Listener Essay - Resistance Knitting
Lynn Elliot Francis has attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Hudson Valley Writer's Center, and studied with poet, Sparrow, and the author, Martha Frankel.
On election night 2016, I poured myself a glass of wine and cozied up on the couch with my knitting. The local NPR station was on. In their voices I heard the same cheerful expectation in my own heart. Together, we would bear witness to an historic event: the election of the first female president of the United States.
My mother was a knitter. She made sweaters for my father, my brothers and, from the same pattern, for me. I was a reluctant recipient, never feeling they were particularly flattering. One special sweater, I lent, long-term, to my broad-shouldered college boyfriend.
“It looks good on him,” was my explanation. She moaned on the far end of the phone.
“He’ll take better care of it than I would,” I predicted. And that was true. He had it dry cleaned and stored every spring, taking it out reverently each winter. He respected the work that had gone into it.
“Her mother washed and carded the wool,” he would explain to friends. “And then spun it. And then knitted this amazing sweater!”
“Yeah,” I’d admit, with only a shade of interest as the others oohed and ahhed.
Most of her wool, bought wholesale, was stored in what had been my bedroom. There were boxes of wool under my bed; there were bags of wool in my closet. In my wicker laundry basket was more wool.
When my mother’s cancer was detected, and hospice was the only thing the doctors could offer, she turned toward me from her perch on the end of the examination bench.
“But, I just ordered a ton of wool,” she complained.
Much of her wool I gave away. But some I kept, resolving to learn to knit. Knitting is something women have done for centuries, for a millennium. I felt I was entering a tradition that connected me with other women, with my mother, and with women of the past. Knitting seems like a fundamental skill.
With no mother to teach me, I turned to You Tube videos. Knitting videos are very calming. They have soothing background music and sonorous-toned instructions. I learned how to cast on, how to knit and purl. I joined a group of women who gathered once a week at a yarn store to knit and chat. I went from scarves to fingerless gloves, to socks, to hats.
As the campaign for president heated up, I reached for my knitting, knowing it would calm my nerves. I knitted through all three debates, knitted through Trump’s pussy grabbing comments, his divisive rhetoric, his chants of “lock her up!”.
Should I have done more than knit? Was knitting the equivalent of twiddling my thumbs? These are questions I now answer yes to. But then, I believed that to knit was to endure, and to endure was to survive, and to survive was to triumph. With each stitch, I was demonstrating my belief in society, in decency, in the good, the honest, and the hard-working. No base demagogue, I thought, could unravel my America.
Concern laced the voices of the NPR commentators when Florida fell to Trump. When he laid claim to Ohio, I called my daughter.
“Oh, my god!” I said by way of a greeting.
“I know!” she agreed.
When I hung up, I stared at my drained wine glass. I stared at the hat, intricately patterned. All it needed was a pom-pom. I spent the last hour of the election, as the results for Michigan were first suggested and then confirmed, focusing on making a perfect pom-pom. I wrapped the yarn in tight loops around my fingers, tied it off in the middle, cut and fluffed. Then I shaped it with the scissors into a perfectly round ball and sewed it onto the hat. It was a small thing, an incidental thing, but it was the only thing in my control.
My daughter and I traveled to Washington DC to attend the Women’s March. At the rest stops on the way down women were sporting pink knitted pussy hats. At the march itself, looking out at the sea of hats, I thought, we may triumph yet. We stayed with my father, who still lives in my childhood home. There is still plenty of wool in my bedroom. I brought some more home, for the future.