Pussyhat Project hooks Austin crafters

Jan 10, 2017
Materials used by Lisa Walsh as part of a national movement to knit hats for all of the participants in the Women’s March on Washington. (Photos by Erika Rich for American-Statesman)

A few weeks ago, the employees at Hill Country Weavers noticed a strange trend.

Their pink yarn, not usually one of the most popular colors, was flying off the shelves.

“We started running out,” said Hill Country Weavers employee Lisa Walsh. “We had women coming in, pattern in hand, asking for needles and pink yarn. Suddenly we were looking at our shelves and seeing no pink.”

The women all held the same pattern for a pink hat with two pointy cat ears on top. But they weren’t knitting Christmas presents for Hello Kitty-loving grandchildren. They were making a political statement — craftivism, if you will — as part of the Pussyhat Project, a national movement that launched Thanksgiving weekend with a mission to provide a handmade hat to every person participating in the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“Your stereotypical knitter is not someone marching in the street,” said Walsh, 51. “We’re trying to put something positive out there. If I’m going to sit here and knit, instead of making a Christmas stocking, I’m going to make a pussyhat. Whenever I hear someone say there’s nothing I can do, I say, ‘Yes, there is something you can do. Knit a hat.’”

The project aims to create more than a million hats — they may be knitted, crocheted or sewn using any variety of patterns as long as the material is pink and cat ears are involved — although current march attendance estimates are closer to 150,000.

Organizers, who chose to include that polarizing word in the project’s name “because we want to reclaim the term as a means of empowerment,” say that creating a sea of pink at the march will promote unity and warmth for marchers and give those who cannot attend a way to show their support. The movement has gained nearly 10,000 likes on Facebook in recent weeks and attracted a celebrity following — Amy Schumer and Patti Smith have both been snapped sporting the hats.

In Austin, interest has been high enough that several area businesses are offering free events for anyone who would like to learn to make a hat and can benefit from their, ahem, purls of wisdom.

“There’s something for just about every skill level,” said Leslie Bonnell, owner of Stitch Lab, which will host three community hat-making “stitch-ins” and also serve as a drop-off spot for people who have completed hats. “What we’re doing is creating a space and offering some guided help. It’s kind of a community effort to get together and work on these. The main thing is to have that togetherness. Even if you’re just making one hat, that makes a difference to somebody at this event.”

Stitch Lab will host its stitch-ins at its South First Street store, which is scheduled to close in late February to make way for a new development. In late 2016 Bonnell said it was unlikely that Stitch Lab would be able to relocate but this week noted that she is in negotiations with an interested buyer that could allow the well-known shop to move to a different location, “fingers crossed.”

“As a business owner, I want everyone to be welcome, regardless of their political leanings,” Bonnell said. “For me and for Stitch Lab, it’s about equality. I want it to be very clear that that’s the spirit that we’re doing this in. I don’t want to alienate other women who voted for Donald Trump. Women are asking for equality — they’re not asking for better than, they’re asking for equality. I can’t imagine anyone who can’t get behind that.”

But not everyone is behind the mission. Shortly after announcing the stitch-ins on Instagram and Facebook, Bonnell, who plans to knit a dozen hats for the cause, received messages calling the idea “disgusting” and advising that she “get a grip.”

Walsh said Hill Country Weavers, which opened at its new location on Manchaca Road on Jan. 2, was not initially planning to host any knit-alongs but decided to get involved because of customer interest. Walsh said although she plans to knit 25 hats and hand-deliver them and the others she collects to the Women’s March — where she’ll participate alongside her 69-year-old mom — the store does not intend for any events to be politically charged. Owner Suzanne Middlebrooks echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t want it to be political,” Middlebrooks said. “I want it to be about human rights. That’s our position.”

Walsh said all — from children to mother-and-daughter pairs to men — are welcome. Oh, and if you go, could you bring some of that that hard-to-come-by yarn?

“We’d love donations of yarn,” Walsh said. “Pink yarn.”