In August 2012 a group of anonymous activists yarnbombed some public places in Newcastle, Co. Down in Northern Ireland. Yarnbombing is a key activist gesture in the arsenal of craftivists which I will discuss in more detail shortly after describing the gesture as it played out in Newcastle. The group who claimed responsibility for this yarnbombing was the Secret Outside Crocheters and Knitters or SOCK. This playful abbreviation immediately suggests a certain tongue-in-cheek humour which was also picked up in the local press who described the yarnbombing ‘attack’ in language that parodies the more common form of reporting from Northern Ireland following a literal bombing:
While the attack is believed to have taken place around 5am on Sunday, a local councillor said that it was lucky no children were harmed in the wool explosion: “If this attack had happened just three weeks and a few hours later, small children would most certainly have been on their way to school and could have been caught in the crochet cross-fire.
The fun that could be had with punning on the notion of bombing in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland was too much to resist and other reports stressed the way in which the yarnbombers or guerrilla knitters wore masks to cover their heads and disguise themselves in ways similar to those carrying out terrorist activities in the not-so-distant past. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-19293085
The term Craftivism was coined by Betsy Greer in 2003 when she described it as “Engaged creativity…bringing about positive change via personalised activism. Craftivism allows practitioners to customise their particular skills to address particular causes” http://craftivism.com/definition Greer blogs at this address http://craftivism.com/blog.html/2012/09/craftivism-party-of-one/
Try here too for a British network
One of the most scholarly works on craftivism and yarn bombing can be found here
This book is very comprehensive and includes lots of great patterns and ideas.
Moore, M. and L. Prain 2011 Yarnbombing. The art of crochet and knit graffiti, Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver
Tapper, J. (2011) Craft Activism, Potter Craft, New York
HOWEVER…although it might seem like a less overtly activist gesture than the public intervention of yarn bombing I’m convinced that knitting is itself an activist gesture. Here I’ll list some of the possible ways in which knitting can be explored as an activist gesture. These don’t even really scrape the surface but I’m looking at this blog as an exercise in signposting rather than as any definitive exercise.
Direct political intervention. Cat Mazza’s project is called Stitch for Senate. During 2007/2008 she knitted helmet liners for every member of senate based on patterns from Second World War to protest against American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq http://www.stitchforsenate.us/.
Lisa Anne Auerbach knits jumpers which incorporate political slogans and her collection Warm Sweaters for the New Cold War in 2006 directly address the ‘war on terror’. http://www.lisaanneauerbach.com/index.html
The Viral Knitting Project http://www.kirstyrobertson.com/viral%20knitting/viral%20knitting.html uses the binary code of a computer virus that attacks the indexing system of Microsoft Windows by translating the zeros and ones of computer coding into the basic knit and purl stitches of knitting. This has also been made into a video performance piece where knitters use the code as a pattern to knit the virus in red, yellow, orange and green, reflecting proportionally the number of days the US has been on each of these alerts since 9/11 (Turney, 2009: 213).
Anti-globalisation movement. An interest in microeconomics, recycling, reusing and fair patterns of trade can be developed through knitting challenging global trade, consumerism and over-consumption fostered by global capitalism. ‘Knitting has now become the chosen medium of the anti-capitalist protester, a means of demonstrating the power and discontent of the ordinary and individual in an increasingly homogenised world’ (Turney, 2009: 203). Exemplifying these ‘small gestures of defiance’ Kimberley Elderton knits consumer goods some of which have been displayed in an exhibition called Knit What I Want: PlayStation 3 (Turney, 2009: 197).
Consciousness Raising. Knitting is historically a collective activity best exemplified by the knitting circle (Turney, 2007: 175) and Greer suggests that knitting groups have been called ‘this generation’s answer to the consciousness raising groups of 1970s feminism’ (Greer, 2008: 59). Many knitters point to the joy of spending time with like-minded women, creating micro-communities and conscientising through activity as well as discussion. With the growth of social networking ‘the knitting circle has gone global’ (Turney, 2009: 176). MicroRevolt staged the Nike Blanket Petition in 2003 when 500 American knitters and knitters from 20 other countries donated knitted squares to make the Nike ‘swoosh’ to act as a petition of support of Nike workers in sweatshop conditions.
Finally… knitting makes you think about time. Many knitters will tell you about how it slows time down. Elizabeth Zimmerman who wrote Knitting without Tears said “Properly practised, knitting soothes the troubled spirit and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled one either. When I say properly practiced I mean executed in a relaxed manner, without anxiety, strain or tension, but with confidence, inventiveness, pleasure and ultimate pride”. This kind of thinking links knitting into the slow movement which isn’t about doing things at a snail’s pace but which calls for us to challenge the cult of speed; summed up by Honore as a living with a sense of balance. For me this also takes in questions of scale and links back directly to anti-globalisation.
That’s it then. In the words of Keith Farnish who has written Underminers. A practical guide for radical change “it’s the best I can do for now” http://underminers.org/
Greer, B. (2008) Knitting for Good, Shambala Publications
Turney, J. (2009) The Culture of Knitting, Oxford: Berg
Zimmerman, E. (1971) Knitting without Tears, Fireside