When the Pussyhat Project first showed up on Ravelry, I wasn’t instantly in love with those cat-eared pink hats knitted in huge numbers for the Women’s March protesting the new U.S. administration. I was uncomfortable with its vulgar reference, and the knitting looked tedious to do by hand, and doing it on the knitting machine required me to acquire new skills. But I slowly became converted to the project because I saw its value as a unifying symbol and a way to improve the visuals of the Women’s March, and I knew I needed to have those basic machine knitting skills sooner or later, so why not now? Taking on new skills is something I do in January, when I run a “Swatch-a-Long” on my Ravelry group. Learning how to use my ribber attachment and how to do latch tool bind-offs fit into my goals for the month.
Using the ribber for my Brother standard gauge machine was a lot easier than I was expecting. I was put in touch with a local machine knitter who kindly came over to my house and gave me pointers, and the manual was very clear about the steps to get a good rib. The machine knitter also taught me how to do a latch tool bind-off:
- Take the yarn out of the yarn feeder and hold it in the left hand, behind and to the left of the stitch to be bound off.
- Wrap the yarn around the gate peg immediately to the right of the needle holding the stitch to be bound off.
- With the left thumb, push the needle forward so that the stitch slides beyond the latch.
- Insert the latch tool so that it latches into the needle and push the needle back until the stitch slides onto the tool behind the tool’s latch. Loop the yarn into the latch tool and pull it through the existing stitch.
- While controlling the yarn tension so that the loop doesn’t fall out of the latch, place the loop onto the next needle while wrapping the yarn around the gate post to the right of the stitch to be bound off, and remove the latch tool. Tighten the yarn so that the loop is securely on the needle.
- Push the needle forward with the left thumb, making sure that both stitches are behind the latch of the needle.
- Repeat steps 3-6 until all stitches are bound off. Loop yarn through the final stitch and cut the yarn.
It takes me an unusually, even inordinately long time to learn procedures (inordinate according to those who tell me it’s just not as hard as I experience it as being), so I struggled to learn to do the steps in their proper order and to control the latch tool and the tension of the yarn without losing my stitches and shredding my yarn. The toughest part was getting the loop from the latch tool and onto the next needle. I couldn’t see what I was doing or whether the loop was getting into the latch of the needle, and I kept losing my stitch and couldn’t control the tension well enough to avoid it laddering. Somewhere in the learning process I discovered that if I held the yarn in my fist, I could control the tension of the yarn in the latch tool more easily. Another helpful discovery was how to keep the yarn next to the part of the latch that wouldn’t fly open. I also learned that I could more easily get the loop from the latch tool to the needle if I pulled the latch tool a little to the left of the needle and expanded the loop sideways to create a slightly larger target, rather than trying to aim it directly onto the needle from the top. I made five hats: the bind-off for the first one took me three painful hours. The bind-off for the last one took 45 minutes, still not fast, but I was starting to find a rhythm by the end.
The hats gave me other learning opportunities, which is my euphemism for things going wrong. The first hat had a skipped stitch along the length of the second set of ribbing, due to a malfunctioning ribber needle that I needed to learn to replace. Then there was a malfunctioning main bed needle that I also needed to learn to replace. Then I failed to connect the ribber and the main bed completely (despite having checked everything twice and three times) and knocked 11 ribber needles out of whack, and got a lot of practice replacing ribber needles. I put everything back together and checked four, five, six, seven times before I got up the courage to start knitting again. Once I also failed to release the part buttons after doing the ribbing selvedge and found out from experience what happens then (nothing good). But after a fraught week, I did manage to complete the knitting of five hats, and then I could relax and spend the next couple of days sewing them together. Not my favorite, but I could relax. I got my hats done in time to bring them to my sisters for the march. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for them. They were just basic hats in a pink-red-white multi yarn that pooled in a flat argyle. The early hats had flaws, and a machine knitter whose opinion I had respected told me that my first hat “looked terrible.”
But when I presented them to my sisters, they went into ecstasies. Mandy said she was never going to take hers off. The others marveled at my skills, dedication, and perseverance. Well, shucks, they’re my sisters just being nice. But then as soon as we got out of the car at the Largo Town Center Washington Metrorail stop, people started coming up to us asking to take our picture. That happened several times, including by student journalists from SUNY/Syracuse who showed three of us, in our hats, in a Faces of the Women’s March video put out by the school’s The Daily Orange newspaper. So I guess my hats weren’t that terrible.
Before the march, I read and heard criticism of the project from people who weren’t necessarily supporters of the new administration, along the lines that the hats were a silly gimmick whose pinkness and femininity would cause the other side to disparage the seriousness of the protest, and that people were wasting their time making them when they could be doing more important things for the cause. As I said, I had some doubts about the project, but I felt it had value as a unifying emblem and a visual prop. Then I got to the march and saw just how unifying and emblematic this visual prop was! Pink hats weren’t just for girls anymore– they were perched proudly on the heads of the many members of the male persuasion who were in enthusiastic attendance. The variety of pink hats with cat ears was a vivid symbol of the diversity of the participants and their concerns, and the sense of community among these diverse people and the interconnectedness of their concerns. And there was an unexpected practical benefit to our five sister hats: they were distinctive enough from everyone else’s hats to make it very easy for us keep track of each other.
This is the first time I have ever taken political action aside from voting and staying informed. Making a political statement through an aesthetically uninteresting knitting project was a hard sell. I’m an introvert and have been well trained in privacy, even anonymity, but the slogan from the march that hit home the hardest was “So Bad, Even Introverts Are Here.” Yes, it’s that bad. If this were just about health care and women’s issues, I probably would have sat out the march, although I certainly care about these things. What has roused me from my introverted comfort zone is far more elemental than issues and disappointment that my preferred candidate did not win the presidency: it’s the assault on truth. Facts should shape opinion, not the other way around. Climate scientists and intelligence analysts should not be denigrated when their evidence-based findings don’t support the vested interests and vanity of the powerful. The press is doing its job when it asks powerful people uncomfortable questions. When these truths stop being self-evident, it’s time for me to put on my Pussyhat and get out there.