Archive | activism + protest.

The positive side of things, because after all, activism is not a 4-letter word.

Week #10 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Hannah Ryggen!

Hannah Ryggen is a Norwegian weaver who made amazing political tapestries. I had never heard of her until I started talking about craftivism to a museum curator in Oslo, who then introduced me to her work. That’s one of the things I love most about craft, there’s always something or someone new to discover, uncover, and learn about!


Born in 1894 in Sweden, Hannah Ryggen moved to Ørland, Norway, in 1924 where she lived most of her life until her death in 1970. Originally trained as a painter, Ryggen adopted weaving and tapestry as a medium to reflect her social and political engagement. Among her most important exhibitions are a solo exhibition at Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1962), and participation within the Nordic Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia (1964).


The story of Hannah Ryggen is far from the classic tale of the contemporary artist born and trained in the big city, the fulcrum and hotbed of the edgiest scene. Instead, it is that of a leftist, pacifist woman, in love with nature, who lived on a farm far away from it all, on a Norwegian fjord, where she wove tapestries. These large works combine abstraction and figure, and not only address timely topics of the day—the invasion of Ethiopia by the Italians, for example—but also express dissent—regarding the execution of the communist Herrmann, or the war in Vietnam—or admiration for those who refuse to be swayed by questionable positions.

Ryggen’s political commitment is demonstrated in tapestries dedicated to the executed German communist dissident Liselotte Herrmann (Lise Lotte Hermann Halshuggen, 1938) and to the imprisoned left-wing humanist campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize-winner

“I am a painter, not a weaver; a painter whose tool is not the brush, but the loom.”


A self-taught weaver, spinning and colouring her own yarn with plant-based dyes, Ryggen created works that came to be characterized as ‘Tendency Art’ – art with socio-political and critical contents. With the medium of weaving, she commented on Fascism and Nazism’s emergence in Europe in the inter-war years, and Norwegian politics in the post-war years.

Ryggen never drew preliminary designs before beginning to weave; she was experimental, but had a clear idea of how the end result should look. Most of her pictorial weavings are characterized by an explicit social and political protest that is executed in a daring, original and personal style.

No one followed directly in her footsteps, yet she is considered important, not least because she was the first Norwegian textile artist to be accepted as a bonafide pictorial artist. Her works, moreover, were purchased by Norway’s National Gallery and were, in 1964, the first textiles to be included in the Autumn Exhibition – a prestigious, juried event.

A story about one of Ryggen’s special forms of protest in her Norwegian homeland has been handed down. During the German occupation of the country—up to seven thousand German soldiers were stationed in Ørland during the Second World War—the artist hung her critical tapestries on a laundry line next to her house, where they were very visible. In 1924 Ryggen and her husband had moved to a small farmhouse in Ørland, “the adventure of our lives,” as the artist herself wrote. Prior to that, but after working as a teacher, she had received a thorough academic education in painting. Despite their remote location, she and her husband, the painter Hans Ryggen, attentively followed the developments of the European avant-garde. Furthermore, the artist—a pacifist and an avowed reader of political writings—was active in the Norwegian communist party in the 1930s and was an early advocate of feminist ideas.

Week #7 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Knitting and WWII!

“Week” #7! Knitting and WWII! I know that many of you think you already know a lot about this subject, so I’ve tried to dig up some gems that you may not already know about… But first, this amazing gem from the 1943 film Mr. Lucky, where we see Cary Grant… knitting… for the war!


The knitting was done as much for morale as for practical purposes. It gave people a way to feel that they were contributing to the war effort — similar to Victory Gardens and scrap metal drives. Of course, none of these three activities was exclusively symbolic: all three of them served to support the war effort and free up resources needed elsewhere.

vintage war knitting on Pinterest

How knitting was used as code in WW2: During the Second World War the Office of Censorship banned people from posting knitting patterns abroad in case they contained coded messages. There was one occasion when knitting was used for code. The Belgian resistance recruited old women whose windows overlooked railway yards to note the trains in their knitting. Basic stuff: purl one for this type of train, drop one for another type.


This newspaper article is about a Mexican woman in the United States who used her sewing skills to support her sons fighting in the U.S. Army.

The quilt Mrs. Maria Salazar made was originally going to be sold to finance her trip to Mexico to visit relatives, but she reconsidered and donated the money to support the efforts of the Red Cross and ultimately of her three sons fighting in the war. Her name, address and the names and ages of her sons are listed in the old newspaper article.

The amazing story of Jim Simpson, who was a WWII POW who knitted this sweet rug. More here.


During the War the Women’s Institutes and other patriotic ladies held knitting circles, influenced by the slogans on the hoardings, etc, with the reminder that “If you can knit — you can do your bit”. So they knitted for the Army, Navy, Air Force and ARP workers. Knitting patterns were printed called “War Knitting” and Sirdar Wool Company produced wool specially dyed in service colours, i.e. khaki, navy blue, Air Force blue and grey. They knitted pullovers with long sleeves, sleeveless pullovers, gloves, balaclavas and other garments which were lovely, cosy and warm.


Women have always knit, but in wartime, knitting was one of the ways that women could show their patriotism. During World War II, the United States harnessed this energy with the campaign, “Knitting for Victory”.

Eleanor Roosevelt launched the effort at a Knit for Defense tea held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in September 1941. There are many photos of Eleanor Roosevelt knitting – she merits an exhibit of her own. In the meantime, here’s this comfy photo of her knitting while she still resided in the governor’s mansion in New York in 1932, just before FDR became President.

A lovely Counter Craft post about knitting and WWII with further links


World War II: Knitting became more of a civilian job as organizations like the American Red Cross pushed it as a way for those on the homefront to contribute to the war effort. Many civilians formed groups like the Little Norway Knitting Club in Butte, Montana (pictured below) to create socks and sweaters for soldiers. However, there are also records of soldiers held prisoner in Germany unraveling their own sweaters and reknitting them into socks with improvised barbed wire “needles” – knitting was not demilitarized yet.

Many of the earliest knitters for World War II had knit for Victory as children or young adults during World War I. Knitting was for them a natural and immediate response to war. “The men hardly have time to grab their guns before their wives and sweethearts grab their needles and yarn,” claimed Time on July 21, 1940. Knitting provided warmth and comfort for the soldier and therapeutic distraction for the knitter.


WWII knitting and sewing songs

A huge number of women on both sides took up knitting at the outbreak of the great war to provide socks and comfort for men in the trenches. While machine-made socks had long surpassed home-made socks, hand-made garments were important as they were a practical way to reassure men in trenches that people at home where thinking of them. It was also an important way for men and women at home to contribute their talents to the war effort. A poem sent to Stars and Stripes during WWII addressed ‘To Peggy’ shows that their efforts were appreciated: ‘Squatting in gleaming camp fire rings, in sunshine and in wet, i’ll wear these oozy knitted things, and never will forget, that all that floss was gently rolled From Skien to rolling sphere, by dainty hands I loved to hold, far far away from here.’


More related links:
*Stitching a Protest
*Knitting Paradise forum thread on knitting and WWII
Make, Mend or Spend?
*Smithsonian Education PDF on civic responsibility during WWII
*An interview with Rohn Strong on his knitting patterns for WWI and WWII

Week #6 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, WWI Knitting!

So I started this project for two reasons: 1) to tackle my own personal issues with discipline (and I’m struggling to work through that… my current battle? Not paying attention to the calendar and letting time slip through) and 2) to learn more about historical craftivism. But the truth is for this one, WWI knitting, even though I’m keeping it to 2 hours of research, just kept being too daunting, given all the work being done all over the world for others. However, I am determined to get 48 acts up in 48 weeks, so there may be some fudging of the technical “weeks” on the calendar while I push through my own discipline issues… Apologies to all you (k)nitpicky readers out there…

Anyhoo… here we go… WWI knitting! This was especially daunting because we all know that there was knitting for the troops in WWI. But, where do we go to look for more information? That seems to be the question on this topic. So, I’m linking to various archives and fonts of information here as the breadth is too much for 1 (or even 100) blog posts.

The “Grey Sock” pattern by Irene Victoria Read: Knitting for Victory: Transatlantic Propaganda in WWI & WWII

Volunteer work on the homefront: America During WWI and WWII



A knitted garment of one kind or another takes on and transfers a certain energy from its maker to its wearer, I believe, and there’s something incredibly moving about the sort of touch that a homemade sweater or pair of socks permitted. From the hands of a wife, mother, grandmother, sweetheart, sister, or benevolent stranger to the body of a soldier, knitwear crossed the divide between home and battlefield.

Needlework and Knitting Instructions for First World War volunteers over on Scribd uploaded by the British Red Cross

The trenches of France and Belgium were muddy and constantly filled with water. As a result, soldiers were prone to a painful condition called Trench Foot. The only cure was for them to keep their feet dry and change their socks regularly. Soldiers in the trenches were supposed to have at least three pairs of socks and change them at least twice a day. Since hand knitting was time consuming, Associated Field Comforts began to supply knitting machines to people who would try to turn out from seventy-five to one hundred pairs a month. Assistance from the people of Hamilton was regularly acknowledged by the overseas contingent. In November 1915, 27,892 pairs of socks were sent to the Front from the city. By 1916 there were Four Canadian Divisions at the Front, resulting in a greater demand on the Association for socks. Various church clubs and volunteer groups began contributing to the output of Associated Field Comforts by supplying large quantities of knitted articles for the men overseas.

Aside from raising money, school children of both genders participated in knitting clubs to produce goods to send to the troops at the front. In order to make their patriotism known to their older countrymen, New York’s children also participated in patriotic parades and memorial services both during and after the war.

The “Knit Your Bit” poster you may very well be familiar with, but check out the other posters here related to WWI propaganda:


More info on Irene Read, and her “Grey Sock kit,” complete with teeny tiny photo of said sock kit!

grey sock kit

Soon after the war began, women and girls were knitting socks, scarves and balaclavas, for the soldiers. They knitted at home, on trams, in churches. When they ran out of knitting needles, they made new ones from bicycle spokes: when they ran out of dye, they used onion skins and wattle bark; when they ran out of wool, they learnt to spin their own.

– Jan Bassett



There are also 2 older posts here about WWI and knitting, which you will find here and here.

This photo is probably the most fascinating… it’s an interned German doing macrame at Fort Douglas…


And in keeping with last week’s post about the Civil War and knitting, here’s a little bit from the wonderful book No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting:

“At the sound of war, former Civil War knitters quickly surfaced. One eighty-eight-year-old who had accompanied her husband on Civil War assignments taught knitting to children in a Takoma Park, Maryland, church. Many still-spry United Daughters of the Confederacy who once knit for “Johnny Reb” now contributed over 600,000 knit articles for “Sammy.” Instead of gloves or stockings, a grandmother who proudly snapped on her Red Cross button “in place of her accustomed brooch” made “stump socks” to fit over amputated limbs. Seventy-two-year-old Mrs. Mitt Osgood, who lived on a Montana cattle ranch eighty miles from a railroad, knit 18 pairs of socks in twenty days and completed 120 pairs between February and September, 1918.”

Week #5 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, (American) Civil War Knitting!

Knitting for the troops is an idea that has been around for a long time. As such, I’ve decided to use 4 of the 48 weeks on knitting and war, the (American) Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. While all efforts made similar things for soldiers, for each war there was a unique set of tools (some would say propaganda, depending) used to get the word out about the initiative. As these tools are not too widely known, I’d like to share them here, along with a number of accounts related to knitting for the war. Have any that I missed? Got a historical craftivist event that you’d like to write about? Get in touch either through the comments or through email.

Below are quotes (which take you to further reading material) and photos that I’ve found on the subject, in case you’d like to learn more.


“South Carolina resident Mary Chesnut commented in her diary late in the summer of 1861, “I do not know when I have seen a woman without knitting in her hand.” In the North as well as in the South, knitting needles clicked incessantly during the Civil War years (1861-1865).

Although machine-knitted stockings were widely available, they were considered inferior to handknit stockings and wore out quickly from the rigors of long marches and insufficient washing.

The call for handknitted stockings went out throughout the country. Stories of soldiers going barefoot or suffering from blistered, swollen, and infected feet from wearing their boots without stockings spurred females young and old to take up their knitting needles.”

Savanna [GA] Republican, October 19, 1863
Socks for the Soldiers
By Carrie Bell Sinclair

Oh women of the sunny South
We want you in the field;
Not with a soldier’s uniform,
Nor sword, nor spear, nor shield;
But with a weapon quite as keen—
The knitting needle bright—
And willing hands to knit for those
Who for our country fight.
Then let the cry go far and near
And reach you every one—
Socks! socks are needed—send them on
For every gallant son!
Shall those who bear the Summer’s heat,
And Winter’s cold and rain,
Barefooted trudge o’er bleeding fields,
Our liberty to gain?
No! Georgia’s daughters will arise,
And answer to the call;
We’ll send you socks for our brave boys,
Some large, and others small.
With every stitch we’ll pray that God
Will shield each gallant form;
And while they fight with willing hands
We’ll work to keep them warm.
Our brave boys shall not bear alone
The burden of the day,
We’ll toil for them with willing hands,
And watch, and hope, and pray!
With useful hands to work at home,
And fighting men abroad,
We’ll conquer if we only place
A holy trust in God.
We cannot sit with idle hands,
And let our brave boys fight;
Not while the motto on each heart
Is Liberty and Right!
What though we cannot wield the sword,
We’re with you, hand and heart,
And every daughter of the South
Will bravely act her part.
We’re in the field—then send us thread,
As much as you can spare,
And socks we’ll furnish for our troops,
Yea, thousands through the year.
Ho for the knitting needle, then,
To work without delay.
Hurrah! we’ll try our best to knit
A pair of socks a day!

civil war knitting

From Knitting America, A Glorious Heritage From Warm Socks to High Art:

p. 46: In August 1861, a Virginia woman was the voice of many Confederate women during the early months of the war: “We are now very busy making clothes, knitting socks for the soldiers. Each lady proposes making one hundred garments – some are making mattresses, preparing bandages and knit nightshirts and comforts for the wounded – all are doing the most they can to add to the comforts of the soldiers.”

P. 48: “Knit socks, mittens, gloves, and scarves could also forge intimate links between knitters and soldiers, a link that, at times, helped a soldier survive. The father of Mrs. I. E. Doane walked for six months after he was released from a Yankee prison at the end of the war. After reaching his South Carolina home, he told her his own story about knitting: “a profitable little trading business he had developed while in prison. His initial stock consisted of some knit gloves, socks and other articles which his wife had sent him. It had been very cold that winter and these warm articles of clothing were in great demand.”

December 22-1863
Knitting the Socks.

The following lines were found in a bundle of socks, sent by a “Lively Old
Lady,” in Amherst, N.H., to the U.S. Hospital, corner of Broad and Cherry
streets, Philadelphia.

By the fireside, cosily seated,
With spectacles riding her nose,
The lively old lady is knitting
A wonderful pair of Hose.
She pities the shivering soldier,
Who is out in the pelting storm;
And busily plies her needles,
To keep him hearty and warm.

Her eyes are reading the embers,
But her heart is off to the War,
For she knows what those brave fellows
Are gallantly fighting for.
Her fingers as well as her fancy,
Are cheering them on their way;
Who under the good old banner,
Are saving their Country to-day.

She ponders how in her childhood,
Her Grandmother used to tell –
The story of barefoot soldiers,
Who fought so long and well.
And the men of the Revolution
Are nearer to her than us;
And that, perhaps, is the reason
Why she is toiling thus.

She cannot shoulder a musket,
Nor ride with Cavalry crew,
But nevertheless she is ready
To work for he boys who do.
And yet in “Official Dispatches,”
That come from the Army or Fleet,
Her feats may have never a notice,
Though ever so mighty the feet!

So prithee, proud owner of muscle,
Or purse-proud owner of stocks,
Don’t sneer at the labors of woman,
Or smile at her bundle of socks.
Her heart may be larger and braver
Than his who is tallest of all,
The work of her hand as important,
As cash that buys powder and ball.

And thus while her quiet performance
Is being recorded in rhyme,
The tools in her tremulous fingers
Are running a race with time.
Strange that four needles can form
A perfect triangular bound;
And equally strange that their antics
Result in perfecting the round.

And now, while beginning “to narrow,”
She thinks of the Maryland mud,
And wonders if ever the stocking
Will wade to the ancle in blood.
And now she is |”shaping the heel;”
And now she is ready “to bind;”
And hopes if the soldier is wounded,
It will never be from behind.

And now she is “raising the instep,”
Now “narrowing off at the toe,”
And prays that this end of the worsted
May never be turned to the foe.
She “gathers” the last of the stitches
As if a new laurel were won;
And placing the ball in the basket,
Announces the stocking as “done.”

Ye men who are fighting our battles,
Away from the comforts of life,
Who thot’fully muse by your campfires,
On sweetheart, or sister, or wife, –
Just think of their elders a little,
And pray for the grandmothers too,
Who, patiently sitting in corners,
Are knitting the stockings for you.

~ published, Tuesday, December 22, 1863
Republican Advocate, Batavia, Genesee County, N.Y.
*transcribed & submitted by Linda Schmidt

Besides instilling ideas of womanhood and religion in students, teachers also stressed patriotism. For example, George Washington’s birthday in 1862 was celebrated at Ohio Female College with fireworks, a balloon ascension, and the singing of national songs. Gilchrist happily wrote, “We were excused from the regular Saturday morning study hours and visiting was in order all day.”81 As the Civil War progressed, schools all over the country encouraged patriotism by organizing groups of students to aid the war effort by knitting, sewing, and performing benefits.82 At Ohio Female College, Gilchrist wrote, “The girls are making lint for the wounded soldiers now, just to think what it is for.”83

A pair of handknitted Civil War mittens up for auction:


Unrelated, yet related:

“The Civil War surgeon could often be wounded or even killed. Hospitals sites were chosen close to the line and where water was available. Improvisation, particularly for the Confederate surgeon, was the name of the game. Hunter McGuire on the adaptability of the Confederate surgeon:

The pliant bark of a tree made for him a good tourniquet; the juice of the green persimmon, a styptic; a knitting needle, with it’s point sharply bent a tenaculum; and a pen knife, in his hand, a scalpel and bistoury. I have seen him break off one prong of a common table fork, bend the point of the other prong and with it elevate the bone in a depressed fracture of the skull and save life.”

“Wives, mothers, and sweethearts sent Christmas packages to their special loved ones; women’s organizations sent boxes filled with food, books, and clothing to companies and camps. Richmond resident Sallie B. Putnam wrote in her memoirs, Richmond during the Civil War, that the ladies of the Confederate capital diligently knitted socks, mittens, and scarves for soldiers. According to Putnam, antebellum Richmond had become so dependant on manufactured goods that most young women had not been taught to knit but gladly learned as their part in the war effort.”

[Little Rock] Arkansas True Democrat, July 25, 1861, p. 2, c, 3
An Appeal to the Women of Arkansas.

It has been wisely suggested by a contemporary that the patriotic women of the country should knit socks for the volunteers. In addition to this we beg leave to call the attention of the true hearted women of the country to
some other points.

There will be, if the war continues, a scarcity of blankets, woolen cloth, flannel, etc. These our soldiers will need. As regards blankets, each family can spare some. Those who stay at home can use counterpanes and comforts. The latter are easily and cheaply made, are warm and will supply the places of blankets in the house.—Let the ladies, or to use a better and nobler word, the women, set about making comforters for their beds, and be enabled to send blankets to the army. Except in cases of sickness, the use of blankets in the houses can be dispensed with. . . .

Week #4 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Arpilleras

A few days late on this one, thanks to traveling, but here is week #4, about the arpilleras of Chile and the arpilleristas who made them.


During the reign of Augosto Pinochet (a dictator in power from 1973 to 1990) in Chile, men were disappearing and the government wouldn’t tell the people who were asking why. Women were allowed to go once a week to the local government office and ask, but no one would tell them anything. (According to some reports, during his time in power, over 3,000 people were killed and around 30,000 were tortured.)

Added to all of this was that people couldn’t talk to each other because they didn’t know who was supplying what information to the government. Under the safety of the church, the Archdiocese of Santiago, set up a human rights organization where women could come together and make tapestries about what was happening.

Folk lore has it that Peace Corps volunteers smuggled these tapestries out of the country (often with little pockets in the back containing paper with more information) and that is how the world found out about what Pinochet was doing.

Below is more information taken from various sources around the web. Clicking on the text and on the photos will take you to the initial source. As you will see, these pieces are still being made as people remember “the disappeared” (los desaparecidos).


It began with a group of mothers, almost 14 mothers. They met in morgues, hospitals, former tribunals of justice, and realized that all the elements that were such an important part of Chilean society were closed. Completely vanished. And they sought help by contacting a newly developed organization that was a branch of the Catholic Church, called the Vicariate of Solidarity. The Chilean Catholic Church took a very courageous position towards the disappearances and abuses at the hands of the Pinochet government, very different than in Argentina or Guatemala. The more I think about this story, the more I believe that it’s a story of belief – belief, magic, and storytelling. The women that suffered the most, as we know throughout the stories that we see in the media, as we know through Katrina, were the disadvantaged. The poor. Poverty is also a punishment for authoritarian governments. These women were trained in the most traditional art of femaleness in Latin America, which was to sew, to embroider.

The colourful patchwork scenes make the arpilleras visually deceiving. Using a traditional form of folk art, they mix coded imagery with contemporary history. They depict the often tragic situations experienced by thousands of Chileans every day. These honest and sometimes brutal accounts provided future generations with a popular version of history, one that contradicted the official version depicting General Pinochet as the savior of Chilean democracy. The circulation of the arpilleras outside Chile brought this alternative history to the larger world.

Just as they went unrecognized as revolutionaries, the arpilleristas were also unrecognized as artists. This, along with the folk art appearance of their work, initially helped them remain under the military authorities’ radar. Exporting arpilleras became illegal once they were seen as anti-Chilean, but they continued to be smuggled out of the country.


In this arpillera [above], Violeta Morales is outspoken about Chile’s infamous history of torture, which was long unknown in the wider world. As Co-ordinator of the group Sabastián Acevedo, which was primarily concerned with the issue of torture, she was relentless in ensuring that people everywhere were informed of the widespread use of torture in Chile. With other women, she founded the Folkloric Musical Ensemble of Relatives of the detained-disappeared, as: “…we also wished to sing our message of protest.”
Agosin, M., (2008)

Violeta Morales died in 2002, never having found her brother Newton, who disappeared in 1974.

(You can see more photos here, which are linked to more explanation regarding their creation.)

“The arpilleras were often made from clothing of the disappeared and the names of missing loved ones can be found on some pieces. Other sewn words and expressions were simple protests: Dόnde estás? Where are you? The censorship that characterized Chile under Pinochet’s dictatorship defeated written words that opposed his regime. The handwork of the arpilleristas testified for the oppressed and detailed the struggle for truth and justice despite the suppression of the military government.

Bold lines and colors relayed powerful messages depicted in folk-like scenes. An arpillera of a woman dancing signifies how women now performed the national dance La Cueca alone with the fate of their husbands unknown. Other images depict military violence, bloodshed and armed figures.

The arpilleras were made during clandestine meetings in dark basements or churches. The sewn testimonials of suffering were sold by the women so that their messages were released into the world and so they could feed their families.”

More reading:
*Roberta Bacic’s amazing online collection of arpilleras
* A Visual History of the Poor Under Pinochet
*Chilean Women’s Resistance in the Arpillera Movement

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