COMMENT | Knitting for Kurdistan: How geopolitics can be woven into the fabric of an everyday activity.

by Laura Shipp

It might not be the first thing you think about when you imagine geopolitics and security, but knitting can have its own unexpected geopolitical agency. It is a creative practice that involves the literal connecting of fabric, yet it can also connect things in a far larger sense; people and communities. In recent years we are seeing increasingly creative interventions in the politics of the everyday. Objects, in this case fabric, act to form a creative and symbolic resistance. This was wonderfully illustrated by the PussyHat Project from the January Women’s Marches, in which a small handcrafted item became a sign of solidarity with women around the world. As pictures like the one below show, the unapologetic pink colour of the hat helped to make a collective visual statement about the importance of Women’s Rights around the world. In this case, as is often the aim of craftivism, is the use of creativity to amplify a political message .

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Handmade PussyHats worn by protestors at the Women’s March, 21st January 2017. The pattern was freely available online and could be downloaded for individual use. Source: PussyHat Project.

waterbottle mask

A visual example of how an object may take on an everyday, geopolitical representation, more than its mere material form. Here; the disobedient use of an everyday object to make a home made gas mark for protesters.

Where I began to consider the geopolitical power of knitting however, was through volunteering for the charity Knit for Peace – a brilliant Hampstead-based initiative that is part of the Charities Advisory Trust. I was hugely inspired by their work sending handmade knitted items they receive to people in need around the world, distributing donated handmade knitted items to people in need around the world, and particularly to refugee camps in Kurdistan. It was fantastic to get stuck in and to help facilitate their work in any way I could, and I found that I met some lovely people whilst doing so.

What I loved most about Knit for Peace, however, was their belief in the power of knitting. They aim to match knitters to causes, a process beneficial to both creator and recipients. It can help the mental and general well-being of contributors whilst also providing a displaced person with jumpers, blankets and more to get them through the winter. Yet I feel there is something more to it. This process can produce a transformative and affective experience for those engaged, both creator and recipient. They are handmade and crafted with care. Every individual knit sent seems to have compassion and empathy woven into the fabric. For creators, they provide an imagined vision of difference they could make to another’s life. The object becomes a handmade symbol of emotion and care that suggests that someone somewhere is concerned about them. For the knitter, each item there are imaginings of how the item might be used and hopes about the joys it will  bring someone. It requires the empathy of the maker to take the time to craft  something that could alleviate another’s struggle.

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Left: A photo of two of the recipients of the knitted items in Syria. Right: Knitted items in sacks ready to be shipped to the refugee camps.  Sources: Knit for Peace

This is a process that is fundamentally about making connections. This is perhaps a less grand or visible process than that of the PussyHat, yet something far more immediately life changing. It is about not only connecting literal things together in order to make something new. It is also a method of connecting with people, fleeing Syria and Iraq, whose experiences are likely to be poles apart from those knitting for them, and the creation of a bond between the two. It is an act of solidarity that attempts to spread the weight of everyday struggles. These items then travel across distance and difference in an attempt to protect and care for those who have suffered because of war, such as the boy pictured.  They create their own, simple act of peace making, woven into the object. Fundamentally this seemingly mundane process can intervene in the world on an individual level and can positively transform it.

This process has its own kind of power, however small or banal it may seem. A simple gesture of peace towards those who have experienced everything but. Knitting through its mundanity and taken-for-granted-ness creates bonds that transcend differing experiences to bring people together. 

Laura is a Geopolitics and Security MSc Student at Royal Holloway, following on from a Geography degree at the university.  She has interests in feminist and critical geopolitics and is particularly interested in the everyday as a site for political action. 

Bibliography

Gauntlett, D. (2011) Making is Connecting. Cambridge: Polity

Knit for Peace (No Date A) ‘About’, Knit For Peace, Available at: http://www.knitforpeace.org.uk/about/

Koopman, S. (2010) ‘The Antipode graduate student scholarship 2009–2010 winner: making space for peace: international accompaniment as alter-geopolitics’, Antipode.

Price, L. (2015) ‘Knitting and the city’, Geography Compass, 9(2), pp. 81-95.

Pussy Hat Project (2017) ‘The Pussy Hat Project’, Pussy Hat Project. Available at: https://www.pussyhatproject.com/.

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