Pussyhat creators craft next step in defiance of Trump

Women whose knitted hats became a national phenomenon want to keep the momentum of last month’s march in Washington.

One month after women''s march
Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman founded the Pussyhat Project [Melissa Chan/Al Jazeera]

Los Angeles, United States – Half a dozen women sat around a large table, each with a ball of yarn in front her. Some made fumbling progress, while others settled into the rhythmic calm that so many knitters say reminds them of meditation.

Kat Coyle, 54, walked around the students, inspecting their progress and handiwork. Two of the women were making their first pink, knitted “pussyhats“. One planned to give hers to a friend’s infant.

Coyle paused to share an email she just received.

“I want to thank you for the free pattern,” she read. “I’m 70 years old and haven’t knitted in 50 years. I have friends in theirs 80s who are activists and are making more hats.”

Coyle smiled, and the other knitters cheered.

I had asked to stop by Coyle’s shop, the Little Knittery in Los Angeles, after my own admiration for those who attended the women’s marches with handmade hats, and my subsequent beginner efforts to make my own.

Women’s March goes global

A month after women’s marches across the United States, people continue to stop by Coyle’s shop, looking for pink yarn or lessons to make more pussyhats.

Coyle designed the first hat pattern for what became the national phenomenon launched by two of her former students, Jayna Zweiman, 38, and Krista Suh, 29.

Zweiman and Suh had two missions when they launched the Pussyhat Project: to paint a “collective visual statement” for marchers in Washington, DC, and to find a way for people who could not travel to the capital to show their support for women’s rights.

While they had high hopes their idea would stick, no one could have imagined how the one-off project would endure beyond January 21, 2017.

“We know the hats aren’t going to solve anything,” Coyle said.

A knitter at the shop said, “It will take more than a march.”

But the pussyhats have made the cover of TIME and The New Yorker, and became the opposition’s answer to President Donald Trump’s own Make America Great Again trucker hats.

A mother and daughter learn to knit at one of the Little Knittery's special classes held in Los Angeles before the Women's March [Courtesy of Stefanie Kamerman, the Pussyhat Project]
A mother and daughter learn to knit at one of the Little Knittery’s special classes held in Los Angeles before the Women’s March [Courtesy of Stefanie Kamerman, the Pussyhat Project]

Zweiman and Suh are proud of the role they played and are thinking deeply about what direction to pivot their project to. On Monday, they announced plans to join the organizers’ of the Women’s March for “A Day Without a Woman” on March 8, International Women’s Day. They are asking people to continue knitting hats, and will take a global focus in a special “virtual march” that day on Instagram, sharing women’s messages from around the world.

“A lot of first-time activists have used this as their way in, and that’s a huge honour. And so the question is – what our relationship will be with the community. Is it about further galvanising people, or educating them, or should we be a resource,” said Suh. “There are all these ways we could go about it.”

Since the Women’s March, the Pussyhat Project has shared photos on Twitter and Instagram of newly finished hat projects. At one point, its social media feed directed knitters to call senators in an attempt to stop the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. Generally, however, it has focused less on specific courses of actions, and more on messages of equality, empowerment, and solidarity. 

OPINION: Why women marched on Washington

The project’s latest announcement carries on that spirit, but is also an indication that its founders realize not only the tremendous capital and momentum they have, but the responsibility of a movement they launched.

Zweiman and Suh have felt some pressure from “craftivists” – that is craft activists – waiting to see what specific things they have planned. Their original, stated goals had centred solely around the Washington march.

“We want to make a really smart, deliberate move versus just jumping on a bandwagon,” Zweiman said.

They promise more exciting news soon.

In the meantime, some knitters have taken their own initiative.

Days in advance of the Women's March, Krista Suh receives a pussyhat delivery from a stranger at the ad hoc collection site in Virginia set up for the tens of thousands of knitted hats that started pouring in [Courtesy of Stefanie Kamerman, the Pussyhat Project]
Days in advance of the Women’s March, Krista Suh receives a pussyhat delivery from a stranger at the ad hoc collection site in Virginia set up for the tens of thousands of knitted hats that started pouring in [Courtesy of Stefanie Kamerman, the Pussyhat Project]

Caitlin Corliss, 27, of Savannah, Georgia, knits and sells pussyhats, with a portion of proceeds going to women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood. She attended her local march in January.

“I wanted to continue making a tangible difference promoting women’s rights,” she said.

In Milford, Pennsylvania, Jennifer Rivera, 37, also makes pussyhats. She donates 50 percent of the money to the American Civil Liberties Union, the legal rights organisation that has taken the Trump administration to court across the country.

“If knitting a hat can help me to help others, count me in!” said Rivera. “I plan to continue knitting these hats as long as there is demand.”

The day after the Women’s March, its organisers had launched the “10 Actions in 100 Days” campaign to channel the fresh energy of its millions of participants. The second action, rolled out earlier this month, asked people to hold small gatherings of 10 to 15 people to come up with specific steps to resist the presidency.

IN PICTURES: Women marches across the world draw huge crowds

In many ways, knitting circles had already started doing that, from even before the march. The Pussyhat Project lists more than 100 yarn shops and communities across the country, from Alabama to Wyoming, as “allies.” These groups made and distributed the hats in the run-up to the march. New groups continue to organise.

Dana Dickey, in her 40s, reached out to the Little Knittery after marching in Washington. She wanted to gather some friends, most of whom had never considered themselves activists or knitters, and have Coyle teach them how to make pussyhats. They would also use their meeting to brainstorm ideas on combating Trump.

Dickey likes the creativity of the Pussyhat Project and recognises it as an important component of the new movement. She had participated in HIV/Aids activism in the 1990s.

“We had a lot of fun when we did direct action. It’s an important part of activism that people forget about – to have fun,” she said.

The women of the Pussyhat Project echo that point. As much as the mood of the resistance, in some ways, have darkened as Trump sets out to fulfil his campaign promises both seriously and literally, activists also know the long, hard fight will require occasional levity.

Considering the design of their simple, silly hats, Suh said: “We don’t have to be masculine in order to be serious.”

Kat Coyle, standing, designed the first hat pattern [Melissa Chan/Al Jazeera]
Kat Coyle, standing, designed the first hat pattern [Melissa Chan/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera