The Warp and the Weft


Madame Defarge's Pussy Hat

by Bluebird, January 2017

I went on a beautiful beach vacation with my family over the holidays, and spent most of my time furiously knitting and expressing my increasingly-radical leftist politics. Mom started calling me Madame Defarge.

Thank you to Emily Nora O'Neil for the knitting lessons, Albatross and Penguin Classics for the book,
and Valerie Hartshorn for the hat

Madame Defarge is a character in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. She represents the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, when those revolting against the nobility became violent. Madame Defarge was one of the tricoteuse: women who would sit at the guillotine and knit as the heads rolled. She even encoded kill lists into her patterns.

Tricoteuse 1793 c/o LACMA

I'm so excited to read this book; I remember being fascinated by the French Revolution in high school history class, and the French Rebellion in high school Existentialism class (which should be a requirement, by the way). Americans need to collectively study history right now, our oldest ally France is an important place to look, and literature is a valuable supplement. I sympathize with Madame Defarge — at least from the summary, even though it calls her a villain — but I am not a violent person. She is deeply traumatized and we have to understand what that does to a person, how it can make them violent, how trauma and violence get passed through generations. I do understand the strategy of punching a bully in the face, but it's only a short term solution; they're often traumatized too. Giving a bully a safe space to talk about their problems, to meditate even, works much better. I don't want to help usher in an era named something like the Reign of Terror.

Claudia Miller at Piedmont Yarn & Apparel in Oakland, CA c/o The East Bay Times

I love the symbolism of the knitted hats at the Women's March. First of all, they honor the history of revolutionary women and textiles, like the suffragettes and their flags. Second, they are such a perfect antidote to the made-in-China polyester red slogan caps. They are softer in color and texture, they keep you warm, they were hand-crafted by a citizen with aspirational love. The photos of old women smiling and knitting them, and of young women out in the streets singing and dancing in them, and vice-versa, are beautiful.

National Woman's Party activists watch Alice Paul sew a star onto the NWP Ratification Flag, representing another state's ratification of the 19th Amendment c/o The Library of Congress

Finally, as I begin to learn these cozy crafts, I really appreciate the immense patience and skill required. Learning to read the patterns alone is a challenge, and it's an unforgiving medium. The textiles women have created to wrap up their loved ones are even more lovely to me now. Propers to the men who brought us sewing, weaving, and knitting machines as well; beautiful and fascinating in their own right. And thank you to everyone for the internet tutorials.

Nick Offerman at Sundance c/o Buzzfeed