A new project, a festival, and a protest

The first event on my knitting calendar this month is the mighty Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Now in its fourth year, this grand celebration of all things woolly takes place in Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange and welcomes thousands of knitters, yarn suppliers and pattern designers. I’ve never been before and am giddy with excitement – the challenge will be not spending all my pennies before I’ve visited all the stalls… I’ll be blogging about my trip in detail over the weekend, and live-tweeting and Instagram-ing my way round the festival – let me know what you think of what I find!

Following up from International Women’s Day, did you catch BBC Radio4 Woman’s Hour this morning? If not, hop on over to iPlayer and start listening at 24.56 for a great interview with Sarah of Craftivist Collective, and Debbie from Haddington Spinners and Weavers. HS&W is a wool-addict supporters group based outside Edinburgh who meet to spin and weave, but are also involved in peaceful protest in and around the Scottish capital. For IWD they spun outside Holyrood and gave out piece of handpsun pink wool to MSPs, to remind them of the inequalities faced by women.

Sarah set up the Craftivist Collective in 2009 to encourage what she calls ‘gentle protest’. In her own words, this meant addressing the question:

“If we want the world to be more beautiful, kind and fair, then shouldn’t our activism also be more beautiful, kind and fair?”

They have a fantastic ten-point manifesto, guiding people through the concepts behind craftivism and encouraging them to take part in it – take a look at it here.

Both groups have inspired me to take craftivism more seriously. Whilst I have already had a go at making a pussy hat (with whatever I had to hand including the wrong size needles and a paperclip), I now want to test myself with something a little more tricky – and make a more attractive job of the finished product.

At EYF I am planning to pick up the wool for March’s projects, one of which is currently a secret, the other which will be a piece of craftivist or ‘protest’ knitting. One pattern available as a free Ravelry download thanks to Donna Druchunas is a ‘Resist’ hat; another possibility is a pair of ‘Piece de Resistance‘ mittens. What I really like about the gansey was being able to personalise it by including motifs relevant to the person who will wear it, and I want to includ this type of personalisation in March’s work.

I will also be using British wool. Yarn-buying is a type of political activism in itself; the power of the consumer to redistribute wealth one of the most effective methods of political protest. I want my yarn addiction to be environmentally sustainable, and to contribute to the economy of small women-run businesses wherever possible. I think EYF should be able to help…

tricotBut it’s not traditional, I hear you cry? Well, les tricoteuses (pictured left) were knitters at the time of the French Revolution – there’s over 200 years of protest behind us already. But it’s not British? Chartism, a mid-19th century political, social and economic reform movement, was supported and developed by, among others, those working in the UK’s domestic industries including weaving and spinning. The Luddites, acting at the beginning of the same century, were afraid that reliance machines would render the time spent gaining skills in weaving, spinning and other textile work worthless. Their way of protesting was to destroy stocking frames and other textile machinery that threatened their livelihoods. Weavers, knitters and spinners have protest in their blood.

I’m now toying with ideas about what colour to knit in it – and who I’ll be knitting it for. Two decisions I’ll need to make before the festival’s end tomorrow: but oh, the agony of choice!

PS – there are some great online discussions of craftivism at the moment. One of my favourites was a debate hosted by Pom Pom Quarterly, which is a really nuanced conversation about those hats with a lot of thoughtful views represented. I was particularly interested to find out how Baltimore yarn store owner Karida Collins, of Neighborhood Fibre Co, chose to name her pinkest yarn ‘Mondawmin’ after the Baltimore district in which Freddie Gray was killed. It was the yarn she supplied to everyone who wanted pink wool to make a pussy hat, thereby ‘subversively educating’ people who bought it about another important socio-political issue. Take a peek here:


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Marsha Willey says:

    esther, i am sharing your blog with all of my fellow ‘knittas’….. i think we will join you in your craftivism….
    love you….


  2. Hey thanks Marsha! So good to meet you on Friday and enjoy the rest of your trip – here’s the Icelandic Culture House I was talking about: http://www.visitreykjavik.is/culture-house. Lots of love 🙂


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