1. The same can’t be said for Trump’s team, including his senior lawyer:
Perhaps in the wake of NPR’s headline comparing pussyhats to red trucker hats, some have begun to ask whether the hats were made in the USA (unlike Trump’s “Make America Great Again” trucker hats, which categorically were not).
For knitters, crocheters, sewists, quilters, and other folks generally involved in the making of stuff from fiber, yarn, and fabric, that’s a question with good odds of giving offense. Heck, when I first saw the tweet from Team Trump’s senior lawyer Michael Cohen, I was totally like “how very dare you, Michael Cohen!” I started asking rhetorical questions, like “Does this guy really think these are being churned out in sweatshops?” and “Wait, does he think people bought these hats?” and “Has he been living under a rock for the past few months, or… oh yeah, duh.” But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized how very revealing this question is — because of things every textile crafter knows.
Here are some possible reasons why someone might ask where pussyhats came from!
2. 1. They’ve never made anything by hand themselves.
For people who do make stuff by hand, it’s easy to forget that for someone who never has, it all looks like magic. I find that pretty much anyone who makes stuff by hand, whether it’s a textile (like knitted, crocheted, or sewn hats), or woodworking, or metalworking, or pottery, or lovingly bitsmithed digital imagery, can find common ground with anyone else who does — we’ve all heard people say “You know you could just buy that, right?” and we all know people who think the ultimate compliment about something handmade is “Wow, that looks like you could have bought at a big box store!” (this really needs some sort of “headdesk” animated gif or something.)
For people who’ve never made something by hand, basically, the only way they’ve ever gotten something is by purchasing it. Let that sink in for a moment; this one is deep, with all kinds of implications. Imagine living in a world where you have to buy every single thing you want; where you can’t just make something; and where everything, by extension, must be for sale.
3. 2. They’ve never met anyone who makes anything with fiber, yarn, or fabric.
I suppose this is possible, but by the numbers, it’s unlikely. In the USA alone, the Craft Yarn Council of America estimates that 53 million women know how to knit, crochet, or both. That’s not counting knitters who don’t identify as women, and not counting those who sew — for whom firm numbers seem trickier to find, but as an industry in the USA, home sewing has been estimated as being a 30 billion dollar industry. So by the numbers, even the ones we can’t pin down easily, it’s likely more people in the USA had the capacity to make a pussyhat, than voted for Trump (61 million).
4. 3. They don’t get that makers make stuff to make ourselves feel better.
I know, right? It seems so obvious to those of us who, when the going gets tough, go to the craft/hobby/making supply store for a new project — to those of us who deal with stress and worry by trying to find something constructive to do with our hands. But there’s a group of people whose image of dealing worry and despair doesn’t look like descending on the yarn shop in hopes of finding a project to take our minds off stuff, but instead like… I don’t know, maybe sitting on a mattress on the floor of an otherwise empty room lit by a bare lightbulb dangling from the ceiling over a fedora into which they’re flipping cards while hoping the bottle of tequila doesn’t run out before sweet oblivion finally comes?
I’m really not sure; I can admit I don’t really know how people deal and process if they can’t make things with their hands as a coping mechanism. But I personally know an uncountable legion of knitters, crocheters, and sewers who made these hats practically nonstop starting the week before Thanksgiving. If you knit or crochet and have been in contact with the knitting and crocheting population of the USA — and let us recall, that’s a population of 53 million women plus an uncounted number who don’t identify as women. And as to the folks who sewed pussyhats, well, there too, I saw folks buy fabric and make multiple. Like usually a half-dozen or more.
5. 4. They have no idea how big a project a hat is — or isn’t.
To put this in perspective, one day my family got on a plane in California to go visit family Ohio, in February. “Crap,” my husband said as we were getting ready to leave the house, “I don’t even have a winter hat right now.” I grabbed a ball of my handspun yarn and a crochet hook and threw them in my carryon bag. I started the hat (more complex than the pussyhat) when we boarded, and it was ready for him to wear when we stepped off the 4-hour flight. As to the knitted pussyhat, one friend of mine cast on for hers at 11pm on January 20th, got a few rows in, had a regular night’s sleep, and was done in time to wear it to her local rally starting at 11am. For the sewn one, your major time sink would probably be going to the fabric store, or if you don’t have a dedicated sewing space, clearing the table and setting up your machine.
That’s not to say nobody made fancier, more complex variants — but everything about the pussyhat patterns was intended to be beginner-friendly, inexpensive, fast, and easy. The kind of easy that means you wouldn’t rule it out as a first project for a brand-new crafter. The kind of easy that makes experienced crafters roll their eyes and say “I can’t believe I’m knitting another one of these things,” and still others make modifications and go their own route.
6. 5. They don’t know any of this stuff because they’ve dismissed everything involving fiber, yarn, or fabric as feminine.
C’mon, seriously, why would a normal manly man know anything about any of that stuff, amirite? I mean, it’s almost as if this possible reason could serve as a starkly ironic example of why women might make a shitload of pink hats and march, isn’t it? I say screw it, let ‘em keep thinking that; it makes organizing the radical crafting circles that much easier when we know there’s a whole crowd of people who’ve already written us off and won’t even be trying to infiltrate. But this leads me to my final list item, the one I think is probably the single biggest factor.
7. 6. They’re just not knitworthy.
Although it’s been knitters who use this particular word, the same premise applies everywhere: is this someone who rates the time and effort you’d have to put into making something for them? Will they care for this handmade thing? Will they value it? Will they appreciate it? Will it end up thrown in the washer and dryer and shrunk and felted? Will your hours of work end up being used like a rag? Will the recipient make a comment like “Wow, I really prefer this one I bought as an afterthought in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart?” Perhaps this will end up being another story where the young, idealistic knitter sobs in their hands about how Cousin Mike asked for a sweater last year and everyone thought he was serious so they made it and Mike used it to scrub the toilet, while the grizzled veterans find themselves saying things like “Well, when I rule the world with an iron fist wrapped in an elaborate intarsia glove made of handspun qiviut, my propaganda wing will leaflet crowds with instructions on the care of handknits!”
So, yeah: odds are no knitter (or crocheter, or sewist, or quilter, or… yeah) ever deemed Mr. Cohen (or the others following suit asking where pussyhats come from) to be knitworthy.
8. So what’s the truth about these hats?
One powerful piece of that truth can be seen in the very picture Michael Cohen chose to share when asking where the hats were made. Let’s have another look, shall we?
Mr. Cohen, these hats are crocheted. And pretty much alone among the well-known fiber pursuits, crochet remains the only one which cannot be automated. There are knitting machines, and sewing machines, and looms, and spinning wheels, and all manner of things humans can operate to produce textile goods — but there are no crochet machines. There are only hands filled with yarn and crochet hooks.
Now, granted, this doesn’t mean one couldn’t have hired crocheters to make them at an exploitative pay rate or in exploitative conditions, or both; certainly that’s something the garment industry does quite routinely. But ask yourself about the logistics of doing so. Ask yourself how long you think it takes for a businessperson to find a group of crocheters to exploit, get them the pattern, have them produce to a standard, solve the shipping issues for materials and finished goods, clear customs, and be distributed to points of sale?
Unlike trucker hats, these weren’t a pre-existing one-size-fits-most product intended to be sold by the millions for the cheapest price possible. Oh, in time, they surely will be — and as usual, those who do not sew, or knit, or crochet, or make textiles by hand will likely not be able to tell the difference between a mass-manufactured knockoff and an artisan-made or homemade item. And this is the big revelation for many people in seeing the question of pussyhat origin being raised: we’re dealing with people who can’t tell the difference between a handmade, grassroots movement made up of individuals putting in the time and effort to create it, and mass-manufactured consumer goods. And if that’s true of something so obvious as a hat, where the evidence of people making them by hand is also plain to see all over social media, how far does it extend?
9. A final point
Yes, it’s possible that a few pussyhats worn by marchers may have been made by people who do not live in the United States of America. That’s almost certainly true of the hats worn by people marching outside the USA, for one thing — and because there are some people living in the USA who are deemed knitworthy by fiber artisans who live elsewhere. For some knitters (and crocheters, and sewists, and quilters, and and and) all it took to make someone knitworthy for a project involving a few hours of time was for that person to plan to march on January 21st.
Stay tuned, and count on the nation’s fiber artisans to continue to create by hand for movement after movement — and for lots of information to start showing up about how to tell the difference between a handmade had and a mass-produced one. Protip: the fast track to being able to tell is often to try making something yourself.
10. Want to learn more about activist knit and crochet like this?
I’d start by joining Ravelry and having a stroll through its forums. You’ll find plenty of people who share your interests — yarn and otherwise. Alternatively, pick the social media platform of your choice, type “activist knitting” (or crochet, or quilting, or… you get the picture) into the search box. You’ll be amazed what you can find to get involved in, likely very close to home.
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