Because textiles are such an integral part of culture, we give them meaning. One traditional, recurring subject is solidarity with a political group. This week, the week of an new presidential administration, has stirred up a lot of feelings*. Some of these feelings are being played out in pink, knit hats. Yay, for textiles, front and center again!
After a group of women decided that it would be awesome to march on Washington D.C. in protest of policies of the incoming administration, two women in southern California decided that it would be especially cool to have a symbol of this march. Both being knitters, they chose the idea of a pink knit hat. The ideas being that it is cold in D.C. in January and the marchers there would need something on their heads to stay warm. And that pink is a color traditionally associated with all things feminine, girly, dismissable. And that a sea of pink hatted people would “make a unique collective visual statement that will help activists be better heard.”
As I have said before, I am a knitter too, and so I am also making some of these hats. But this has become a wide-enough spread activity that people all over the country have been knitting these hats for months. People overseas have been knitting these hats to send people here in the U.S. out of solidarity with the concern for women’s rights.
This kind of group effort using a hand-created textile has a long history. I’m going to just provide a very simple thread (yeah, I meant to do that) for your ponderation. You can follow the links to read more. And you can come to the Research Desk at the FIT Library if you want help digging deeper.
One of the recent kinds of activism using knitting has been yarn bombing. On the theory that using traditional knit forms could add color to dull and ugly surroundings. There’s more too it than that for a lot of the “bombers”, but here is some background:
During the protests of the 1960s and ’70s, tie dyeing was a form of symbolism about embracing social change and diversity. It became associated with “hippy” culture and the era itself. It’s a DIY art, but several entrepreneurs turned their work into commercial successes as well:
I’ve mentioned knitting manuals whose purpose was to encourage women to knit for soldiers on battle fronts in past posts, but this trend/movement has continued from war to war.
Women were encouraged to knit for the poor and for sailors in the merchant marine as well. My favorite comment, from the “Helping the Trawlers” pamplet published in the openculture.com Knitting Reference Library I referenced in the “Keeping Warm” post above, is the letter where the sailors have requested that the magazine readers “knit other things in preference to the helmets and Uhlan caps”, as there were sufficient hats for all in need. We are enthusiastic when a cause is before us.
Suffragettes wore white dresses and sported sashes and accessories in particular colors as symbols of the cause. This was referenced in the white pantsuit Hillary Clinton wore in the 2016 presidential debates.
Susan B. Anthony, persistent and effective orator on the subject of women’s right to vote, was known for her signature red shawl. The Smithsonian Museum of American History has one of these in its collection:
During the French revolution, red, white and blue cockades were a popular symbol of revolutionary sympathies. Red hats were also a sign of allegiance to the working classes. Also, during the height of the “Reign of Terror”, a group of rich young men and women adopted the wearing of a red ribbon choker as a symbol that one had lost a family member to the guillotine.
For more about the “jeaunesse d’ore” and the Incroyables around the time of the French Revolution, we have books:
Finally, as early as the 1760s in colonial North America, rich young women spun linen and wove homespun to wear as a sign of their rejection of the luxurious British import silks coming into Boston.
Next time you get dressed, remember how much meaning can be in those threads upon your back! And enjoy your last week of winter break.
*This may be the understatement of the decade.