In this episode, we’ll talk about the Woven Road KAL, a pattern book in the stash, a new wine and yarn pairing, and early evidence of plant fiber in the archaeological record! Oh! And how not to put a deer in your trunk.
Craftivism is the practice of engaged creativity, especially regarding political or social issues. Fiber art and textiles have played an integral role in the history of our species, and the history of our contemporary cultures, and it is often impossible to imagine a time when clothing did not serve a multitude of purposes. Because fiber and clothing were valued so highly by communities everywhere, it is no surprise that textiles have, throughout history, been highly involved in social communication and political uprisings.
Craftivism both plays on and challenged the female stereotypes about domestic craft, but it also embodies and reclaims the value in this rich history of traditionally feminine culture.
Women have been involved with fiber and textile production for tens of thousands of years.
Clay Venus figurines recovered from France that date earlier than 20,000 years ago, depict a large woman with a shapely body, wearing a string shirt around her waist, covering a small portion of her backside. This tradition (slightly more modestly) has continued in a small way to this day. Scientists believe that this depiction refers to a very early adornment that sought to represent and emphasize the female’s sexuality, framed with the placement of spun threads.
Elizabeth Wayland Barber, professor at Occidental College in California and foremost authority on prehistoric textiles, says that it is only common sense that textiles became the responsibility of women. Since women are the only parent available to feed infants in prehistoric societies, it makes sense that their other tasks should be compatible with caregiving. These tasks needed to be stationary, safe, repetitive, and easily interrupted. Textile production certainly falls under all of those requirements, and the two tasks naturally went hand in hand.
As time went on, these gender roles, perpetuated by adherence to tradition, gave women an indispensable, yet overshadowed seat in history. They held together their communities by providing necessities, and doing their duties by caring for their families. They didn’t have time to start wars, they were too busy milking the goats and weaving clothes to keep their children warm and hope they all survived the winter. But when they were needed, when there arose a cause that was important to them, women spoke out; not with a campaign, or by running for office (since that was illegal throughout most of human history), but with their own unique skill set.
Knitting and activism dates back to the French Revolution, where women sat by the guillotine and knitted red hats during executions.
Knitting and activism dates back to the US Revolutionary War, when women began spinning their own wool, and knitted clothing for soldiers instead of importing them, a defiantly patriotic act.
Knitting and activism dates back to 1860, when UK textile designer William Morris created a crafting movement, to speak out against the industrial revolution in favor of a simpler lifestyle. He denoted 4 components of craft activism guidelines: unity in design, joy in labor, individualism or imperfection that comes with handmade objects, and regionalism, which basically meant sourcing material from a place that embodies your mission.
Knitting and activism dates back to the 1st and 2nd World Wars, when handmade goods were valued as the rationing of material goods was important for the ‘war effort’. American, British and Canadian women volunteered to knit and sew clothing for soldiers out of love and support. During the first World War, women donated over a million pairs of hand-knit socks to the troops. In the 2nd World War, soldiers received 26,000 sewn or knitted clothing items that were put together by female volunteers in just 6 days! In addition to that, 420 items of clothing were made and donated to refugees.
Today, we remember this. We remember all of the love that was shown through the abstract looping of string around sticks of wood, through the mundane pressing of a needle through sheets of fabric. Whether for practical necessity, or for non-functional art, the value and meaning remains. Fiber art today makes just as much of a statement as it has for the last several thousand years. Fiber artists around the world are using their craft to communicate with one another as a symbol of community and hope, just as women did during the local-wool movement of the Revolutionary War.
Barb Hunt, an artist in Newfoundland, is known for an exhibit they created in 2013, where knitted replicas of land mines were displayed. In an interview, Hunt said “There is a close association of knitting with caring for the body. Bandages for soldiers were once hand-knitted, and women still knit socks for soldiers overseas, and for the homeless. Thus knitting functions as a metaphor for recuperation, protection, and healing. In Antipersonnel [exhibit], I use these associations to contradict the abuse of power and the use of violence, by transforming a destructive object into one that can do no harm”.
Micaela Hardy-Moffat writes that craftivism is “a revolution that [crafters] hope will bring people together into peaceful, wholesome communities despite the immorality that weighs so heavily upon society. As well as featuring work by various knit artists across North America, [the Revolutionary Knitting Circle] specifies that people of all ages, ethnicities, classes, and genders are welcome to participate, articulating the significance of inclusiveness that craftivism upholds.” She highlights some groups that are currently working to encourage expression through fiber art. “The Revolutionary Knitting Circle calls upon people everywhere to take up the struggle through the tools of local production. We shall bring forth not only our voices raised for global justice, but we shall rise together, with the tools to liberate local communities from the shackles of global corporatism”
The lessons we can learn women’s use fiber craft as a tool for communication throughout history is universal. It is not longer only women’s work. Fiber art is being engaged with and used as expression by all genders, today.
Hardy-Moffat writes, “Craft artists and social action groups are thus driven to create their art in conjunction with a framework dedicated to political change and constructive protest. Through the manipulation and exploitation of stereotypes that lie in the assumed innocence of knitted artwork, the familiarity and gentleness of craft art has become a tool for assertive social action.”
Around the world, local groups are getting involved with using fiber craft as a means to change their society for the better, and reach out to their communities. In Chile, knitting men have taken to the streets in visual protest, and also host events to teach men to knit, working to breaking down prohibitive stereotypes and embrace creative hobby.
The PussyHat project has taken the world by storm, encouraging folks to wear handmade pink cat-eared hats as a visual statement in support of equality, but also in local, small-scale production as a bridge that brings communities together in creativity and compassion.
Fiber arts have been consistently employed as a political and social communication tool when women were not allowed to have a voice. It is inherently expressive, and to decide what art is or is not allowed to express would be to silence the human spirit.
When we engage in fiber arts, we honor the work and the risk that our ancestors took to give us a better life than they had.
As our foremothers and forefathers did, let us create. Let us stitch up a brighter future.
The Ghost of the Aran Sweater
There was a bitter wind blowing from the east
and I grabbed my work in progress
My husband was busy cooking our annual fall feast
And I was in the way; that was obvious.
So I headed out to a local park
To settle myself on a leaf-covered bench
It was evening, now, ‘bout an hour ’til dark
And raining a bit, though not enough to be drenched
Happily I sat, needles clicking away
The bright autumn leaves were whimsically windblown.
But the longer I sat, the sky darkened to grey
And I began to feel that I may not be alone.
As if some pending doom had sat down beside me
Some Sleepy Hollow spirit with a pumpkin for a head
It was then that this stranger revealed their identity
And cause for this sudden feeling of dread.
For my eyes drifted down twelve inches below
From the row that I was knitting,
And I spotted an large cable twisted the wrong way.
Come on! You’ve got to be kidding!
Then around this heinous new discovery,
I saw ten stitches had been dropped!
How was I ever to mend this to recovery?
So I sat there, staring, and shocked.
“How could I have missed this?! A mistake so far back,
I must be the worst knitter in the world”
I nearly gave myself an asthma attack
When I realized a row of knits had been purled.
I sighed heavily, breath condensing in air,
And held my nearly finished aran sweater at arms length
I knew deep down what I had to do now,
And searched my soul for the strength.
The sky grew darker, just one street lamp shone
The brisk autumn wind whipped in mocking.
I slowly pulled the wooden needles from the stitches,
And I sat there, alone, and began frogging.
All the knitters in Yarnsville start to double check their ply
When the Unraveler slinks into town half-past-five.
This mischievous terror plays all sorts of tricks
Such as replacing all of your purls with knits!
It unravels those stitches you created with precision
Leaving a tangled up mess is its mission.
Just as you start to smooth out the heap
You realize the fiber isn’t from a sheep!
Yes, the Unraveler has hidden your cashmere and wool
All the vibrant colors are now woefully dull.
Any project you attempt will feel so pathetic
If all you have to work with is synthetic.
All of your hard work has been all in vain
You won’t finish holiday gifts in time once again!
The clock starts ticking
Neglected projects start twitching
The Unraveler thrives on your lack of progress – it’s sickening!
You begin to concede - you’re not worthy of tweed!
You can find others who, like you, check the dye lot
To be sure the end result is what you sought.
So you can present a loved one with their new favorite clothes,
That warm their hearts, fingers, and toes.
Yes! With each other’s support there’s no fuss.
The Unraveler stands no chance against us!
Now try a new pattern; questions and advice can be shared.
Knitters uniting = Unraveler beware!
- Kayla Pratt
Sheep with the pumpkins
Eating the grass and the weeds
Helping pumpkins grow
I wore a wooly costume
Sheep followed me home
- Paul, Age 11
The Skein From Hell
I am the blood red skein from hell,
Within your project bag I dwell,
Waiting my time to near,
To wreak havoc and sow fear.
Though I am but fifty grams,
And come from the purest coats of lambs,
I am evil to the core,
I’ll drop your stitches to the floor,
And with anguish you shall cry,
When your projects go awry.
Knots and tangles I have many,
And I cost a pretty penny,
If your game of choice’s “yarn chicken”,
With frustration you’ll be stricken,
For I’m too short (and yet too long),
Not quite right (yet not quite wrong).
Knitting lace? I’ll have you frogging,
I’ll give your fingers a right flogging,
You’ll work late into the night,
And you’ll awake all in a fright,
For your work will all have vanished,
All your effort will be banished,
Back into your project bag,
And your heart and hopes shall sag.
Of despair, I am the queen,
The meanest yarn you’ve ever seen,
And though my soul is most unclean,
I wish you Happy Halloween.
- Mike Red
There once was an old spinster that lived on Walnut street. She was lonely and wanted a friend. She bartered some sheep food with a young shepherd to buy his orange wool. Unknown to her, the wool was enchanted by the evil wizard who transformed himself into the young shepherd. The old spinster spun the yarn and knit pumpkins for the trick or treaters. Halloween was the only time of the year the lonely old spinster ever had visitors to her house.
The old woman knit 15 pumpkins. She put the first five in her yard and gave the remaining ten pumpkins to the children who came to her house. She went to bed that night. At midnight, the enchanted yarn turned the pumpkins into evil pumpkins. Pumpkin vines grew and grew and grew. Tentacles wrapped around every piece of candy that they touched.
The two heroes took them apart with their weapons. Yeah, the pumpkins are gone. THE END
- Ted, Age 8
Knit, Knit, Purl
It was a late winter’s eve and there I sat in my chair
All cozy and nice while outside a storm was in the air
Knit knit purl
Knit knit purl
I was working on a sweater, it was almost done
Just a few more rows now, knit two, purl one
Knit knit purl
Knit knit purl
The thunder thundered and the rain pittered and pattered
On my window, when suddenly the silence was shattered
Someone, something? Was knock-knocking on my front door
My introvert heart skipped a beat, it gave me such a fright!
Who’s there? what’s this? It’s almost mid-night!
I put my work down and snuck to see
Who’s outside? Why now? Why me?
I opened the door
and no one was there
Only the wind and the rain and nothing but air.
Then! Behind me I heard, upon the hardwood floor!
Skittering and scattering, claws on wood!
Oh no! I knew that sound, it was not good!
I ran back to my chair and my eyes opened wide
My sweater was gone! Where did it hide?
Under the chair -- I saw -- as I looked down
...And my cat, going to town
Rip! rip! purr!
Rip! rip! purr!
Gossamer threads of a web
Remind me of Arachne
They send stories through my head
As I spin in the wind.
What will this weave?
Dreams are woven into each piece;
Good, bad, and unusual.
I bet Arachne didn’t expect her fate.
The thump of the lazy kate,
Out of my reverie.
Plying is done.
In my hands the wool will make. . . What shall be its fate?
- Victoria Boehmer
Advisory: This post uses some explicit language.
Textile art can be therapeutic, soothing, creative, joyous; all things that make us come back for more and seek solace in during times of laughter or grief. One thing is certain, however, not every project runs as smoothly as we initially imagine it will.
When this happens, we see a darker side of self-expression, one that brings with it a sharp tongue. If you do lose your temper with your knitting, crocheting or weaving, you can now do so while staying within the theme of your pattern.
So we have composed a collection of various verbal expressions in languages associated with textile traditions around the world. This gives you a library of cuss words and phrases, with which you can adequately express your frustrations in the language where your particular textile tradition is from! We hope this will make your "oops!" moments, a bit more bearable!
(Please note that some of these are phonetic transcriptions and are not written in their correct script.)
"Yah khara!" - "You shit!"
"Ya lbn el sharmouta!" - "Son of a bitch!"
"Nique ce putain de tricot!" - "Fuck this shit knitting!"
"Fjandinn taki þennan andskotans prjónaskap!" - "Fuck this piece of shit knitting!"
"Ertu að fokka í mér?" - "Are you fucking with me?"
"Það er allt í fokki!" - "It is all fucked!"
"Djö fulli vel gert!" - "Fucking well done!"
"Faen ta dette jævla strikke helvete!" - "Fuck this shit knitting!"
"Drit i det." - "Screw that."
"Breiddjame!" - "Son of a whore!"
"Morrapuler!" - "Motherfucker!"
"Joder este mierda tejido de punto!" - "Christ, this shit knitted fabric!"
"Manda huevos..." - "Fucking hell..."
"Me cago en la mierda!" - "I shit on the shit!"
"Fan!" - "Dammnit!"
"Hujeda mig..." - "Dear me..."
"Cachu hwch." - "Pig shit."
"Dim gwerth rhech dafad." - "Not worth a sheeps fart."
Have anything to add? Let us know!
(Thanks to: Haukur, Aymeric, Travis, Håkon, Aja, and Óli!)