HerStory October 2018: Wangari Maathi

 It’s Fall, y’all, and even though the leaves are turning orange and red in our part of the country, we are all about green this month for HerStory, as we delve into the life and activism of Wangari Maathai and her founding of the the Green Belt Movement.

Born in Nyeri in rural Kenya in 1940, Wangari Maathai truly did it all. She was a pioneer in practically everything she did, and seemed to be collecting firsts: she was the first woman ever in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree; the first woman ever to chair a department at the University of Nairobi, and the first woman ever to become an associate professor there. She was also the first African woman to win a Nobel Peach Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” After earning degrees in America, she returned to Africa and became active in pro-democracy politics in her native Kenya. It was during her time chairing the National Council of Women of Kenya in the late 1970s that she began her work on what would become the Green Belt Movement, which was to become her most lasting legacy.

As she became more involved in advocacy groups such as the National Council of Women and the Kenya Red Cross Society (which she also directed) in Kenya, she realized that many of the problems she was seeing in her beloved home country were a direct result of environmental degradation. She was inspired to create a business that provided the seeds (see what we did there?) for the Green Belt Movement. Envirocare sought to connect ordinary Kenyans, particularly women, with the means to plant fledgeling tree nurseries, paying them to look after these nurseries. Even though Envirocare did not ultimately succeed, it was because of this work that Maathai was inspired and able to create the Green Belt Movement.

The Green Belt Movement was and is a grass-roots environmental organization with the goal of empowering people, mostly women, in rural communities to work at both environmental conservation and building their own food supplies toward more self-sustainability. This is achieved by community seed-planting and -stewardship, which in turn helps to build and protect soil and rainwater retention. Participants receive training and a small stipend for each seedling planted, and their community enjoys environment benefits from replenishing and rebuilding the soil. The main thrust of the movement is for communities to take control of their own destinies, by working together to address their specific needs. 

Throughout all of this, Wangari Maathai had a personal life, too: she married, had three children, and ultimately divorced. Readers of this letter will be unsurprised to learn that her husband wished for a divorce because she was difficult to control, and even went so far, in the divorce proceedings, to accuse her of adultery and state that the worry over that caused high blood pressure. The (male) judge ruled in Wangari’s husband’s favor, which inspired her to wonder, in an interview, if he was corrupt or incompetent. The judge THEN charged her with contempt of court AND SHE WAS FOUND GUILTY AND SENTENCED TO SIX MONTHS IN JAIL!!! Whaaaaaaaaa…..? Fortunately, her lawyer was able to spring her after only three days, but seriously??? Once she was out of jail, her ex-husband demanded she stop his surname, to which the seemingly salty and, we’re sure, fed up to her eyeballs Wangari responded by merely adding an extra “a” to the name, effectively changing it.

There is so much more to talk about with this amazing HerStory recipient (as there have been for every single one so far this year)… For instance, during her time at the University of Nairobi, she campaigned for equal rights for woman, and even attempted to form a union in the hopes of gaining more bargaining power. Although the union was thwarted, the seeds of equal rights were planted, and much of what she was pushing for was eventually adopted by the university. And, because of her ethnic heritage and advocacy for a democratic Kenya, a lot of what she tried to accomplish politically was thwarted once Daniel arap Moi was elected president in the late 1970s. 

In the 1980s, the government started attacking the Green Belt Movement, partly because it was such a democratic organization, and the government was swinging closer to authoritarianism (sound familiar?). As Maathai became more political and more outspoken against the ruling power, she was targeted by the government, called “a crazy woman” who ran a “bogus organization” run by a “bunch of divorcees.” Resolved to fight for democracy and fairness, she was arrested in 1992, after her name was discovered on a governmental hit-list, and after barricading herself in her house for three days. She took part in a hunger strike (along with other mostly-women protestors) shortly after being released from jail, and, along with her fellow protestors, was attacked by the police so forcibly that hospitalization was necessary. She was again called “a mad woman” by the president of the country (can you imagine the president of a country personally attacking a private citizen? Oh, uh… nevermind). Through all of this, she continued to fight for democracy and environmental stewardship, and helped to get the National Rainbow Coalition on the ballots and winning in Kenya. She was elected to serve in the Kenyan parliament, and founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya in 2003, fostering environmentalism in politics. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. We love her. Sadly, she passed away in 2011 at the age of 71 from complications arising from ovarian cancer.

There is so much we weren’t able to cover, because Wangari Maathai had a multi-faceted life that won’t easily fit into two pages. We encourage you to check out the Green Belt Movement (https://www.greenbeltmovement.org), read her books, watch the documentary on her (called Taking Root: the Vision of Wangari Maathai), and if you can, donate. Our colorway is inspired by her work in the Green Belt Movement, and we’re calling it Unbowed, after her memoir. 

image credit: (c) Patrick Wallet

Rewinding is going the way of the dodo bird…

Here at Knitted Wit, we are always growing, changing, evolving. Developing new colors, trying out new bases, working with new designers and companies: one thing you can definitely say about us is we don’t let dust grow on this business of ours. It is one of the new policies we are putting into place that we want to share with you today. We are discontinuing a yarn-handling policy that you may or may not even realized we’ve been doing: we are no longer rewinding our skeins after dyeing. As some of our peeps have said to us (and this really shows our age and theirs, as you’ll see shortly):

Be Kind, Don’t Rewind

(This is a take on the mantra of the VHS rental shop: Be Kind, Rewind, meaning, rewind the VHS tape after watching it, so the next person who rents this movie can just watch it instead of spending the felt-like-an-eternity time it took to rewind. You see, children, technology has come a long way in the last 30 years or so. A long long way.)
Once upon a time, we decided to rewind all of our skeins. Rewinding distributes colors aesthetically throughout the skeins, and softens things up a bit. Once a skein has been rewound, you can’t tell where different dye colors have been applied, and for our semi-solid colors, the subtle transitions are even more subtle. However, rewinding skeins is very time consuming, and over the past several months, we’ve been engaging in something we all engage in: looking for more time. We realized that we could save quite a bit of that oh-so-elusive time by merely twisting and labeling our skeins once they are dry after dyeing, AND we talked to a lot of our customers, both retail and wholesale, for their take on it. The consensus was: Be Kind, Don’t Rewind.
What does this mean for you? Well, it means your skeins will look a bit different than you may be used to. The exact same skein that you have grown to know and love will look a bit less color-muddled, with color transitions more evident. Here’s a photo of our Yosemite colorway as an example:
The skein on the left has not be rewound; the colors appear more concentrated and chunky. The skein on the right HAS been rewound, and the colors are more distributed. One of the biggest pieces of feedback we received in favor of NOT rewinding was that crafty folk can more easily see how a colorway is going to play out in the creating if the skein hasn’t been rewound. They can more easily see how much of one color as opposed to another color lives in that skein, and they can more readily plan out a project or choose complementary colors for something.
As we roll out the non-rewinding policy, we are also getting all of our variegated colorways knitted up into swatches, so you can see how each colorway behaves when worked. It’s a process, so will take a while, but, eventually, we’ll have photos of all of our skeins (un-rewound, of course), as well as a blocked swatch, on our Etsy site, so you can see how a particular skein behaves itself when knitted. Pretty cool, huh?

HerStory September 2018: María del Socorro Flores González

Our September HerStory recipient just had a birthday (September 10, 1955 is her birthdate), so let’s all sing Happy Birthday, or Cumpleaños Feliz to her:

¡Cumpleaños feliz,

Cumpleaños feliz,

Te deseamos todo,

Cumpleaños feliz!

She’s yet another amazing heroine, whose mostly unsung work has saved thousands upon thousands of lives in the developing world. Yet another woman who saw a problem that wasn’t being addressed much in the greater world and decided to apply her massive brain power and heart to figuring out a way to fix that problem.

Dr. María del Socorro Flores González was born in San Buenaventura, Coahuila, Mexico, the eldest of five children. Her family was unique in that gender equality and education were important family values, and it’s said that her grandmother, a strong woman in her own right, was her biggest influence and champion. As long as María and her siblings were working to further their education, they enjoyed the full support of their family, and that was something that wasn’t all that common in the 1950s.

After getting her Master’s and Doctorate in science, specializing in immunology, at the National School of Biological Sciences of the National Polytechnic Institute in the 1980s, Dr. González conducted post-doctoral work in Paris. She then devoted the next twenty years to the understanding and study of invasive amebiasis, a parasite affecting the gastrointestinal system which is an endemic problem in nations that suffer from poor water quality such as her home country of Mexico. Hundreds of millions of people are affected every year by invasive amebiasis, and over 100,000 die because of the infection. Dr. González invented a diagnostic test that can be easily administered in and by countries that don’t enjoy the most technologically-advanced everything, and because of this discovery, many lives are saved every year. Infections that, in the time prior to her work and discovery, would have resulted in grave illness and death, are treated effectively. 

Dr. González recognized that, because of the populations being affected by invasive amebiasis, there had been a low priority in the medical research field to discover treatments and cures for this widespread disease. Dr. González’s greatest wish is that this will aid in the care and treatment of those greatest affected by this disease: folks with low incomes, who have been ignored for so long. We could all stand to devote more time, brainpower, and resources to those things/issues/people that are most ignored in our society, don’t you think? 

Our colorway this month is our attempt to make lemonade out of lemons; in other words, we’ve taken an image we found of amebiasis and turned it into this gorgeous colorway, which we’re calling Invasive Invaders.

image credit: https://ortegaan.wordpress.com/culture-site/biography/

HerStory August 2018: Seema Prakash

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

As a child in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India, Seema Prakash became interested in science at an early age. She dreamed of becoming a pediatrician, after becoming enamored with Florence Nightingale, but even though as she grew, so did opportunities for women in India, the barriers to medical school were just too high. She attended an all-girls college in her hometown, earning her Masters in Botany before getting married and moving to England for a bit. During the early years of her children’s lives, she concentrated on parenting, but it was while in England that she began her journey on the work that would eventually land her on our 2018 HerStory list. One website we found stated that, in the end, she DID become a pediatrician of sorts, although to plants instead of human babies.

In the 1990s, her family moved back to India and Seema earned her PhD. Inspired by Bob Geldof’s activism in support of raising money for the famine in Africa, including the recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and the Live Aid concerts, she began working diligently on figuring out a less expensive way to clone plants. You see, before Dr. Prakash’s groundbreaking work, plant cloning was prohibitively expensive for most, and thus was reserved for the big dogs of farming: the corporate farms who could afford the large price tag associated with it (the medium in which cloning traditionally occurs (agar) is very expensive). Dr. Prakash, seeing that having access to cloned plants, which have a higher yield, are more resistant to environmental factors that affect lesser plants, and are easier to propagate, would greatly help impoverished areas (such as great swaths of India), experimented with other media in which to culture plant tissue. After lots of trial and error, she discovered that sterilized glass beads and liquid nutrients, which are inexpensive and easy to come by, are just what the doctor (aka Dr. Prakash herself) ordered. 

In the mid-1990s, Prakash founded a company to market this new way to clone, called In Vitro International Private Limited. (If you go to the website, know that it appears to not have been updated since the mid-1990s, and will show you just how far internet technology has come.) Her company is doing good works, pioneering different ways for small-scale farms to up their production and therefore better support themselves in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way. The goal is a balanced growth, encouraging farmers to marry economics and ecology to support economic AND environmental sustainability for all. She has also created an education program for school-aged children, encouraging them to learn about plants and plant propagation through a “Plant Passport” program, with the goal of inspiring children to care about preservation and conservation.

We found ourselves very inspired by Dr. Prakash (although we also found that information about and images of her are hard to come by). Her efforts include creating a trust to ensure that rural farmers in developing countries have access to information and knowledge about economically-sustainable plant propagation free of charge; tireless advocation for women in agricultural and sustainable rural development work; and the introduction of technological advances to developing countries to introduce food self-sufficiency to parts of the world that have not yet achieved those goals, mostly because of economic and environmental disadvantages. We hope that this love letter, and the accompanyingly-inspirational colorway, Famine Fighter, that we created in honor of Dr. Seema Prakash teach you a thing or two about this amazing August HerStory recipient.

Speaking of Famine Fighter, we had so much fun creating this colorway! We did a massive google image search of saris, scrolling all around and mentally choosing colors to apply, and then we headed into the dye room and started playing. We have so enjoyed the creation of each of our HerStory colorways so far this year, but this one was particularly fun. Super-saturated silky blue and green and yellow, all in a skein of yarn? YES PLEASE!

2018 National Parks. Week 13: Petrified Forest

This park is something else. Ginormous vistas in an almost-monochromatic color scheme that beg for subtle color play. Just check out our inspiration photo, and tell me you don’t want to make a garment out of this park. Or, add a pop of neon to it and pretend you are hiking through the Petrified Forest wearing something bright! The stunning rounds of petrified wood and the striated mesas give us all the feels. The fossilized trees you see there were alive during the Late Triassic Period, about 225 million years ago. Wowza!

Remember, get this colorway on our website starting today! Make socks with us this Summer as a part of our 2nd Annual Summertime Sock Knitting Extravaganza, otherwise known as Socks on Vacay. Use #socksonvacay2018 on IG while sharing photos of your Knitted Wit/Shannon Squire socks (must use our yarn and Shannon’s patterns to be eligible), and you might just win a prize!

2018 National Parks. Week 12: Olympic National Park

This week’s National Park is practically in our back yard here in Portland. Olympic National Park is stunning. Like, can-barely-catch-your-breath, eyes-full-of-wonder stunning. There are so many different possibilities, inspiration-wise, that it was difficult to choose one photo that encapsulated what the park means. This one, however, really spoke to us: the trees growing out of their deceased bretheren, the moss, the ferns, the riot of life and greens and browns…

Remember, get this colorway on our website starting today! Make socks with us this Summer as a part of our 2nd Annual Summertime Sock Knitting Extravaganza, otherwise known as Socks on Vacay. Use #socksonvacay2018 on IG while sharing photos of your Knitted Wit/Shannon Squire socks (must use our yarn and Shannon’s patterns to be eligible), and you might just win a prize!

2018 National Parks. Week 11: Lassen Volcanic

This week, we’re heading to Northern California and the breathtakingly-beautiful Lassen Volcanic Park. Our inspiration photo is courtesy of the always-stunning photography of National Geographic and their guide to the park, from which we learned a great deal.

Did you know that the volcano was slowly erupting from June 1914 through May 1915? And then, through June 1917, it erupted with more force and ash and steam, but has been relatively quiet ever since? In the one park, you can walk past and up and around four different types of volcanoes: shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome. And our Lassen Volcanic yarn is the perfect representation of the grays and greens inherent in the scamper we hope you’ll make through the park.

Remember, get this colorway on our website starting today! Make socks with us this Summer as a part of our 2nd Annual Summertime Sock Knitting Extravaganza, otherwise known as Socks on Vacay. Use #socksonvacay2018 on IG while sharing photos of your Knitted Wit/Shannon Squire socks (must use our yarn and Shannon’s patterns to be eligible), and you might just win a prize!

2018 National Parks. Week 10: Katmai

If you do a google image search for Katmai National Park in Alaska, your results are overwhelmingly photos of bears. Big bears, little bears, mama bears, papa bears, and oh, so many baby bears. So of COURSE we had to use as our inspiration photo a bear family. DUH. This skein of yarn is the perfect bear-family brown, shaded and deep and just plain perfect.

Remember, get this colorway on our website starting today! Make socks with us this Summer as a part of our 2nd Annual Summertime Sock Knitting Extravaganza, otherwise known as Socks on Vacay. Use #socksonvacay2018 on IG while sharing photos of your Knitted Wit/Shannon Squire socks (must use our yarn and Shannon’s patterns to be eligible), and you might just win a prize!

HerStory July 2018: Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

We are sharing our love letters for the HerStory Sock Club here, just in case you misplaced yours, didn’t get one, or want to check out what we send prior to signing up. Remember that there are many LYS’s that carry HerStory (listed on our front page), but if your local shop doesn’t, or if you love getting unicorn-encrusted mail from us, you can purchase a 3-month or year-long subscription from us here

We all know the feeling: you walk into your kitchen, prepared to start your day, and a cloud of wee annoyances lift off of an overripe banana on your countertop. Your kitchen has been besieged by those unruly, buggy little things we all know as fruit flies. But just imagine if you will, that you look at one of these wee annoyances and instead see the key to understanding just how genetics work. Imagine seeing the beauty and the possibility in a cloud of fruit flies. Well, that’s what our July HerStory recipient, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, did. She embraced (not literally, because fruit flies are teensy) the little buggers and figured out how genes control embryonic development.

Born in 1942 in Magdeburg, Germany, Nüsslein-Volhard was a precocious child, always interested in biology and the natural sciences. Her grades throughout primary school were mediocre, as she professed to not give time and energy to the subjects that didn’t interest her. She attended Goethe Frankfurt University in Frankfurt in the early 1960s, but found herself feeling unchallenged and bored, so transferred to the University of Tübingen when they debuted a biochemistry program in the mid-1960s. Tübingen housed the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research, and was host to visiting scientists from a variety of fields, which proved to be inspiring to our young researcher. While at Tübingen, she briefly married and gained a hyphenated name, but when the marriage ended in divorce, she kept both names, as she had begun to be published, and preferred the continuity of having the same name. Her PhD work led her to study molecular biology and genetics in more depth, but she found that the course of study she had chosen was limited and not as inspiring as she hoped. She moved on to cellular biology, and studied at the University of Basel in Switzerland for a time, learning more and more about how genes behave, and what effects introducing mutations into a developing embryo have. She moved back to Germany to continue her work on genetics, and in 1980, along with her research partner, published a paper identifying fifteen genes that compromise the fruit fly.

After publishing this seminal paper, in 1986, Nüsslein-Volhard went home, to Tübingen, Germany, and became the director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. She held this position for many years, and continued her work on genetics. Inspired by her genetic discoveries with fruit flies, she began working on isolating genetic structures of vertebrates, and began studying zebrafish.

Nüsslein-Volhard also began working on social, ethical, and philosophical issues in the sciences. She served on the National Ethics Council of Germany and became a leader on ethics and gender equality issues. Nüsslein-Volhard established the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, an organization which seeks to promote gender equality in science by providing support and resources to female scientists. One of things that most inspired Nüsslein-Volhard to found this organization was the realization that, no matter how accomplished a female scientist was, at the end of the day, for many women, the burden of homemaking, otherwise known as the invisible workload, most commonly falls to women. Her foundation provides funding resources to help female scientists hire out that invisible workload. She has spoken on the ongoing difficulties women face in the sciences: how hard it is for women to balance research and family obligations, and the fact that this is the leading reason women are so underrepresented in leading scientific positions.
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard won the Nobel Prize Physiology and Medicine in 1995. She later reflected that it was a double-edged sword: she enjoyed the legitimacy and professional honor, but found it a distraction in many ways. She was torn between feeling the need to accept all invitations to speak and the desire to get back to work, and felt that there was a definite sexist slant to some of the reception to her award. Throughout her career, and throughout the careers of many women in fields that have been dominated by males, she’s had not only to do the work, put in the time, and make sure her work is exemplary, but also to fight against the sometimes-fragile male egos of her contemporaries.

She’s currently Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, and in her spare time, loves to cook (she’s even published a cook book!) and play the flute and sing. She continues to be a leader in the field of genetics, and even has an asteroid named after her. So, the next time you find yourself with some overripe fruit and overzealous fruit flies, take a moment before smashing them all to think about how these humble pests helped to further our understanding of how genes work, and inspired the career of a truly inspiring HerStory recipient.

2018 National Parks. Week 9: Isle Royale

Who wants to go on a road trip to Michigan with me? Because Isle Royale National Park is the dreamiest, and I’m feeling the need for some of that beauty in my life. Oh, well, I’ll just have to be content to cast on some Isle Royale socks, huh?

Here’s a link to the google image search for Isle Royale. It’s just the prettiest, and there seems to be a lot of awesome wildlife to see, too!

Remember, get this colorway on our website starting today! Make socks with us this Summer as a part of our 2nd Annual Summertime Sock Knitting Extravaganza, otherwise known as Socks on Vacay. Use #socksonvacay2018 on IG while sharing photos of your Knitted Wit/Shannon Squire socks (must use our yarn and Shannon’s patterns to be eligible), and you might just win a prize!