When Will This Sweater Be a Crime?

I’ve been flirting for some time with the idea of Hønsestrikk, a style of knitting developed by the Danish knitter Kirsten Hofstätter in the 1970’s as a protest against the yarn companies’ linking of garment patterns with yarn purchases. Hofstätter promoted and popularized personalizing basic sweater shapes with stranded motifs that were meaningful to the individual knitter, often with a political and feminist message. During last January’s Swatchathon, I swatched a series of motifs depicting my daily routine, such as yoga poses and food and the Duolingo owl and “MORGENS LERNE ICH DEUTSCH”. I thought I would knit it during the summer, in time to wear it in the fall.

Hønsestrikk swatches depicting German language study, bird-watching, walking, and yoga

But in the time between January and the summer, my focus turned outward, away from a personal, self-satisfied celebration of my privileged little life, to a need to express my horror and dread that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) had begun the dismantling of civil liberties that it had protected for decades. This process had begun well before 2022, but 2022 is the year when the extremist majority on the Court abandoned all pretense that societal stability was something they valued. This clique of six had the numbers to impose whatever they and their dark money masters wanted to impose on the rest of us, rationalized by a fig leaf of shoddy jurisprudence and cherry-picked historical references, without regard to the damage their decrees do to U.S. society, just because they can. So I used the yarn and gauge swatches I made last January and ditched the cute little motifs in favor of the lettering that celebrated my Duolingo German study. But now I wasn’t celebrating anything.

My plan was a long-sleeved sweater with a circular yoke with lines of text separated by a checkerboard motif. I would knit it from the bottom up, because I’m more comfortable with bottom-up construction, but also because reading a lettering chart upside down would have been an unnecessary burden on my brain’s spacial capabilities. The alphabet I used came from a book about Hønsestrikk in my personal library called “Knit Yourself In“. Then I started composing my texts. My sweater turned into a dress, complete with afterthought pockets. I had a lot to say.

I made the afterthought pocket by poking needles through the stitches of the two plain knitting rows between the text and the checkerboards, then cutting into the fabric right in the middle. I knitted a ridge of garter stitch on the lower row to seal the open stitches, then downward to make a patch for the pocket, which I sewed to the dress

I had a lot to say, and I didn’t want to use short, often-used phrases to express discontent with this incarnation of the Supreme Court that merely conveyed the general sentiment of “SCOTUS bad, me mad”. I wanted my wording to be as specific and individual as I could be within a garment circumference of 236 stitches, and I accepted the fact, as a design decision, that the only way for an onlooker to read the entire text would be to stop me and make me turn around slowly. Otherwise the perception of the texts would be incomplete phrases offering a general sense of displeasure, and maybe not even that, because the colors are pretty and the checkerboards are cute and cheery, and it takes a certain level of information exposure to know what the phrases mean. This is intentional, because there are conversations that I don’t want to have with people who have strong tribal feelings that aren’t supported by facts. I’ll see if this theory is valid when I wear this garment in places where people don’t agree with me.

The 236 stitches I mentioned would give me a garment circumference of 52 inches, since I like my sweaters roomy. It was also just barely enough room to fit in my lines of text whose words are too long to fit onto a bumper sticker. In designing the composition, I wrote a line of text into my notebook and consulted the chart of my alphabet to see how many spaces each letter required, with a space between each letter, and four spaces between each word. Then I added up the spaces for each word and wrote the number in the line above my text, plus four between each word, and added it all together. It was best if it added up to a number in the low 220’s, because that left enough space between the beginning and end of the sentence that I could fill with a motif that fit the text. It took a lot of adding and editing, then more adding and editing, to come up with a viable line of text. Then I counted the stitches on the needle, starting from the center of the back, to place markers at the beginning and end of each word and four stitches between the words, working counter-clockwise from the beginning of the sentence to the end. Double-checking and triple-checking was not too much checking, because more likely than not, there would be a mistake in the counting or addition and I would have to reposition the markers or even alter the text to fit the space.

The yarn I used was mostly yarn that had been given to me as prizes for winning entries in competitions, as well as leftovers from the sweater I made for my older daughter for her last birthday. These colors were reds, purples, yellows, orange, acid green (which actually glows in black light), and gray, and I supplemented the palette with black and a deep aqua. They are bright and lively colors that are consistent with the Hønsestrikk aesthetic, as is the checkerboard motif. The effect is cute, happy, fun. Then you start reading, and you realize there’s a dissonance between the colors and checkerboards and the messaging of the text. I wore the dress to synagogue last week, and someone started to compliment me on my pretty, colorful sweater when she noticed the partial word “Christ” at shoulder level. I explained to her that it wasn’t “Christ”, it was “Christofascist”. A look of confusion came over her face. She backed away slowly.

I’m interested in the effect this work of political wearable art has on viewers and casual passersby, since it is physically impossible to absorb the messaging from any one angle or even to break out all of the words without spending some time staring at me. Having made and worn dresses with societal messaging in the patterning, I have observed that most people are not expecting to see a dress as anything other than a dress and are not in a mindset that opens them to considering the deeper meanings of imagery and metaphor in a piece of clothing. A dress that’s literally a small billboard might make the messaging more explicit, but the expectation of casual viewers is that clothing is clothing. To replicate the experience of encountering the dress out in the wild, I’ll show a series of pictures of me in the dress photographed from various angles, before I provide the text for each line.

Happy little me in my cute handknitted dress… wait, what? Wingnuttery??
Me looking at an imaginary arrivals/departure screen at an imaginary airport
Because everyone sits around yanking on the side of their sleeve to try to show the lettering, right?
I can wear my heart on my sleeve, but the word “hypocrisy” is not a comfortable fit
Just sitting around like a normal person with a cup of coffee
A torso snippet and a nice view of one of the pockets
Who wouldn’t want to look at my armpit?

I’m thinking that wearing this dress might be a form of performance art, as the viewer first sees the hand knitting in pleasing colors and patterns, then notices enough of the words to get a sense that there’s a disconnect between the happiness of the colors and the unhappiness of the phrase snippets, then wonders if the wearer is mentally ill and maybe not safe to approach for more details about the text. Or maybe they catch enough of my drift to feel that I am The Enemy and must be punished.

So let’s say you see me wearing this dress, standing in line or waiting at the airport, somewhere where you’ve had time to read some of the words, and they strike a chord with you. You have the time and curiosity to approach me and ask me to let you read the texts from beginning to end, all the way around my body, since I’m just standing there minding my own business and don’t seem violent.

This is what you see if you stop me and ask me to let you see the texts in more detail

More detail:

I turn around and around, and you read, starting from the bottom:

SCOTUS 2022: THE DOG THAT CAUGHT THE CAR: WATCH OUT 
FOLLOW THE DARK MONEY TO THE FEDERALIST SOCIETY 
“NONPARTISAN” SCOTUS 2022 JUDICIAL ARM OF THE GOP 
THE TERM SCOTUS “JUSTICE” IS AN ORWELLIAN MISNOMER 
SCOTUS 2022 RESTORING THE INJUSTICES OF U.S. HISTORY 
CORRUPT JURISPRUDENCE DESTABILIZES DEMOCRACY ITSELF 
ORIGINALISM BASES 21ST CENTURY WINGNUTTERY ON 18TH CENTURY WINGNUT TEXTS 
ORIGINALISM IS WHATEVER CHRISTOFASCIST JUDGES SAY 
WHEN WILL THIS SWEATER BE A CRIME?

The sleeves: 
THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT | BECAUSE THEY CAN 
THE HYPOCRISY IS THE POINT | BECAUSE THEY CAN

Let’s say our flight is delayed by three hours, and now you’ve sat down next to me and gotten me talking about the facts and history behind each of these statements, having verified that, although I have very intense opinions, I’m lucid and quite unlikely to express my views with violence.

SCOTUS 2022: THE DOG THAT CAUGHT THE CAR: WATCH OUT

This is the situation the Republican party now finds itself in. The anti-abortion movement started as a cynical effort by the Republican Party in the Nixon years to lure Catholic voters away from the Democratic Party and to attract previously apolitical evangelical Christians to their party. Reproductive rights had been, and remain, generally popular, and while a large proportion of voters favored certain limitations (and there had been plenty of limitations), they never expected this form of individual freedom to be completely stripped away. But the Republican Party tried very hard to get this extreme result that they really never expected to get, and now is stuck trying to figure out what to do about the breakage and bad consequences of getting what they said they wanted. The terrible effects on people’s lives, not just women but men and their families, when they can’t make their own decisions about whether and when to have children, is going to destabilize our society. How can there not be an extreme reaction to an extreme and harmful action?

FOLLOW THE DARK MONEY TO THE FEDERALIST SOCIETY 

Dark money is money from secret sources that are not obligated to reveal themselves and how they would benefit financially from supporting a party, candidate, or organization with an agenda that is dictated by their interests. In addition to money from unidentified sources, the Federalist Society’s best-known donors include the Koch brothers, whose vast wealth comes from the manufacture of petrochemical products, and promote right-wing, anti-regulation agendas that will facilitate maximum profitability of their companies without regard for bad effects on the environment or unfair exploitation of less powerful segments of society.

The Federalist Society was founded in 1982, during the Reagan administration, by law students at Yale, Harvard, and the University of Chicago who opposed the extremely popular financial policies instituted to correct the Great Depression and reduce income inequality, as well as social inequality, with the aim of restoring the pro-business policies of the 1920’s and prior. Their project had been underway since the 1930’s, but the intervening 50 years had shown them that their goals would never be achieved through elections and legislation, so they determined that they could bypass the legislative process by taking control of the courts. It is not a coincidence that the propaganda part of promoting the right-wing agenda, to influence the thinking of people whose interests are harmed by policies that benefit the dark money funders of the Federalist society, got underway in the 1980’s with the rise of right-wing talk radio and Rupert Murdoch’s 1985 purchase of 20th Century Fox.

“NONPARTISAN” SCOTUS 2022 JUDICIAL ARM OF THE GOP 

Ideally, the Supreme Court is supposed to operate independently of the political parties of the United States, that is, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party (nicknamed the Grand Old Party or the GOP), and if you suggest that they are anything other than nonpartisan and independent, Chief Justice John Roberts will be very, very offended. That’s gaslighting.

In the past, presidents of both parties nominated Supreme Court Justices with the hope that their nominees would judge in ways that promoted their parties’ policies, but with experience, these justices would listen to the arguments, the historical background, and the effect the case had on those being harmed, and judge in ways that might not have gone along with their party’s agenda. SCOTUS justices nominated by Republic presidents have ruled in favor of personal liberty, reproductive rights, and civil rights. The Federalist Society was founded in order to promote the careers of potential Supreme Court justices who would never, ever go wobbly on any issue whose outcome didn’t enrich the dark money donors.

During the Trump years, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stole two Supreme Court seats from Democratic presidents (not hyperbole: he refused to permit Obama’s nominee to get a hearing, on the specious excuse that it was an election year and the next president should get to choose, then reversed himself and allowed Trump to nominate another justice a month before the next election and confirm her after Trump lost), while Trump pushed through the confirmation of a third who had been credibly accused of attempted rape. Now the court is packed with Federalist Society members who had worked as Republican Party operatives during the George W. Bush administration. This is minority rule taken to its farthest extreme, since more people vote Democratic than Republican, and this emboldened SCOTUS supermajority is taking positions that could be too extreme even for most Republican voters.

Which explains the next line of text:

THE TERM SCOTUS “JUSTICE” IS AN ORWELLIAN MISNOMER

Thanks to the highly unrepresentative forces that control U.S. elections and finance candidates from representatives at the state level to Supreme Court Justices, our Supreme Court has become dedicated to the Orwellian tenet that “some animals are more equal than others.”

SCOTUS 2022 RESTORING THE INJUSTICES OF U.S. HISTORY 

The modern “conservative” movement in the United States began as a reaction to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal policies of the 1930’s, which relieved the suffering many Americans were enduring as a result of the greed and corruption of the oligarchs that brought on the Great Depression. FDR’s taxation policies, the establishment of the Social Security programs, regulation of industry to protect worker safety, and other policies that narrowed the gap between rich and poor were very popular with the American public, but they hampered the oligarchs who had benefited from being allowed to do anything they wanted to do before driving the car off the cliff, and they wanted those good old days back.

However, this was a hard sell to the voting public, and calling FDR’s policies “socialist” (a code word dating from post-Civil War days to condemn publicly funded programs that would benefit Black people and immigrants, as well as poor white people) wasn’t really bringing them support from people who weren’t going to benefit from rich people getting even richer. The trick was to get those poor white people to support them against their own interests.

As Hitler was well aware, Jim Crow laws in the U.S. South imposed a brutal apartheid on society in southern states, and racism was pervasive throughout the United States, north, south, east, and west. Basically, Jim Crow showed Hitler how it’s done, and he applied its lessons to the Jews of Germany. Full-grown genocide was just a logical extension of Jim Crow when it turned out that the rest of the world didn’t really want Germany’s and Europe’s Jews either. During World War II, the U.S. Army was the first important segment of U.S. society to integrate, and Black soldiers who had served their country bravely in Europe came home to the South, proudly wearing their uniforms, only to be physically attacked by White citizens and law enforcement who were offended by the effrontery of uniformed Black soldiers thinking they deserved respect.

Even racists like President Harry Truman found that appalling, and he started to work in favor of civil rights. President Dwight Eisenhower had been an Army general during World War II and he knew first-hand that equal treatment for Black people was not only right, but made the Army a better fighting force. In addition, the USSR was scoring propaganda points against the U.S. in the Cold War by pointing to the terrible treatment of black people to show the failures of American democracy. These presidents appointed justices to the Supreme Court who applied the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to impose federal oversight over the states in order to dismantle Jim Crow. The Civil Rights movement gained strength.

This is where the big business “conservatives” found the mass support for policies that were never going to help anyone but the wealthy few, by cultivating White backlash against the Civil Rights movement (not to mention the feminist movement) and tying it to its anti-regulation, anti-taxation policies. Republicans had formerly been champions of civil rights, but Richard Nixon, the Republican president from 1969 to 1973, instituted the “Southern strategy” to take White Southern voters out of the Democratic party after being outraged by Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s masterful passage of civil rights legislation and Great Society programs in Congress. It’s a principle of racist faith that anything that benefits Black people harms White people.

Republican President Ronald Reagan openly favored policies that benefited the already-wealthy, denigrated the federal government, and bird-whistled support for White fear of Black people. As I mentioned, the Reagan era was when the Federalist Society and Rupert Murdoch’s propagandistic media empire began in the United States. One by one, Federalist Society member justices were named to SCOTUS: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts (although there’s some dispute about that), Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, the latter three thanks to Trump and Mitch McConnell’s unethical court-packing. John Roberts, the current Chief Justice, was the author of decisions that gutted voting rights and pumped dark money into elections. We all know what happened to abortion rights. They have also green-lighted Republican-devised voting maps that give minority control to Republican legislators.

The goal is to restore the status quo ante of the 1920’s.

CORRUPT JURISPRUDENCE DESTABILIZES DEMOCRACY ITSELF

So we have “justices” who got their jobs because politicians cheated the opposing party at the behest of interests whose goal is unrestricted power to get richer and richer and richer, power granted by politicians who have rigged their voting districts and the voting laws so that they will always win their elections no matter what. Why bother with jurisprudence well grounded in history and legal precedence that makes the United States more just and democratic when they don’t have to answer to anyone but their dark money masters? They do what serves themselves, because they can. But Chief Justice John Roberts will be very, very offended if you suggest that his court lacks democratic legitimacy.

ORIGINALISM BASES 21ST CENTURY WINGNUTTERY ON 18TH CENTURY WINGNUT TEXTS 
ORIGINALISM IS WHATEVER CHRISTOFASCIST JUDGES SAY 

Originalism is the reaction by anti-progressive forces to the advances in civil rights, labor rights, and environmental and workplace regulations of the past 70 years, which provoked right-wing objections to “activist judges legislating from the bench.” The correction, according to this thinking, was to base jurisprudence on the original intentions of the framers of the Constitution. During the era when the U.S. Constitution was written, the framers had a deep distrust of centralized government and wrote the Constitution so as to give greater power to the states. Subsequent events showed that the fledgling United States nation could not remain united or a nation when the federal government lacked power to prevent wealthy local plutocrats from buying state legislatures for their own benefit, by limiting who could vote and therefore representing only the interests of the wealthy. Deficiencies in the Constitution were corrected by amendments, and judges who consider themselves originalists like some of the amendments more than others. They appear perfectly willing to ignore the ones they don’t like and to twist themselves into knots amplifying the ones they do like, by using shaky history and cherry-picked citations by fringe figures from centuries past.

Originalism purports to be a methodology for imposing intellectual rigor on Supreme Court jurisprudence. Originalists insist that the literal wording of the Constitution means exactly what it says, according to their reading, based on– what? Ouija boards? I see the “originalist” justices as a bunch of people who have power and who want to restrict power to people exactly like them, white, Christian (according to a harsh and hierarchical version of the religion), and committed to a status quo that directs the benefits of other people’s labor into the pockets of a small clique of society’s overlords. They use sloppy history and faulty logic as a fig leaf to cover their work to impose a Viktor Orbán Christian authoritarianism onto a diverse nation, knowing that they could never achieve their aims through honest elections free of voter suppression and voting districts that give disproportionate power to a minority of the voters.

Why? Because they can, and if the rest of us don’t like it, we need to know who’s boss, and it isn’t us.

THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT | BECAUSE THEY CAN 
THE HYPOCRISY IS THE POINT | BECAUSE THEY CAN

Which brings us to the final question:

WHEN WILL THIS SWEATER BE A CRIME?

Will this Supreme Court find a way to rule that since the 1st Amendment doesn’t explicitly say that criticism of the Supreme Court knitted into sweaters is protected speech, this sweater is therefore not protected speech and I should be thrown into prison for saying nasty things about them?


16 thoughts on “When Will This Sweater Be a Crime?

  1. I am speechless in the presence of your exercise of 1st Amendment freedom of expression. This is an artistic and political masterpiece! You are right up there with Woody and Pussy Riot (though I do hope you don’t meet their end!!) I have immense respect and love for artists who are able to incorporate this sort of ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL messaging into their art. You are 100% correct that attracting people with the “pretty colors and patterns” in order to expose them to your words is the goal. In much the same way, comedians and satirists attract people with their humor, but the humor contains a powerful psychological tool to strike a blow against oppression of all kinds.

    I would love to see this piece get massive exposure – though I’m not sure that’s your goal. Are you familiar with the work of Lisa Anne Auerbach? She has been knitting political messages for many years. https://www.instagram.com/auerbachtoberfest/

    –Tanya

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    1. Tanya!!! Thank you so much! Comparing me to Woody and Pussy Riot???!!! I can’t think of higher praise! Yes, I adore Lisa Anne. She’s such an inspiration. I wouldn’t mind if if this piece got more exposure than I’m able to muster on my own.

      Like

  2. I love all your sweaters! Though maybe I’m not brave enough to knit/wear something like this over here… ’cause there’s plenty of similar sentiments over here too! 😦

    Like

  3. I love this. I actually saw a sample of this in the museum in Copenhagen from the 60’s or 70’s but the display did not mention the linking of patterns with purchases. I will need to dig out some photos. I live in Savannah GA and you could wear it here safely. I purchased Hofstatter’s book in English several years ago…

    Liked by 1 person

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