antique textiles craft activism Knitting political knitting

“Knitting Isn’t Political”?

The Peterloo Massacre By Richard Carlile (1790–1843) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  A blue banner saying ‘Liberty and Fraternity’ is still extant.  See here:
Anyone in the fibre arts world would have to have been living under a rock, in the past week, to have missed the delicious controversy, involving a certain orange buffoon, here:


Reading through the comments, one point made by the pattern’s detractors, really got my interest.

Knitting isn’t political.

Yes, right.

Textiles have always been interwoven with political life and dyed deeply with partisan  lifeblood, like it or not.  We can see our humble textile arts as a sort of retreat and escapism from daily life; or a way of engaging with those things that trouble, impact or interest us.  We can also see it as both, at different times in our lives, as those things – escapism and engagement with reality – wax and wane.

But knitting isn’t political? Where to start?

Not just knitting, but all textiles are political. Revolutionary hats, tricoteurs, defying the stranglehold on economies and textile industries by the British Empire with a movement advocating homespun (America, India),  the Rational Clothing movement that segued into suffrage for women,  Garibaldi’s red shirts being dyed in the Yorkshire Dales, English Civil War and American Revolutionary Wars standards; in fact, banners and flags of any nation at any given time in history… Not political?

And then there was my own historical passion – the Luddites. At the height of the Peninsular War (and the Luddite rebellion), there were more soldiers posted to protect mills from attack here in Yorkshire, than there were soldiers stationed in the entire Peninsular, fighting the War. Textiles, on every level, whether mass produced or homemade, are always political.

Knitting has always been as intertwined with political life, as any other kind of textile.

From the banners at Peterloo, to the sea-green green ribbons worn as armbands by the Levellers, to the French Revolution’s “Sea Green Incorruptible” Robespierre, to the charka wheel, symbol of Gandhi, and beyond, the fabric of life is the fabric of protest.

Published in May 1812 by Messrs. Walker and Knight, Sweetings Alley, Royal Exchange. This cartoon may have been satirical.  Luddites sometimes  disguised themselves; although usually not in this way. Their ‘otherness’ to the establishment,  made fairly clear, here.  Via Wiki Commons.



6 replies on ““Knitting Isn’t Political”?”

Indeedy. I’m doing a talk in July at the York Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers and am told a few members of the lovely team who recreated a bit as the Stamford tapestry, are going to be coming along too. So this is something I’ve been thinking about again – quite apart from the justified actions of Ravelry, yesterday, which has brought this issue to the fore.


Thanks for a thought provoking post and for illuminating some bits of history I didn’t know. Here is the US, my local public tv station is rerunning old episodes of the “Sharpe” shows. It was set in the Peninsular wars but a recent (to me) episode has the hero posted to Yorkshire to guard a textile factory and ending up in something that was very close to Peterloo. I thought it was creative license on the part of the writers but now see the actual events were much worse than portrayed, and quite probable that a British soldier could have ended up there. Always nice to get some of the real story behind the fiction.


And on a slightly different but still political note, there is a group of Hobart ladies who call themselves “The Knitting Nanna’s” . Every Friday they sit in the main shopping mall in Hobart and knit as they peacefully protest the detention of children in offshore camps by the Australian Government. The blankets they produce go to the refugees but more importantly their presence in the city rain or shine draws attention to the cause.

Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.