Tejedores” (Male Knitters), knit in public to break down stereotypes society holds about men’s and women’s traditional roles in society. It can be tough to break certain stereotypes that we’ve firmly held throughout history. Which is precisely why challenging our assumptions of how both men and women should behave in public is so powerful.

4. To beautify urban spaces

It’s a concrete jungle out there. Our urban spaces are filled with flashy billboards interspersed with shades of grey. Occasionally, some well meaning graffiti artist brightens things up by ‘creating art’ on the side of a building. Unfortunately, the recipient of the artwork (i.e. the building owner) is not always appreciative of the gift, and it often results in money and time to paint over the art before it happens again.

Yarnbombing is the art of decorating public spaces with yarn. One of the main advantages of yarnbombing, as opposed to street graffiti, is that it’s entirely removable, and leaves no trace once removed.

Yarnbombers such as Made by London have used this to their advantage, creating colorful and innovative displays in public places.

This is just a small handful of the ever growing number of ‘craftivists’ who are using knitting to create positive change.

Think about that, the next time you notice someone knitting next to you.

They could very well be knitting up the next revolution, stitch by stitch.

3 Comment

  1. Armenuhi says:

    Wow, I had no idea, i just knew of the PussyHat Project. This weekend was so amazing and so empowering, glad you could go!

  2. Jonathan says:

    I have a question. Does the wool become all old, gray and disgusting when your leave it outside after a yarnbombing session ? Does someone cut your work off after a while ?
    Thank you Mrs. Wooly.

    1. Susanne says:

      Although I don’t have any personal experience with yarnbombing, I have heard that it is extremely important as a yarnbomber to check in on your yarnbombs every so often to make sure they are still in good shape, and replace them if necessary. Because yes, if you live in a urban area with a lot of smog, traffic, and people, chances are it will not take long for your yarnbomb to be in need of a replacement. Signed, Mrs. Wooly.

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