I had the very good fortune to be at the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum recently for a “creative conversation”, one of their free-to-members featured events.

This particular conversation featured Adrienne Sloane, a longtime knitting activist! She said that the work she’s been doing has largely been in response to what was going on in the world at the time.

Adrienne’s studio is at the Munroe Center for the Arts here in Lexington. One fine example of her work, “The Unraveling”, a work in progress, is a knit American flag against the backdrop of the United States Constitution, according to the timeline of the current administration. The piece is currently on exhibit at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton and also featured in Fiber Art Now Magazine.

“The Unraveling”,Image provided by Adrienne Sloane

We were a small group of individuals who came out to hear Adrienne’s presentation entitled, “Needling the Establishment: Knitting as a political act”. We had been invited to bring our own knitting to do before the presentation, or we could participate in a group knitting project, which involved “unknitting” some vintage knitted sweaters and knitting them into something new.

After about an hour, we moved from the couches to a small seating area for Adrienne’s presentation.

Art with a point

She began with a (very brief) history of knitting (which began in Egypt and the Middle East), showing a variety of thread and fibre images and where knitting had been placed front and center.

A knitted Union shawl presented to Massachusetts Governor Henry Andrew in 1861
French painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “The Knitting Woman”, 1869
African-American abolitionist and activist, Sojourner Truth, visited refugee camps of former slaves, teaching them how to knit as an economic necessity

Children worked in factories, especially knitting mills

Photo display, Amoskeag Mills, Manchester NH
Amoskeag Mills, Manchester NH

Adrienne talked about Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 – November 3, 1940), an American sociologist and photographer who used his camera as a tool for social reform. Between 1904 and 1909, Hine took over 200 plates (photographs) and came to the realization that documentary photography could be employed as a tool for social change and reform.

In 1907, Hine became the staff photographer of the Russell Sage Foundation, photographing life in the steel-making districts and people of Pittsburgh PA for the influential sociological study called, The Pittsburgh Survey.

Child laborers in glasswork, Indiana, 1908

1910 through 1920s, children were taught how to knit in American schools
Knitting for Victory during the WWI campaign, “Knit Your Bit”, 1918
“Knit Your Bit Again” revived the campaign during WWII

The National WWII Museum has made “Knit Your Bit Again” patterns available HERE

“The Old Knitted Flag”, made by Delson Knitting Mills

Excellent examples of artists known for their knitted social commentary and wartime knitting include Cat Mazza, Marianne Jorgenssen, Barbara Hunt, Dixie Brown, Sabrina Gschwandtner, Janet Morton, Dave Cole, and Granny Peace Brigade.

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