January’s Women’s March, during Trump’s inauguration, saw millions of protesters wearing pink hats with ears. The original “pussyhat” pattern was created by Kat Coyle, although it’s a common kind of pattern; knit or sew a rectangular bag and put it on a spherical head and voilà! Ears form! Coyle’s hat has over 11,000 individual projects on Ravelry, and that’s just one pattern—and that number only includes the knitters who are on Ravelry. But women’s marches aren’t the only kinds of protest, and knitting isn’t the only medium you can use for “craftivism.” The new book Crafting the Resistance: 35 Projects for Craftivists, Protestors, and Women Who Persist, by Californian Heather Marano and Minnesotan Lara Neel, showcases a variety of projects in a variety of crafts for those looking to move beyond the hat.
Crafting the Resistance begins with an introduction to craftivism, a term coined by Betsy Greer in the early 2000s. The book makes it clear that craftivism isn’t a passive pursuit—Greer, on her website, links it to a long tradition of handcrafts supporting political causes. There’s also a strain of reclaiming traditionally feminine pursuits for all genders; the authors state quite clearly, “Cooking, darning socks, and any other handy skill should be a choice, not an automatic obligation of any gender.” And they make it clear that “we reject the false dichotomy of our lives being divided into the spheres of ‘home’ vs. ‘world.’”
The book is divided into three sections—On the March, At Home, and Around Town—and provides roughly a dozen projects in each category. Each one has an experience level, often qualified; the Clarity Vinyl Tote, for example, is rated as “advanced beginner” because of the materials involved. Many projects also have suggested pairings, such as a book to read or music to listen to while crafting, or an inspirational quote. The aforementioned tote, a clear bag for protests that require see-through carry-ons, is suggested to pair with 1984 by George Orwell: “Big Brother can look all he wants. Let him see our resistance!” Later projects feature quotes from social historian Anne L. Macdonald, a recommendation for a compilation album called Free to Fight! from Candy Ass Records, and a recommendation to channel Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s awesomeness while making a lace jabot-inspired scarf.
In her introduction, Lara identifies herself as a member of the Cherokee Nation and mentions Wilma Mankiller as one of her particular inspirations. While the majority of the women quoted in the book are white, and while the majority of the projects are aimed at people who identify as women, including references to reclaiming femininity and the color pink, the authors do nod to intersectionality. There’s a Black Lives Matter hat, and the opening to one project discusses how crafting allows all people to inhabit an ambiguously gendered space. No project is unique to any particular gender, though if someone doesn’t particularly identify with at least some measure of femininity, this may not be the book for them.
Generally speaking, these projects are for product crafters, not process crafters. A few, such as the Resistance Cowl and maybe some of the projects where one only hems things, are suitable for people like me who find the act of knitting or sewing to be pleasant in an of itself; overall, though, it’s about producing an item suitable for use. I did try one of the projects—the Snowflake Wristers, intended as a play on the “special snowflake” derision of liberal and left-wing sorts—which included a new-to-me technique, corrugated ribbing. (Here’s my Ravelry project. I’m the first one!) Because the projects are spread out through many levels (beginner projects include no-sew and no-hem projects, as well as a no-purl version of the pussyhat), the book does a good job of bringing in new craftivists and inspiring them to try new things.
On August 25, Lara did a book launch and signing at Knit & Bolt in Northeast Minneapolis, and I caught up with her briefly. She was very excited to see my (single) Snowflake Wrister, as she wasn’t the one who had written that particular pattern and hadn’t gotten to see one in person yet. She also told me that she can claim to be one of the few authors who in fact loves the cover of her book, because it features a picture of her cat, Travis, all 17 pounds of him, in the upper right-hand corner.
Indeed, the book features many pictures of her family and friends, in part because the authors did all the photography work themselves. This was due to the incredibly short timeline under which they wrote the book: contracted in March 2017, they turned it in on May 1 and it hit the shelves on August 22. The short timeline bears no relation to the quality of the book; the pictures are excellent, and the patterns are well written. The introductory material, especially the tips and tricks, contain information that will be useful for newer crafters as well as those of us who have been knitting and sewing for years, and the projects range from the eminently useful (the vinyl tote, the security waist belt) to “I had no idea I needed one of these” (the snowflake wrist warmers) and “I’d love to try that!” (any of the wool-felting projects.)
A number of the projects are in the punk-DIY vein as well, such as using transfer paper and fabric markers on T-shirts (the authors recommend thrifting them) to make a statement even if one can’t sew or knit. The book doesn’t have instructions on how to start sewing or knitting, but those can be easily found on the Internet, and reading the patterns can be an inspiration to all.
“I hope the patterns are accessible to everyone,” Lara said at the book signing, “because not everyone is a master crafter, you know?” Not everyone is, but everyone can be a craftivist, and this is a good place to start.
Crafting the Resistance by Heather Marano and Lara Neel is available from Skyhorse Publishing.