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In a recent issue of Vogue Knitting, there’s a story about how expressing beliefs through art is “as old as civilization,” said Atlanta, Georgia, resident and knitter Jill Vogin. In the US, it’s older than the country itself. According to the story, during the American Revolution British wool was taxed — and the American handspun yarn industry began.
“The American women, what they decided to do was stop using the fine wool that was coming out and using handspuns. There was a whole cottage industry during the Revolution of what women were making out of these scratchy fleeces that they were getting locally. … The American flag? It’s a quilt. Betsy Ross sewed it to express a baby country’s yearning for independence and its own identity,” Vogin said. “To me this is not a new phenomenon. This is as old as the hills. It’s just the materials we have are more sophisticated in some ways.”
For Vogin, those materials are a pair of knitting needles and a skein or 17 of yarn. Though she’s been knitting on behalf of causes she supports for several years, in late 2018 she debuted the next phase of her creativity.
“I said, ‘Find a knitter and buy the pattern,’” Vogin said. “We’ve sold a handful of them, a few hats and a few patterns. My goal is to just keep developing that over time. It really seemed to me that there is a niche there for people who want to be able to express themselves in these ways because so many women are going to the Capitol now to protest or to lobby. I can take that same basic hat pattern and put a powerful message on it.”
She’s developing a follow-up pattern in time for the 2019 Women’s Marches, inspired by people who share her political views being called snowflakes. Though she wouldn’t share all the details yet, Vogin did say that the phrase will be “I am the storm.”
“I think about this whole concept of ‘liberal snowflakes’ and feeling like yeah, one snowflake is pretty weak, but a bunch of snowflakes together? Watch out. Winter is coming,” she said.
>> color speaks
One of the first memories I have of Vogin is seeing her stand at the front of the room during the “show and tell” portion of an Atlanta Knitting Guild meeting and talk about her Elvis sweater. She knitted his portrait on a sweater in one of the most fabulous displays of colorwork I’ve ever seen, and it was followed by her John Lennon sweater. That one featured not only a portrait, but song lyrics as well. The techniques she learned making these pieces springboarded her craftivism — colorwork displays of motifs and words pertaining to causes and candidates she’s passionate about.
When Jon Ossoff ran for Georgia’s 6th Congressional district, her sweater encouraged Georgians to “vote your Ossoff.” She knitted an abstract Statue of Liberty with “persist” emblazoned on it in day-glo neons, and recently finished a “speak truth to power” top that was featured in Atlanta Senior Life magazine.
“That’s kind of where I’ve been evolving to instead of, ‘hey, vote for this person,’ and more showing my love of the country and distain for some of the things that are going on,” Vogin said.
Much of her colorwork touches on hotbed topics, but Vogin hesitates to call her patterns and finished apparel political.
“It’s beyond that, it’s more of who I am as a person. What I believe is so challenged right now by what’s going on with the government that it looks political, but it’s deeper than that,” Vogin said. “I’m using color and I’m using design to basically express what I’m feeling about what’s going on.”
Vogin said for much of her life, “nice girls” weren’t supposed to talk politics, much less embed their views and beliefs in their sweaters.
“We knitted plain little sweaters and granny squares, but we didn’t dare speak out or we would lose our jobs,” Vogin said. “I think now for women that is really changing dramatically and so I expect to see more and more of that coming out of me in what I’m doing: not being a sweet, nice girl anymore but being more true to who I am and what I feel and not being afraid to express it anymore.”