I am fascinated by how knitting has become a powerful tool for political action. Below are just some examples - I am sure there are plenty more!
In Australia, the Knitting Nannas Against (Coal Seam) Gas, use their knitting needles and their craft in their protests against coal seam gas. Watch this Knitting Nannas video and listen to the women who are part of this movement. The beauty of the project is that it is far more than a protest group against coal seam gas - it is a movement that brings communities together and builds new connections.
As one of the women says in the video: "We have always been conservative national party voters, and now to be protesting outside our national party member's office every Thursday (laughs) with the knitting nannas… people from all socio-economic groups… hippies, people with piercings, farmers, musicians, we're all friends now... And I think we always will be, whether this is a long fight or not."
Australia is not the only country where knitters come together to build communities, raise awareness or create projects that encourage people to talk about controversial or complex issues.
The 2013 yarn bombing of the Panzer tank outside the Military History Museum in Dresden is another example. A group of female artists called for knitters to help knit a 'cardigan' for a Leopard 1 tank outside the Military History Museum in Dresden. The project proceeded with the cooperation of the German army (the Bundeswehr). In fact, the video below (in German only) was produced by the Bundeswehr and posted on the Bundeswehr Youtube channel.
The project attracted a wide range of participants, from young hipsters to older women who had experienced the second world war themselves and wanted to share their stories and their experiences with war. The Bundeswehr was initially sceptical but decided to participate and allowed for the project to go ahead.
As the speaker for the Bundeswehr explains in the video: "It wasn't just a funny idea, but this is about what art actually is, namely communication. Communication about war and violence." The narrator continues: "And communication continues now not only in the Louisenkombinat (the artists' group), but in the Military History Museum."
Not everybody agreed with the project. While many thought that the fact that the Bundeswehr was willing to participate in this project showed that they were part of a modern democracy, others felt strongly that this was demeaning to the army and downplayed the seriousness of war and should not have been allowed.
Of course, using knitting to support a worthy cause has a long history. In World War I, women were asked to knit socks for the soldiers and knitting became part of the patriotic war effort. The Australian War Memorial has this Knitting Poem in its collection, which asks women to do their part:
Reminiscent of the World War I effort, charity knitting projects in Australia ask people to knit and donate blankets to the homeless, to knit pouches for injured kangaroos looked after by Wildlife Rescue or to help children in hospital with beanies, caps, socks or jumpers.
And then there are the Chilean "Hombres Tejedores", the men who knit in public to raise awareness for equality and against violence. Below is a video of one of their recent public appearances in November 2016 at the National Art Museum in Santiago de Chile.
The latest very prominent edition of political knitting is the 'pussy hat' movement which made its first appearance when thousands of women were wearing handmade pink "pussy hats" during a protest march against US President Donald Trump. It has since morphed into a wider women's rights movement. If you are looking for a pattern to make your very own "pussy hat", have a look at their website at https://www.pussyhatproject.com.
(In case you are wondering, yes, we do stock pink yarn - have a look at our pink yarns across all our yarn qualities, from cotton to wool!)
So why is it that people knit for charity or for political causes? Sometimes, the reasons are clearly practical: Knitting is a way to keep others warm, although one could argue that donating money to buy clothes could sometimes achieve the same thing and possibly be more effective.
However, as all the above examples show, knitting is also - and maybe even more importantly - a tool to connect people and their causes. Charity knitting is more than the act of donating an item, it is a way of creating connections - connections between the donor and the recipient or recipient organisation, but also connections between knitters who may get together and jointly participate in these projects. The result is more than 'just' providing people or animals with warm garments, blankets or other items, it is a creative and active way of strengthening our community.
Maybe knitting is so effective as a political tool precisely because it is essentially a private craft, something usually done at home or in a circle of friends. Bringing the personal out into the political sphere makes the protest itself very personal and powerful. The Knitting Nannas look pretty harmless with their knitting gear, but seeing burly police officers arrest knitting grandmothers for their protest against coal seam gas highlights the power imbalance between between big corporations and the people who are trying to defend the communities and the environment they are part of.
The pussy hat movement could have asked people to don a pink baseball cap or any pink hat. Instead, everyone wore something they had made themselves or that someone else had handmade for them. This creates an interesting effect - while every person (men and women) is wearing the same style of hat and the same colour, each hat is different, highlighting the individual as well as the community.
Knitting is also a craft that allows you to slow down, to focus, and to be creative. As such, it is an antidote to the consumerism and the buy and throw-away culture that is so pervasive in our modern society.
I am interested to hear what you think of knitting as a political tool. Do you think this is a good idea? Do you participate in any projects yourself? Do you have an idea for a knitting project that you would like to promote? We would love to hear from you!