I don’t knit. Well, I knitted once. I was about 8 and it was meant to be a blanket for a doll I had. Somehow I cast on extra stitches by the row on one end and lost them on the other, and soon enough my rectangular blanket turned into an odd trapezoid-esque thing. And after about 30 rows I got bored. It was purple, grey and white, and even I could tell, right from the get go, that there was something, shall we say…. lacking… in my effort.
Knitting needles abandoned.
But I’m wondering if I might want to pick up those needles again. I’ve been reading Betsy Greer’s Knitting for Good lately. Greer’s notion of craftivism – a union of craft and activism – resonates with me… and it builds a connection between the kinds of carework that formed the basis for women’s activism in times gone by, with the interests that contemporary crafters and activists bring to the fore.
Craft has been, and continues to be, a way for women to claim citizenship, to give voice to the issues that concern them and their communities most, and to contribute to what might be deemed ‘the greater good.’
Here in Newfoundland, we need only to consider the efforts of the Women’s Patriotic Association, whose members knitted thousands upon thousands of pairs of grey socks for the men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and we can think, too, of NONIA, the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association. Through NONIA thousands of outport women knitted and sold their wares, in the process raising funds for vital nursing care in remote communities.
We can also look further, to the Faroe Islands, and the emergence of ‘266B-Bindiklubburin,’ a ‘knitting club’ formed to call on the government of the Faroe Islands to ratify measure 266b, a hotly-debated measure which would, in a radical departure for this relatively socially-conservative nordic nation, expand existing anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation. Knitting clubs, all-female social gatherings which convene around the act of knitting and include healthy doses of gossip, have sustained Faroese women’s community and identity from the eighteenth century onwards and remain a vital aspect of women’s communal life in most Faroese villages and towns, many of which boast numerous clubs. In this instance, the women involved in ‘266B-Bindiklubburin’ didn’t knit at all, but took on the club identity (or were assigned it by the media) as a way of further a political and activist cause.
We can look too, to the work of Swedish handcrafter, Kerstin Lindstrom, who brought together knitters from various parts of the world for her project, “Knitting in Circle,” which considers how we might imagine time through knitting. In this form, the lowly act of knitting – in performance – forms the basis for profound conceptual work in the areas of space, time and place.
All of this might be understood under the broad rubric of bodies and citizenship. I’d even argue that a broad definition of life writing – like those offered by Sidonie Smith, Julia Watson, Marlene Kadar and others – would allow us to consider all of this life writing as well, stories of self and community constructed and disseminated through the transformative power of craft.
High on today’s North American political agenda is reproduction. Every day brings more discouraging – well, let me rephrase – Every day bring horrific news as state after American state affirm their constitutional rights over women’s sexual and reproductive bodies. Texas’ controversial transvaginal ultrasound law has been lampooned by Gary Trudeau in a hard hitting series in Doonesbury this week. Ohio senator, Nina Turner, meanwhile, has turned the debate on its head, arguing that men who want access to Viagra need to have appointments with sex therapists and to provide letters from at least one sex partner. While The Onion has, typically, satirized the whole situation (and very effectively), the fact still remains that over 430 bills on reproductive issues have been introduced in the US, just in the last three months alone.
Add Rush Limbaugh’s slut shaming into the mix and there’s a whole storm brewing.
A few years ago, a loose group called Wombs on Washington organized themselves around the issue of reproductive rights and started knitting miniature uteri from a pattern available online (thanks to my friend and colleague Beth Pentney for introducing me to their work!). Now, in the wake of extensive yarn bombing initiatives through which often anonymous crafters have laid claim to lamp poles, phone booths, trees, bike racks, etc, in various corners of Canada, the UK and the USA, might it be time to reconsider that project? Where might we put our knitted uteri? Which lawmakers do you know that could benefit from one (or several)? Which public spaces might we claim? Could we hand them out, just as condoms are handed out? Could we craft installations? Could we organize knit ins?
The assault on women’s rights to their bodies is real. It’s chilling. And it’s not going away any time soon. Given the historic associations of knitting needles with illegal abortion, that’s a cause worth (re)learning to knit for.