Culture

Knitting Nannas And Vaginal Scarves: Why Craftivism Is Your New Favourite Thing

Didn't get what you wanted out of the March In March? Have a knit about it.

Protesting is important. It’s a way for ordinary citizens to express dissatisfaction with the powers that be when they feel conventional avenues are unsatisfactory, or have been exhausted. At the same time, protests can be a bit off-putting — often because of the kind of people who are guaranteed to turn up. Rallies might be a bit more palatable to the average Joe were it not for the bandanna-d hordes who seem to do it for a living; screaming outdated slogans into megaphones, waving banners featuring a lot of swear words and clenched fists, and endlessly trying to get you to buy a copy of some dreadful Marxist micropaper. The recent March in March attracted a lot of people besides the usual suspects, but still followed the old chant-march-speech format — after which everyone kind of just shrugged and went home.

The other problem with traditional protests? There’s never been anywhere to put your knitting. Until now. Craftivism is a new and very different kind of protest movement that uses knitting needles and balls of yarn as the tools of revolution, with local groups springing up all over Australia and taking aim at evil corporations, insane governments and generally nasty people, one stitch at a time. It’s like another form of graffiti; it has a cuddlier, more family-friendly image, sure, but it operates under the same assumption that creative expression can be a political act, and can make a real difference.

Your Nanna Is Getting Arrested, Being Incredible

The largest and most well-known craftivism group in Australia is called Knitting Nannas Against Gas. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of sweet old ladies who ‘protest’ by unfolding some lawn chairs, popping the kettle on and making beanies, toys and tea cosies. The KNAGs, who formed in and around Lismore in 2012, campaign against the growing coal-seam gas (CSG) industry, which they argue threatens to destroy prime farmland and unspoiled ecosystems. They are also absolutely delightful.

One of their specialty knitting items is the yellow-and-black triangle, the symbol widely adopted by the Lock The Gate Alliance, and they regularly stage “knit-ins” at prospective CSG sites, logging camps, and outside MP’s offices.

Pictured: THUGS.

Pictured: THUGS.

KNAGs founder Clare Twomey says the Nannas come from all walks of life, and really could be anyone. “KNAGs are brought together by a common purpose – to protect the land, air and water for the kiddies,” she told me. “We have 10 year olds and Nannas who don’t remember how old they are anymore. You would only notice us when we’re in uniform, dressed in black and yellow and wearing our berets.”

They might not act like regular protestors, but they sure get treated like them – at least by police. Twomey herself was arrested at a CSG protest at Doubtful Creek in northern NSW last year, after locking herself on top of a six-metre high tripod and calmly knitting until police removed her with the aid of a cherry picker. While all charges were eventually dismissed, another eight Nannas in Victoria were forced to appear in court in December after being charged with breaching a “public safety zone” by setting up their camp chairs at a controversial logging site on Mt St Leonard.

Despite these high-profile setbacks (or perhaps because of them), the Knitting Nannas have chalked up a number of big wins: they’ve been voted Climate Change Heroes by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and even been the subject of an award-winning documentary. In a huge victory for the cause, CSG corporation MetGasCo announced it was suspending all exploration activity in the Northern Rivers in March last year, and while they reversed their decision after the Coalition’s election victory in October, the KNAGs and others have vowed to continue the fight.

They’re like hundreds of adorable Erin Brockovitches.

They’re like hundreds of sweet old Erin Brockovitches.

“When you get to a certain age, you don’t give a stuff what people think of you,” Twomley says. “It shows the opponents that we are not feral nor hippy, and we are a well-recognised and very welcome appearance.” With local chapters (or “loops”) in at least three states, a well-stated Nannafesto and a growing presence online, the Knitting Nannas will be politely protesting for some time yet.

Some Bikers Are Actually Super Cool And Nice

A more militant group of craftivists, Knit Your Revolt, sprung up in 2012 in reaction to the derision dished out to Julia Gillard for appearing on the cover of Women’s Weekly holding some knitting (and also for being a girl and girls are gross).

More recently, Knit Your Revolt have been kickin’ ass and countin’ stitches in Queensland to protest Campbell Newman’s widely-panned “anti-bikie” legislation, which ban the gathering of three or more members of an organisation the government deems ‘criminal’, and which have already resulted in the arrests of five people having a beer, as well as another five who were buying ice cream while on holiday. A mysterious underground figure in the Knit Your Revolt movement, who only goes by the name of the Bad-Ass Motherstitcher, does not take kindly to such nonsense.

“Guilt by association? Mandatory imprisonment and solitary confinement? I was bristling; how DARE the government tell us who to be friends with? Enjoying a beer with a dodgy larrikin is part of our birthright at Aussies,” BAMS says. “I’ve committed some minor crimes as part of Knit Your Revolt – public nuisance, unregulated signage, stuff like that – but usually with the intent of embarrassing the government. If the government decided to take offence and declare us a criminal organisation, my kids would be visiting me in prison. It seemed like outrageous overkill.”

In response, Knit Your Revolt decided to “systematically break as many humorous and silly laws” as they could to point the how ridiculous they were, and got started in the best way possible: by knitting colourful streamers and pretty patterns onto tricycles, forming the best “bikie gang” you’re not cool enough to join, and riding down the main street of Brisbane’s CBD.

TRICYCLES

Straight outta Queens Plaza.

The stunt gained enough attention to force Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to assure the public that innocent community organisations making “knitting or artwork or quilts” would not be targeted under the laws. Presumably he then screamed, “I’ll get you next time, you meddling fools!” before fleeing the press conference to his underground lair shaped like a giant skull.

The Revolters also welcomed Queensland Parliament back on its first sitting day in January by knocking up a to-scale solitary confinement cell out of pink wool on the steps of Parliament House and inviting politicians, protestors and legit bikies to step inside with someone in a pink gimp mask — because nothing brings people together like soft, woolly BDSM.

CELL

It’s like Fifty Shades Of Grey, only not dreadful.

This Lady Knitted A Scarf Out of Her Vagina For A Month, And That’s Great

As we all know, vaginas are disgusting and we should never talk about them – that’s why a cover of Sydney Uni student magazine Honi Soit was censored for featuring photos of eighteen vulvas. Even saying the word ‘vagina’ will send you to Hell alongside Lady Gaga and people who have sex with the lights on, which is why we all use nice, safe words like ‘hoo-hah’, ‘downstairs’ and other terms you literally picked up in kindergarten.

So it comes as no surprise that when Australian performance artist Casey Jenkins sat down in October, stuck a ball of wool up inside her and started knitting a scarf in an art gallery in Darwin, right-minded people everywhere berated her for the demented ovary-demon she clearly is. (Warning: the video below is called ‘Vaginal Knitting’, which should give you some clues re: how safe for work it is.)

The story was picked up everywhere from the UK Mirror to the Huffington Post, often reported in the same tone that boys in Year 3 take when discussing the worrying spread of girl germs; Cosmo UK reported that as if the act itself “wasn’t embarrassing enough, the public will be watching”. Goodness! I think I have a case of the vapours!

Even worse were the comments under the articles, which were dominated by various iterations of “gross” and do not make for good reading if you value thoughtful debate or basic sentence structure. Putting aside the fact that most performance art is designed to shock, people got pretty het up about a woman doing something with her vagina that wasn’t either putting a penis in it or squeezing a baby out of it — especially considering Jenkins kept knitting the scarf while she had her period.

A lot of people accused her of “seeking attention,” which is bad because – hey, look! A bird!

COMMENTS

In response to all this foaming bullshit, Jenkins wrote an brilliant piece for the Guardian defending her work, pointing out that “seeking attention” when you’re an artist is kind of the point, and that the fact that so many people found it disgusting says way more about them than about her.

“As the deafening response to my work demonstrates, there is a hell of a lot of clamouring noise in society about what a person with a body like mine should and shouldn’t be doing with it,” Jenkins wrote. “Over the course of the month I sat with the steady rhythm of the knitting needles and of my body and created a work that I have complete confidence in, a confidence that thousands of internet opinions have not dinted.”

She also happens to be the nationwide founder of Knit Your Revolt. That settles it; she is officially better than you.

You can check out the Knitting Nannas and Knit Your Revolt on Facebook, or find their websites here and here.

Alex McKinnon is a Sydney-based writer and journalist, and former editor of The Star Observer.

Feature image of ‘Abbott Head’ by Jacquie Tinkler, via Knit Your Revolt.