“Knit Democracy Together Project” by Eve Jacobs-Carnahan
Lauren Sinner November 20, 2020
I sort through the knitted blocks sent to me by participants in Knit Democracy Together knitting circles. I am stitching them together to form a sculpture of a state capitol building. Alone in my studio, I feel surrounded by a community of knitters who are concerned about the future of our democratic system. Like the knitters who made them, each building block has its own individual character. Together the pieces will form a sculpture symbolizing a proper representative democracy.
Knit Democracy Together is a collaborative art project with several components: knitting circles, a sculpture, and discussion about electoral reform. I developed the idea for the project in early 2019, because I saw too many people throwing up their hands in frustration with the democratic process. As a former election lawyer, I know that our electoral system can be improved. Through this project, I am raising awareness of alternatives to the system of funding campaigns with private money. I want people to learn about measures used in cities and states around the U.S. that reconnect officeholders to their constituents and increase their accountability to voters.
The tangible part of the project is a sculptural representation of a state capitol adorned with knitted hands. When completed, the sculpture will stand three feet tall, five feet wide, and two feet deep. The armature is primarily made of cardboard boxes faced with acid-free foam board for added strength. The exterior surfaces are covered with knitted blocks made by project participants.
Individuals made the building blocks during online knitting circles in the summer of 2020. Originally planned as in-person gatherings throughout Vermont, the events moved online because of the pandemic. Despite the challenges of creating conversation among strangers in an online forum, people have eagerly come together. In the stressful months of the pandemic, police killings, social unrest, and pre-election anxiety, people have sought connection through the restorative, constructive activity of knitting.
The disarming nature of knitting makes this art approachable. I use that quality to my advantage in my knitted sculpture, addressing serious issues under cover of soft yarn. Likewise, in today’s political environment, knitting circles can be a safe space for discussion. The shared act of handcrafting creates a common bond and puts people at ease.
Knitting circle participants have become collaborators on the sculpture, as they choose the yarn and design the building blocks within size parameters I provide. Knitted blocks have been arriving in my mailbox in many colors: cream, putty, caramel, smoke, slate. Some knitters employ smooth textures like stockinette and garter stitch. Others use stitches to simulate bricks or courses of stone. It is an interesting challenge to work with elements created by other people in colors and textures I do not fully control. In order to minimize the patchwork effect, I grouped blocks by shade, creating a more unified look for each section of the building.
The capitol sculpture will be adorned by colorful hands holding knitting needles, as if they are constructing the legislative building. They are meant to signify the hands of the community whose representatives write the laws. These hands will be attached to unfinished sections of the walls, suggesting the ongoing process of governing.
After finishing the construction, my next step will be to design an exhibition surrounding the sculpture. I would like to enrich the display of the knitted building with context about the history of knitting and activism. I also plan to use text and audio storytelling to explore the subject of our electoral system and how to improve it. I hope to expand Knit Democracy Together knitting circles into other communities beyond my area of Vermont. I think the project can be a useful tool for bringing people together in conversation about critical issues in democracy.
- Video recording of one of the online knitting circles held in conjunction with Vermont Humanities in September 2020
- Recent interview as a guest on Alyson Stanfield’s ArtBiz podcast where I talk about the development of the project, how people have responded, what I’ve learned doing my first collaborative project, and where I see it going
- Recent post on my art blog connecting this project to the history of activist knitting: Historical Knitting Circles are Precursors of Today’s Craftivist Movement