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Knitting as a Revolutionary Act

The following discussion of needlecraft, especially knitting, as a 
feminist, revolutionary act took place on WMST-L in late April/early 
May, 2002.  For more WMST-L discussions available on the Web, see 
the WMST-L File Collection..
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 20:19:20 -0700
From: Lori Patterson <lapret @ ATTBI.COM>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
Does anyone know any good sources for the history of women's
needle/handicrafts as revolutionary acts? Stories of women sitting
"innocently" around a quilt while quietly plotting revolution? I'm
giving a presentation on knitting and I would like to tie in women's
crafts as sites of women's collective voice in feminism.


Lori Patterson
PACE Program
Graduate School of Education
Portland State University
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 23:09:44 -0500
From: Sarah Catlin Barnhart <sarahbarnhart @ MCHSI.COM>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
Try Linda Pershing's "'She Really Wanted to Be Her Own Woman': Scandalous
Sunbonnet Sue" in Joan Radner's _Feminist Messages_ pgs 98-124.  A group of
women get together and make a sort of "naughty" quilt, and Pershing
interviews them about it.  I don't think they plotted in a general sense
while they sewed, but making the quilt itself is a revolutionary act.

Sarah Catlin Barnhart
Department of English, University of Missouri
Office hours:  Tate Hall room 1
  Wed. 12-1:50 pm, Fri. 3-4:00 pm, and by appointment
(573) 875-5946
PLEASE NOTE NEW ADDRESS:  SarahBarnhart  @  mchsi.com
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 00:26:21 -0500
From: Ursula Rempel <urempel @ CC.UMANITOBA.CA>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
You might check Dickens' _A Tale of Two Cities_. Isn't it Madame
LaFarge (may have got the name wrong--no book handy) who sits
"knitting" as the guillotine falls?

Ursula Rempel
School of Music
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Canada

urempel  @  cc.umanitoba.ca
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 16:12:29 +1000
From: Emma Woodley <ej.woodley @ QUT.EDU.AU>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
Do you know of this web site?




Emma Woodley
PhD Candidate
Applied Ethics Research Concentration
School of Humanities and Human Services, QUT Carseldine.
room:  E113 Postgraduate Lab
ph: 3864 4758
email:  ej.woodley  @  qut.edu.au
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 23:43:54 -0400
From: Jennifer Harris <jharris @ yorku.ca>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
You might consider looking at:

Hidden in Plain View : A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad
by Jacqueline L. Tobin, Raymond G., Phd Dobard, Maude Southwell Wahlman,
Cuesta Benberry

which details how quilts and their patterns were used to pass messages along
the underground railroad.

There's also that great short story about how a woman is able to figure out
that a female acquaintance killed her husband because of the varying
qualities in her knitting. Kaye Gibbons re-uses it in _A Cure for Dreams_.

All the best,
Jennifer Harris
jharris  @  Yorku.ca
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 08:29:11 -0400
From: J Biddle <jandjb @ EROLS.COM>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism

You might try going to The Knitting Guild of America (TKGA) to see if
anyone there has any info.  There's a web site for TKGA, http://www.tkga.com

I'm sure there's a contact person who might be able to direct you.


Joan I. Biddle Ph.D.
LTC, USAR (ret)
jandjb  @  erols.com
jbiddle  @  straxmobile.com
joan.biddle  @  us.army.mil
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 07:51:17 -0700
From: Janni Aragon <jaragon @ COX.NET>
Subject: knitting/crafting
Hi. I noticed the various citations- but here are some web sites for
practical information about Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects. The first site
has many links, too.

Bitch Magazine also had an article last year about women and crafting.  See

www.mommyx.com or even www.hipmama.com might offer some more information
about the inner "knitter" or crafter in young women today. These might
complement the citations nicely.


Janni Aragon
Department of Political Science
University of California Riverside
jaragon  @  cox.net

"I often think that being a feminist minority scholar is what one is
reincarnated into for
being a male chauvinist in a previous life." Shirley Lim, _Among the White
Moon Faces_
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 11:06:22 -0400
From: Sharon Green <sgreen @ NIAGARA.EDU>
Subject: Re: knitting/crafting
I don't know if you could still contact these folks, but in the mid-1990's a
group dubbed "The Knitting Project" solicited donations of yarn and knitting
needles for women in Bosnia.  Their goal was to give women an opportunity to
rebuild their lives.  Here's the address and phone number that was on the
postcard I received in 1996 acknowledging my donation:

What Works for Women
Hartford Street Presbyterian Church
99 Hartford St.
Natick, MA 01760
(508) 653 - 4839

Good luck,
Sharon Green
Niagara University
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 09:42:56 -0600
From: Marilyn Grotzky <mgrotzky @ carbon.cudenver.edu>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
I'd check with Selma Miriam at www.bloodroot.com .  Bloodroot is a feminist
vegetarian restaurant that also sponsors weaving classes.  Selma herself
appears in Knitting in America, one of the great knitting books, now going
out of print.

Marilyn Grotzky
mgrotzkt  @  carbon.cudenver.edu
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 11:08:26 -0500
From: "Lichti, Esther" <ELichti @ HS.TTU.EDU>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
This isn't really history, but in the book "Native Tongue" by Suzette Hayden
Elgin, a group of women use a handicraft/knitting circle as a cover activity
for activities which turn out to be quite revolutionary.
Esther Sundell Lichti, Ph.D.
Women's Studies
Texas Tech University
Box 41162
Lubbock, TX 79409-1162
esther.lichti  @  ttu.edu
(806)742-2404 ext. 278
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 14:37:20 -0400
From: Maxwell Schnurer <Maxwell.Schnurer @ MARIST.EDU>
Subject: radical knitting
I'm sort of excited to see this inquiry about knitting agitation!

In my home town of New Paltz, there is a pretty radical all-women feminist
consciousness raising group called "Tea and Crumpets".  They meet once a
week & do some awesome stuff.  (I know because I'm part of a mens-only
anti-patriarchy posse that works as sort of an mens auxilliary to Tea &
Crumpets . . .)

But Tea & Crumpets does a lot of knitting.  Including making commerative
scarves for women who are in the group.  Several of the folks in the Men's
group are now knitting.  Not uncommon to have a party at my house & have
most people sitting around knitting while we are playing a game or

I also knew some of the folks who did a big knit-in during the FTAA
anti-capitalist demonstrations in Quebec.  Check out:

This is cool because it contests the increasingly popular ban on scarves
during anti-capitalist demos.  Witness NYC for the World Economic Forum
protests where donning a scarf or mask became a crime that the cops could
grab folks for.   Activists call to task this kind of legislation as
arbitary & silly.

And someone in the UK has written a short essay about knitting via Hakim
Bey's immidiatism.  http://www.zooleika.org.uk/rec/radical_knitting.html

Tons of good stuff here.  Might be worth a larger dialogue.

Here are my initial thoughts:

1.  Knitting is a traditional ID of women.  Method of reclaiming identity &
2.  Knitting is a physical manifestation of grief & anger (similar to the
AIDS quilt or domestic violence T-shirts)
3.  Knitting provides a cover for women's solidarity norms to emerge.
4.  Along with gardening and crafting, knitting meshes well with increasing
solidarity along young anarchists.  Strains of neo-ludditism filtered
through self-actualization of crafting.

best, maxwell, marist college
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 14:57:34 -0400
From: Beth Rushing <brushing @ MAIL.GCSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
The Knitting Goddess is an interesting book that intersperses knitting
lessons, patterns, and stories about women & fiber arts/knitting.
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 15:15:10 -0600
From: Mary Carruth <mcarruth @ ARCHES.UGA.EDU>
Subject: knitting and feminism
> See Majorie Agosin's book, "Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love," which
> chronicles how Chilean women used quilting as a way to protest the
> dissppearance of loved ones during the Pinocet dictatorship. Agosin
> also made a Peabody Award winning film about this, "Threads of Hope."

Mary Carruth

Dr. Mary Carruth, Assistant Director
University of Georgia
Women's Studies Program
1200 S. Lumpkin Street - Benson Building
Athens, GA  30602-3647
Phone: 706-542-2846 Fax: 542-0049
mcarruth  @  arches.uga.edu
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 12:38:09 -0700
From: Carolyn Wright <cw13215 @ YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: knitting/crafting
I believe tht Susan B. Anthony spoke at quilting bees
when beginning her campaign for women's suffrage.
See Lyn Sherr's Failure is Impossible (1995) Random
House Times Books.

Carolyn Wright
cw13215  @  yahoo.com
Date: Wed, 1 May 2002 15:57:06 -0700
From: Georgia NeSmith <georgia_nesmith @ lycos.com>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
This doesn't quite fit what was asked for, but it has the same flavor,
with a twist ---

A decade or so ago the women of the Des Moines Meeting of the
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) had a group we called, with a
giant tongue-in-cheek, "The Quaker Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist

We weren't actually plotting much of anything, except providing a
means for us all to gather together and talk about what mattered to us
and what we might do about those things, whether personal or of larger
social import. The purpose was mostly to build solidarity among the
women of the Meeting.

Yes, we all understood the implications of the word "Ladies." That was
part of the joke. (Just in case someone doesn't get it, along with the
absurdity of a "Quaker Terrorist.")

We didn't require anybody to sew or knit or do anything craft-worthy
in order to participate in the group. And those of us who did bring
such projects hardly ever did much with them anyway.

Nonetheless, a blind female member of the Meeting took grave
offense. She took the "Sewing" part of the title quite literally and
assumed she was excluded by her disability, despite all efforts to
explain to her that of course she was welcome and she would fit in
just fine. She also thought the "Ladies" part of the title was
politically incorrect, and just wouldn't accept it as irony.

The group was disbanded shortly after.


Georgia NeSmith, Ph.D.
Rochester, NY
georgia_nesmith  @  lycos.com
See my poetry, fiction, and other creative work at:
Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 00:24:22 -0500
From: "Kathleen (Kate) Waits" <kwaits @ UTULSA.EDU>
Subject: Knitting and feminism
I'd like to point out how many of the "knitting and feminism" cites are
Canadian.  In my opinion, this is no accident.

I'm an avid knitting and crocheter, and make blankets for charity
(mostly our local battered women's shelter).  I've spent a lot of time
searching for patterns on various web sites and craft listserves.  Those
in the U.S. very, very often seem to be very supportive of
"traditionally feminine" [what we could call patriarchal] views and a
lot of the language/approach seems to be fundamentalist Christian in

So.... there could well be research to be done on ANTI-feminism and
knitting too, at least in the U.S.

Kate Waits


Kathleen (Kate) Waits
Coordinator, Women's Studies Program
University of Tulsa

Associate Professor
University of Tulsa College of Law
3120 East 4th Place
Tulsa, Oklahoma  74104-2499

918-631-2450 (voice)
918-631-2194 (FAX)

E-mail: kwaits  @  utulsa.edu

Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 02:05:34 EDT
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
> There's also that great short story about how a woman is able to figure out
> that a female acquaintance killed her husband because of the varying
> qualities in her knitting. Kaye Gibbons re-uses it in _A Cure for Dreams_.

One of my favorites is "A Jury of Her Peers," by Susan Glaspell (also written
as a play called "Trifles"), in which two women figure out, from uneven
stitches in her quilt and a strangled bird in her sewing box, that Mrs.
Wright killed her husband - which the sheriff and other men suspect but for
which they can't find a motive.  The women keep their incriminating findings
to themselves.

Shirley Frank
Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 02:25:22 -0400
From: Judith Lorber <judith.lorber @ VERIZON.NET>
Subject: not knitting -- quilting
A teaching favorite is Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of her Peers" -- that's the
story where a farm woman kills her husband -- the sheriff and other men
come in and find no evidence -- the women come in and find plenty and
understand why she did it and they clean away all the clues -- her crooked
stitching on a quilt, her canary strangled, etc. It's a great gender
viewpoint, woman's standpoint story.

>There's also that great short story about how a woman is able to figure out
>that a female acquaintance killed her husband because of the varying
>qualities in her knitting. Kaye Gibbons re-uses it in _A Cure for Dreams_.

Judith Lorber, Ph.D.            Ph/Fax -- 212-689-2155
319 East 24 Street              judith.lorber  @  verizon.net
Apt 27E
New York, NY 10010

"Unless the past and future were made part of the present by memory
and intention, there was, in human terms, no road, nowhere to go."
Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed
Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 06:21:12 -0300
From: "V.Brideau" <vbrd @ NB.SYMPATICO.CA>
Subject: knitting/Material Culture

I completed BFA in Fibres (Material Culture) at Concordia University in
Montreal, Canada that was steeped in
social activism and expression both within the university proper and the
larger urban community.  Anyone with an interest in Fibres - it is a
beacon - http://studio-arts.concordia.ca/progra/fibres/

Would strongly suggest you contact Concordia.  For reading materials, you
could not find any finer book than The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker.
It is referenced well doing a cursory Internet search -

Good luck.  I'd be pleased to further any other information that might be


Valerie Brideau
New Brunswick, Canada
vbrd  @  nb.sympatico.ca
Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 07:56:17 -0700
From: Barbara Watson <mbwatson @ MAIL.SDSU.EDU>
Subject: knitting and feminism
In the 1970s female students in West German universities sat in lectures
and seminars knitting. Some professors got really upset because they
thought these students did not pay attention. Actually I wondered
sometimes, too, because some of the women did complicated designs. On the
other hand I found it amusing that a male professor might assume that a
woman could not hear or understand him while she was knitting a simple
pattern. It was clearly a sign of protest against the patriarchal
university by bringing in "a woman's thing". Those were creative times, not
only was a lot of knowledge produced but also many sweaters and blankets.
Today we speak of "multi-tasking", though I doubt that many would include
knitting in this package. Barbara Watson
Maria-Barbara Watson-Franke, Ph.D.
Department of Women's Studies
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA 92182
mbwatson  @  mail.sdsu.edu
Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 10:26:52 -0500
From: "Welch, Cynthia H." <welchch @ UWEC.EDU>
Subject: Re: knitting and feminism
I would not necessarily say it was a protest against patriarchy.  I,
too, went to university in the 1970's.  I used knitting and embroidery
as a way to keep me occupied during lectures. I learned to knit from
dorm mates who knitted in class.  In 1969 and 1970 we hadn't yet learned
the meaning of patriarchy!  We certainly weren't rebelling!

I found handcrafts in class helped me concentrate.  Today, they would
probably diagnose me as ADD.

Cynthia H. Welch, CPS
Women's Studies
UW-Eau Claire
welchch  @  uwec.edu
Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 15:19:55 -0700
From: scout <scout @ HOYDEN.ORG>
Subject: manly knitting
'lo All,

You might be interested in the following title:

Fougner, Dave.  The manly art of knitting. Photography by Marlene
Nordstrom Dassett. [Santa Rosa, Calif.] Threshold [1972] 64 p. illus. 21

This excellent book has a photo of a Marlboro-man looking fellow sitting
on his horse and knitting something with really big needles.


"clever quote here"
[test signature file]
scout  @  hoyden.org

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