This is the introduction to Stories In Stitches book 6, which should be going to the printer in about two weeks. I can’t wait for the book to come out to share this. So here it is. I hope it speaks to you.
“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
―Frederick Douglass, 1857
Sometimes I fail to do my best work. I’m not talking about having mistakes in published patterns or typos in articles and essays. I’m talking about not speaking out in my writing and hiding from the truth. This is how I failed in Stories In Stitches 5.
Although Stories In Stitches 5 was about speaking out, I censored myself in its pages. I wanted to call my story about Harriet Tubman “Black Lives Matter: From Harriet Tubman to Michael Brown.” I wanted to write about the Black Lives Matter movement and how this country is still suffering from the racism that plagued us 150 years ago before the Civil War and was around before, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement 50 years ago. I wanted to talk about how these problems are still facing us today. I wanted to lament the death of an 18-year-old African American boy at the hands of a white police officer who took the law into his own hands and decided to be judge, jury, and executioner. But I didn’t. When I looked on the Internet, I saw articles and comments saying, “Michael Brown was a thug.” Instead, I considered writing about Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, killed by a white man in a mass shooting at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina. But in my mind and heart, I knew that the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was no more or less tragic and despicable than the shooting of Reverend Pinckney. Regardless of whether Michael Brown was a bully—or even a criminal—he was also an unarmed teenager and undeserving of the death sentence. In the end, I didn’t have the courage to breach the topic, and I’m ashamed.
Now I find that I can’t put out another book in this series without saying what’s on my mind. As a society, we believe that we are living in a new era and a world that is much more modern and enlightened than the world in which Union and Confederate soldiers found themselves fighting, but I’m convinced that historians of the future will consider the twenty-first century part of the same era as the nineteenth. We are still dealing with the results of colonialism and the industrial revolution: labor and class struggles, laissez-faire economics, and white supremacy.
This book (Stories In Stitches 6) is about the topic of recycling, and as I write my portions I am watching the news about the U.S. presidential primaries and seeing racism, hate, and intolerance being recycled and passed on to yet another generation of Americans. It makes me so sad and so angry. Almost 50 years ago when I was a little girl, I thought prejudice was coming to an end and that the words of the Declaration of Independence, “all men [and women] are created equal,” would finally be the reality of life in America. Oh, how very wrong I was.
As you read the stories that Ava and I are presenting in this series about knitting during the Civil War era, it is incredibly important to remember what a dark and distressing time this was for our nation. Sometimes I feel like we celebrate the period and look back on it with nostalgic longing. But it was war. And war is hell. Whatever we think about the fashions and crafts of this time period, let us always remember the suffering caused by all wars and the reason this war ultimately was fought: to eliminate another kind of suffering, the injustice of slavery, and the violence and inhumane practices that comprised it.
In this book, you’ll find projects and stories about sweaters, socks, bedspreads, and rugs that were made from recycled materials and recycled design ideas. America is a land of immigrants, and immigrants brought our knitting traditions to this continent. Until the nineteenth century, the vast majority of immigrants were from England, Scotland, and Wales. (In addition, millions of Africans, usually ignored when discussing immigration, were kidnapped and forcibly transported to the United States to be sold as slaves until the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in 1808.) In the nineteenth century, the ethnic mix of new immigrants began to change as people from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Asia started flocking to our shores. By 1861, thirteen percent of Americans had been born in another country, and many of these newcomers were Catholic, not Protestant. Later, when my family came to New York in the first decade of the twentieth century, more and more immigrants, including large numbers of Jews, were coming from Eastern Europe and Russia. As each new wave of immigration occurred, many “native Americans” (as those Europeans who were born in the United States called themselves) complained that immigrants were “the foes of democracy, reason, and education” and “[t]heir very coming and mingling with us, diminishes the proportional amount of purity, and intelligence, and piety, that we before had . . . Our moral power is weakened, our moral sense blunted . . . by this foreign infusion.”
But new immigrants have brought the wonderful traditions of culture, food, stories, and textiles that have melded together to create the rich heritage of the United States. Examples in knitting include colorwork designs from Turkey and Norway, elaborate cables from Ireland, delicate lace from Estonia and Russia, toe-up socks from the Middle East, and fisherman’s sweaters decorated with texture stitches from the British Isles and Northern Europe. All of these ideas and patterns are recycled from those of past immigrants to this country, as are the ideas of white supremacy and prejudice against African Americans, Muslims, and new immigrants.
It’s time—long past time—for all of this hate and fear to end. It’s time to be much more conscious about what we choose to pass down and what we decide to discard. If only as people we could blend and mix—in the proverbial melting pot—as easily as knitting traditions and stitches blend in a new sweater or shawl design. Let us do our best work. Let us join together and reject the recycled ideas of racism, hate, and intolerance. Let us use our knitting and our words to embrace diversity and to promote peace and the American values of “liberty and justice for all.”
“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
―Martin Niemöller, 1945
The “Know Nothings” were members of a political party founded in 1850 by a secret society in New York. Members promised to say only, “I know nothing,” when asked about their party and organization. The party’s platform was based entirely on keeping “Native Americans” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants born in the United States) in power. No one who was foreign-born or Roman Catholic could hold political office. Immigrants could not apply for citizenship before living in the United States for at least 21 years. “Be Aware of Foreign Influence” was the group’s motto.