Gender & Identity, Gender, Life, Social Justice

Knitting was born out of a desire for femininity, but it became a feminist act of rebellion

Why knitting connects me to past, present, and future revolutionaries

The temperature has cooled, the nights are spilling over into daylight hours, and winter has arrived. I have always looked to the chillier weather with a feeling of melancholy. Gone are the summer days, the hum of cicadas and crickets, and the warmth of the sun on my skin.

But in the past few years, that melancholy has been also mixed with anticipation. It’s a time where I can create my own warmth through dinner parties with stews and hot apple cider, holiday celebrations, and hunkering down for crafts, like knitting. Knitting has always been a very meditative practice that makes me feel more productive. I’ve been doing it since I attended my hippy, nature-influenced high school where it was a requirement. The ability to take a ball of wool and turn it into a scarf or a blanket makes me feel grounded to the earth and the long history of knitters. I can take the time to create something for a loved one and with that gift, not only am I giving them an item but the time I devoted to creating it. With the consistent presence of technology and information in our lives, knitting provides me with a time where I can put this all aside, sit down and create something without having to think of anything else.

There is a lot of scientific thought to back me up on the benefits of knitting in my life. A recent UK study showed knitting has many mental and physical health benefits. In addition to slowing the onset of dementia, it can help combat depression and distract from chronic pain. In a 2011 Mayo Clinic Study, 21% of respondents said they believed knitting help with their arthritis and 70 percent said they believed it improved their overall health because it helped them relax.  Not only is it relaxing, but I would also argue that knitting can help break bad habits. When I knit, it gives me one thing to focus on with my hands. Instead of casually picking up my phone every few minutes while watching tv, I’m able to keep my hands busy, while still remaining in the moment. It satisfies my short-attention span and keeps me productive at the same time. I could see this working for someone who is a chronic snacker or a nail-biter.

There is also a history behind knitting and activism which connects across generations. Of late, we have seen many activists donning “pussy hats” in protest of the infamous quote. But practices like this go even farther back. Women were taught needlework as a part of their education. However, prior to the American Revolution, during the 1760’s, many women in the colonies would protest British taxes on textiles and other items by spinning their own cloth. Practices like these just a few subtle ways women found to rebel.

During the 19th century, knitting and sewing became traditions that middle and upper-class women took up for leisure or political causes, while low-income women required it to survive. However, it also provided important sources of income to key historical figures like abolitionist Sojourner Truth who would teach these crafts to emancipated slaves as a way to create a living. Throughout history, we see women co-opting knitting and sewing as a way to make a statement, from the French Revolution to the suffragette movement and even the 90s Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement as a way to protest corporations and mass-production.

More often, I’m seeing a continuous practice of using this craft as a means of protest. There are artists like the Instagram account fembroidery, who sews fierce, beautiful feminist messages onto patches and embroidery hoops or the practice of yarn bombing in which everyday objects are covered with knitted pieces. I see it in organizations like Yarn Mission, founded after the death of Mike Brown by a group of black women who wanted to “share space beyond the streets.” Knitting is a practice that was taught to us by those who desired a specific type of feminity, but we have co-opted that feminity into something powerful. I will keep using it as a way to express myself.