How Knitting Has Become A Feminist Act

Knitting has been a popular pastime for so long that it is difficult to pinpoint its origin to an exact time and place. Historians assume, however, that knitting originated in Egypt between the years 1000 and 1400 A.D. The craft then became more popular during the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe.

In modern culture and history, knitting has been described and associated as a very gendered hobby, most commonly with older women. Because of this, some people view women who knit as anti-feminist for partaking in something that conforms to a stereotype. Others, however, seek to reclaim knitting as something that can be enjoyed by anybody, no matter your age or gender, and something that can be a community-building activity. 

Anything related to gender is highly complex and personal; therefore it often becomes an imperative to dismantle harmful stereotypes and encourage new discussions.

The Origins of Knitting

The craft of knitting has evolved drastically over the centuries that it has been practiced. Now, you can find dozens of brands at Yarnspirations to buy any colour of yarn you could imagine and patterns to make everything from sweaters to pillow to bags. 

The earliest knitting remains found were socks found in Egypt. While it is possible that these weren’t the first of their kind and that it evolved from a process similar to knitting called nalbinding, it is the earliest trace that historians have been able to find of the craft. 

In the 19th century, knitting became a common leisurely activity for upper-class women, while lower-class women knit as a means of making money to survive. 

In school, when boys were taught math and science, girls were taught how to keep a home, raise children, and cook for their future families. Knitting and sewing were also part of the curriculum for girls only. 

Knitting and Feminism 

Interestingly, knitting was not even a primarily female occupation until the 20th century. There is a lot of literature to suggest that it was, in fact, an occupation for both men and women.

As our views of gender in society shifted in the late 1900s, so did the perception of knitting. When third-wave feminism became a movement in the 1990s, people viewed knitting as being so feminine that some women chose to stop knitting entirely so as not to conform to the stereotype. 

Reclaiming Knitting 

On top of being a source of income and a hobby for women throughout history, knitting has also been used as a political statement and form of protest called craftivism. For example, Sojourner Truth taught freed slaves to knit so they could sell their work and make a living. 

More recently, at the Women’s March in January 2017, women knit hats as a symbol of resistance in response to Trump becoming the President of the United States, although there were other negative connotations related to the knitted “pussy” hats, as they were seen as a trans-exclusionary symbol underscoring a lot of the complaints about white feminism in particular.

In Una Lorenzen’s documentary film ‘Yarn’, we see a handful of featured women who are reclaiming knitting as an inherently feminist act that seeks to disrupt not just general culture, but specifically the art world. The Icelandic director even talks about how she made this film as a way to show a new side of a hobby people think they know about:

“Some of the stories we hear in YARN are stories that many of us can relate to as women, stories about gender discrimination. So I think the film is an important input into the discussion on gender equality. In terms of the art world, our film clearly shows that there are gender issues within that “bubble” that need to be fixed. However, I believe that the film will be a reminder that creativity has no boundaries and the energy, power and talent that we see, goes to show that women can and will be doing amazing things, no matter the circumstances or location,” she said.

Whether you simply love knitting as a relaxing activity, or want to utilize this creative skill as a means of feminist protest, it is a hobby that anyone can and should enjoy.

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