HerStory October 2019: Elsie Allen

Born in 1899, Elsie Allen spoke only her native Pomo language until the age of 11, when she was ripped from her family and forced by white American authorities to attend a boarding school for Native American children in California. After a few miserable years, she was able to leave the school and rejoin her family. It was then that she reconnected with her mother and grandmother and with the Pomo tradition of basketweaving.

The Pomo are indigenous to what is now California. They are known for their artistry in basketweaving. Baskets were essential to daily life: the Pomo didn’t have access to the clay that would have given rise to a pottery culture like many Native American tribes. Elsie was born into this rich tradition, passed down matrilineally from her mother and grandmother. As 20th century white supremacist America relentlessly encroached upon the lands and lives of the Pomo tribes, there was a very real danger that this tradition, along with the tribe itself, would fade out; even the plants used to create the baskets, considered weeds by the colonizers, were being eradicated. Added to these factors was the fact that when a revered member of the Pomo tribe dies, baskets are buried with them. When a Pomo basketweaver dies, the entirety of her work is buried with her. Thus there were not many examples of the craft for a young Elsie to use as inspiration and instruction. When Elsie’s mother was on her deathbed, she implored Elsie not to bury her life’s work, but instead to use it to further her own art. Elsie respected her mother’s wishes, and the family’s basket collection has been used to showcase the talent and artistry of the Pomo basketweaving culture. 

Throughout her life, Elsie Allen promoted Pomo women’s rights, carrying on a long-standing tradition of her tribe. She fought against racism and prejudice against Native Americans, and used her basketweaving skills to fundraise for organizations providing aid and support to Native American women and to raise awareness about Native American life and culture. She wrote books and taught workshops and worked at ensuring that the art form didn’t fade into the past. She fought for the rights of the First Nations people and was an advocate for Native women. She lived in a time of deep racism against Native Americans, but she chose to lift up her people through celebrating their amazing functional art and advocating for the human rights of her tribespeople.

Our October HerStory colorway, Pomo Basket, is a way for us to honor Elsie Allen’s work. We painted the skeins as if they were Pomo baskets, paying homage to the functional art of the Pomo tribe and to Elsie’s furthering of that art and knowledge.

October Sassy Holidays 2019: Indigenous Peoples Day

Once upon a time in the United States of America, there was a holiday called Columbus Day. It was a day to honor the man who so-called “discovered” the Americas, and it was all a sham. Columbus was, in fact, a horrible person, who saw the generosity and friendliness of the Native Americans he encountered as an invitation to dominate them. A person who perpetrated disease and slaughter onto the people who already lived in the places he supposedly discovered. A person who promised his bosses back in Spain gold and slaves in exchange for more ships and men. A person who has long been celebrated and lauded as a hero to America. In fact, most people raised in American schools can easily name the three ships he “sailed the ocean blue” with. (Howard Zinn wrote a great article about the real Christopher Columbus: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/10/the-real-christopher-columbus/)

Fortunately, as the US has gained more self-awareness about its own history, fewer and fewer folks think that Columbus Day is a valid National Holiday, and have supplanted it with Indigenous People’s Day, a day to honor and celebrate Native Americans and commemorates their shared history and culture. Indigenous People’s Day started in South Dakota in 1989, and is now celebrated across the United States. There are still only three states that don’t celebrate Columbus Day at all (yay, Oregon!), but many states and cities have adopted Indigenous People’s Day on the second Monday of October. 

Our Indigenous People’s Day colorway was created after a deep Google dive of images of Native American Regalia. There were so many gorgeous and inspiring pieces to choose from, but we decided on a more traditional color scheme. 

We hope you’ll spend the day knitting with this gorgeous yarn, and thinking about ways America can do better in regards to its Native population. A few organizations that are going good works include: 

Indigenous Peoples Day colorway

Why “menstrual products”?

Some folks may wonder, as we advertise the menstrual products drive we’re hosting as a part of our Halloween Harry Potter Pub Quiz Extravaganza, why we’re using the phrase “menstrual products” instead of “feminine hygiene products.” Well, it’s because not all people who use menstrual products are females.

Language is so powerful, so important. That old phrase “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you” is a big lie. Words CAN hurt. Words DO hurt. Just look at the current occupant of the White House, and tell all of folks who have been victims of hate crimes since he started spewing his racist rhetoric that his words will never hurt them.

If we, as cis, white women, who have so many privileges just by dint of our outward appearance, can help folks who don’t share those privileges feel even just a wee bit more comfortable in the world, you know we’re going to do it. And that’s why adopting more inclusive language is so important, and it’s something we’d implore all of those in our orbit to do, as well. It is completely and totally painless to change our language surrounding menstrual products. Look, I said menstrual products and it actually felt good.

Now, let’s get rid of as many of these exclusionary (and outright racist/sexist/othering) words and phrases as we can, ok? I, for one, have taken to saying y’all instead of you guys, because we are not all guys, and y’all sounds cute. What else can we do to make language a bit more inclusive?

September Sassy Holidays 2019: Hobbit Day

Who doesn’t love the Hobbits, those adorable and tenacious humanoids from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy? Who wouldn’t love to celebrate Frodo and Bilbo Baggins’ shared birthday with a big party, complete with food, friends, fireworks, and frivolity? Indulging in elevenses, entering their cozy Hobbit holes, and hearing Frodo and Bilbo regale us with tales of their very un-Hobbity adventures? Well, we can all celebrate on September 22nd, which, along with being the birthday of the two most adventurous Hobbits the Shire has ever seen, is also celebrated as Hobbit Day, smack-dab in the middle of Tolkien week. 

In Tolkien’s writing, Hobbits, which are about half the size of humans, are often referred to as Halflings. Our Halfling colorway plays homage to these very special Hobbits that captured our imaginations as children (and adults). The Hobbit was written as a children’s book, and is a wonderful adventure to share with the kiddos in your life. We listened to it as a family on a long road trip, and mine were captivated by it. I remember the first time I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a young adult; I cried, because I was so sad I would never read it for the first time again. If you haven’t read the books, we highly recommend you do. And, on September 22nd, indulge in a bit of the Hobbit life, if you will, in honor of the magic that Tolkien shared with us.

HerStory September 2019: Joana Choumali

We’d love to introduce you to Joana Choumali. Her Awoulaba/Taille Fine project is so amazing, and the statement it makes about beauty standards and ideals is so powerful, that we had to share it with you all for our September HerStory. The image that most inspired the Crafted Perfection colorway we created is the final image of the project linked here: http://joanachoumali.com/index.php/projects/photography/awoulaba-taille-fine.

Joana Choumali is a visual artist based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire whose work often explores issues of identity and womanhood, mostly in African culture. She is currently delving into the use of embroidery over photography as a medium, and her most recent work is a stunning look at a town in trauma, as well as an inspiring artistic marriage of two different crafty art mediums. For HerStory, however, it’s her Awoulaba/Taille Fine project that grabbed us, and the statements the project makes about standards of beauty across the world. 

Awoulaba/Taille Fine explores the variances in standards of beauty among African and American/Western cultures using images of “perfect” body parts and Awoulaba mannequins all mixed together as indicators of a culture’s prevailing beauty ideals. In the early 2010s in Africa, mannequins began being produced/crafted that reflected a more African standard of beauty: wider hips, fuller breasts, heavier arms and legs. Called “Awoulaba,” meaning “Beauty Queens,” these mannequins were so unlike the more common “Taille Fine” (a term used to describe a more Western standard of beauty) mannequins usually seen that they inspired this project. The project blends the two in a way that is both jarring and beautiful. Choumali juxtaposed images of body parts of women in popular culture who embody different combinations of the two standards, making a powerful statement about aspirational beauty and the damage it can do. She asks of viewers the question: why are we aspiring to the generic, mannequin-like perfection society wants us to? Why not celebrate our uniqueness instead? And maybe most importantly, who is the keeper of the standards? From her website:

“They evoke the venus celebrities who embody perfect beauty in popular culture: Kim Kardashian (the white Awoulaba); Nikki Minaj (the light skinned Awoulaba); Naomi Campbell (the black Taille Fine); Lupita Niango (the black Taille Fine); and Beyonce (the light skinned Awoulaba).”

We hope you take some time to explore Joana Choumali’s visual art, and that we all realize that those standards of beauty that we aspire to are baloney. 

National Parks 2019: Joshua Tree

Skein of our National Parks colorway Joshua Tree in Sock

It’s like a gorgeous alien landscape, Joshua Tree National Park. Like something out of a Dr Seuss book (if only Dr Seuss wasn’t such a racist). The park showcases two very different ecosystems: the Colorado Desert in the eastern portion, and the Mojave Desert in the western portion, which is slightly cooler and gives rise to the iconic Joshua Trees. Don’t tell the other parks, but this one might just be our favorite.