HerStory March 2024: Zheng Yi Sao

We’re heading to the high seas this month, as we honor Zheng Yi Sao, the Chinese Pirate Queen!

Zheng Yi Sao was one of the most successful pirates in history (and for sure the most successful female pirate), active in the South China Sea in the early 1800s. She went by many names (Shi Xianggu, Shek Yeung, Ching Shih, Cheng I Sao, Ching Yih Saou and Mrs. Cheng being some of them), and her backstory is a bit of a mystery. What we do know about her is that she was a ruthless and respected leader, and her organization skills and stringent rules of conduct for the pirates in her employ helped to make her the success that she was, and kept her confederation of pirate ships strong and connected until she ended things on her terms.

At age 26, she married a pirate named Zheng Yi, and accompanied him on his journeys. After his death in 1807, she took control of his operations, the Guangdong Pirate Confederation, with a fleet composed of 400 ships and between 40,000 and 60,000 pirates. They entered into conflict with several major powers, such as the East India Company, the Portuguese Empire, and the Great Qing.

They were both feared and respected, and, even though the whole pirate thing has a fun quality to modern sensibilities, the havoc they wreaked was pretty awful. Not only did they steal, they murdered and enslaved and tortured their captives. The punishments for infractions against the federation were severe, particularly for violence against female captives. Entire villages were laid to waste, casualties of wars the Confederation waged against the Chinese government and various trading companies. 

Zheng Yi Sao and her Guangong Pirate Confederation ruled the South China Sea for nearly a decade, and some say she was a victim of her own success. Piracy was so widespread, and had such a hold on the sea, that trade became almost non-existent, causing financial stress throughout China. The Chinese government, despite having been bested by Zheng Yi’s pirates on multiple occasions, came to a crossroads where they had no choice but to figure out how to end the hold piracy had on the country. 

In 1810, Zheng Yi Sao negotiated the most stylish surrender ever to the Qing authorities: she sailed into Canton harbor with her entire 260-boat fleet, flags flying, and demanded a very favorably-termed pardon. She and her pirates were able to keep their plunder, but had to give us most of their ships and weapons. Many of the pirates were actually then hired into the Chinese Navy, and in turn were in charge of persecuting pirates. Zheng Yi had a prosperous and peaceful life, after having been the most bad-ass of Pirate Queens.

To honor Zheng Yi Sao, we created the Chrysanthemum colorway. The chrysanthemum is a very important flower in the Chinese culture, having been honored and cultivated since hundreds of years BCE. In fact, there are over 20,000 cultivars in China! It’s also one of The Four Gentlemen (四君子 junzi), four plants that represent noble character: plum (梅 mei), orchid (兰 lan), bamboo (竹 zhu), and chrysanthemum (菊 ju).

HerStory February 2024: Celia Cruz

For our second HerStory of 2024, we are sticking with catchy tunes by moving from the Mother of Hip Hop to the Queen of Salsa: Celia Cruz.

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1925, Celia loved music from a young age. It was said that she got her first-ever pair of shoes from a tourist who was impressed with her street performance when she was very young. Encouraged to become a teacher by her practical father, Cruz couldn’t get music out of her soul, and left her pursuit of education to study music. She took part in radio contests throughout her young adulthood, winning pretty much every one she took part in. 

She joined and became the lead singer for the Afro-Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera in 1950, the ensemble’s first Black front person since its founding about 25 years earlier, and that was where her star truly began to rise. It was during this time that she coined her trademark shout “¡Azúcar!” in response to a waiter at a restaurant in Miami who asked if she would like her coffee with sugar. It became her catchphrase, and took on deeper significance as a remembrance of enslaved Africans who worked on Cuban sugar plantations, particularly poignant coming from a Black Cuban like Cruz.

While on tour in Mexico in 1960, Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, and La Sonora Matancera renounced his regime. They were exiled from Cuba, and Cruz wasn’t able to return for many decades. Castro even forbid their music to be played in the country. 

Cruz’s music and style constantly evolved. While her salsa music was perhaps what she was best-known for, she also performed rumba and reggaeton, and starred in films. Known for her powerful voice, colorful costumes, and energizing rhythm, Cruz was a vivacious entertainer that appealed to all generations. She influenced everything from fashion to music (a gown of hers is on display at the Smithsonian). She is still one of the best-known Latin artists and one of the most famous Afro-Latinas in the world, and her influence is still inspiring musicians across genres.

Cruz has an asteroid named after her, a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, had a postage stamp created to honor her, and has a wax replica at the Hollywood Wax Museum, to name a few of the honors bestowed on this talented multi-Grammy-winning singer (of course, the highest honor in our estimation is being included in our HerStory lineup ;)) This year, a quarter bearing her likeness will be released, so keep your eyes peeled! 

This month’s HerStory colorway is White Mariposa, the official flower of Cruz’s beloved Cuba. When she returned in 1990 to perform, Cruz collected a bag of soil from Cuban earth, and when she was buried in 2003, that soil was buried with her. Cuba was in her heart and soul, even though she lived outside of the country for longer than she lived in it. Honoring this love by creating a colorway inspired by Cuba’s official flower seemed the right choice. The fact that her very existence and fame seems a bit subversive, given her demographics (young, female, Black, Cuban), this flower, which was used for subversive means during the Spanish colonial times: women used to adorn themselves with these fragrant flowers and because of the flower’s intricate structure, women hid and carried secret messages important to the independence cause in the center of the petals.

HerStory January 2024: Sylvia Robinson

It’s a fresh new year, and, after two years of the HerStory Book Club, we are ready for a bit of a change. For 2024, we are going to focus on flowers for HerStory, and our inspiration is going to be a bit more loosey-goosey than it usually is. Every month, our colorway will be inspired by a flower, and the HerStory recipient of that month will somehow be associated with that flower. 

January’s colorway is Lily of the Valley, inspired by the lovely flowers that are the birth-month flowers of our HerStory recipient, Sylvia Robinson. Robinson is known as the Mother of Hip-Hop: she was the founder and CEO of Sugar Hill records AND the producer and promoter of two of the most iconic songs in hip-hop history, Rapper’s Delight (1979) by the Sugarhill Gang, and The Message (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. In a discovery that tickled our fancy even more, she’s the Sylvia from the “Sylvia? Yes Mickey? How do you call your loverboy?” song from Dirty Dancing! AND! She played guitar on and arranged Ike & Tina Turner’s first hit, It’s Gonna Work Out Fine (but did not get a producer credit, because patriarchy).

Robinson was at the vanguard of so many things regarding women, particularly Black women, in the music industry, and there is definitely some sordidness in regards to her business practices, which have tarnished her reputation a bit. We won’t get into those today, because we are here to sing her praises and celebrate everything she did for the genre and industry, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention them. 

So many songs from early hip-hop and rap have her mark on them; Sugar Hill Records was THE label that first recorded and promoted rap and hip-hop, and helped to cement it as a musical genre in the waning days of disco and funk. Even things like boy bands have Sylvia to thank: she created the Sugarhill Gang specifically to explore the genre of hip-hop she had been hearing at clubs. And now, hip-hop/rap is the most listened-to musical genre in the world.

Sylvia Robinson’s legacy is still being felt today. Every hip-hop song that breaks records, every female recording artist that dips her toes into producing, every song about the struggles of marginalized communities that hits the charts, has Robinson to thank in some ways. She fought for herself in a time that was less than encouraging to women. She had two distinct recording careers: one as half of Mickey & Silvia in the 1950s, and one as a solo act in the 1970s. She founded two recording labels, received awards and recognition across musical genres for her work, and was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022. She’s an absolute legend, and we have so enjoyed getting to know more about her history, and by extension, the history of hip-hop, this month.

HerStory December 2023: Karen Walrond

For our final author of the year, we wanted to end on an inspiring note, with Karen Walrond, and her latest release, Radiant Rebellion: Reclaim Aging, Practice Joy, and Raise a Little Hell

We love a good inspirational read, and Karen Walrond’s books are definitely that. She discusses how to exist and thrive and make a difference in modern-day society while also making sure to experience joy and fulfillment. She discusses being different as a gift, not a curse. And in the book that inspired our colorway, Radiant Rebellion, she tackles aging in a more celebratory way than we have seen, and we are here for it!

Expand, not restrict. That’s the central tenet to her philosophy on self-care and aging. Look at changes as differences, not restrictions. Look at updating the way we eat as granting us more opportunities, not fewer foods. Look at how the changes in our bodies inform what we do for physical activity as a deeper practice, not as a limiting downer. And most of all, celebrate our aging instead of fight it. 

We all fall into these traps, don’t we? “Oh, my body is old, I can’t do that anymore…” “I’m too old for that…” Walrond asks us, what if we didn’t look at aging as something to fear or dread, but something to celebrate. We aren’t guaranteed these years on earth, so why not revel in the fact that we’ve got another year, that our body and hair and face and skin has made it through everything thrown at it, and that the signs of aging are badges of honor instead of embarrassments? We know we need to work on this ourselves here at Knitted Wit World HQ, as we experience menopause and injurious ankles and knees. As we realize if we don’t move every day, it becomes harder to move every day. As we notice more wrinkles in our skin… 

Walrond takes a multidisciplinary approach to countering the anti-aging rhetoric and philosophy that barrage us on a daily basis, discussing her own journey and approaches in a truly inspiring way. In this book, she shares that it’s a journey, something to work on, this bringing of joy into our experiences of aging, and, as she suggests, raising a little hell while we’re at it, in this Radiant Rebellion

Books by Karen Walrond:

  • The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit
  • The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy
  • Radiant Rebellion: Reclaim Aging, Practice Joy, and Raise a Little Hell

Want more like this? Here are some other authors we suggest you read/listen to:

  • Brene Brown
  • Glennon Doyle
  • Michelle Obama

HerStory 2023: Cherie Dimaline

Cherie Dimaline is a registered and claimed member of the Metis Nation of Ontario, and it is this identity that is the foundation of her writing. Her stories blend fantastical elements with hard-hitting realities, and the central tenet of both her life and her writing is community, most particular, the intersection of her Indigenous roots and the women she grew up learning and hearing stories from (most notably her Mere, or grandmother).

Dimaline’s most-known work is The Marrow Thieves, which is a sci-fi-ish YA book that explores the continued colonial exploitation of Indigenous people. In this and many of her other books, she takes the Indigenous experience and adds a new twist: in The Marrow Thieves, Indigenous people are hunted and used for their bone marrow, as that is the key to non-Indigenous folks connecting with their dreams after an ecological disaster. When talking about this book in an interview, Dimaline said: “An Indigenous publisher had asked me to write a short story in the apocalypse or dystopian genre, and when I sat down to think about it, I could not think of anything worse than what had already happened.” Referring to both the overall way native people have been treated in North America (and, honestly, everywhere colonialism has taken root), and most particularly to the residential schools that existed all over Canada and the US, Dimaline’s work shares the pain and anguish, as well as the connection and beauty, that is inherent in Indigenous life in a colonial society. 

Plus, her books are just plain fun; VenCo imagines a female-centered witchy coven, battling against a patriarchal secret society hell-bent on the coven’s destruction. Themes of connection are strong in this book (and all of Dimaline’s work); connection to other women, connection to native land, connection to tradition and magic and storytelling. 

Perfect for this time of year, when the veil seems to thin and we are all hunkering down for a long and chilly winter, Dimaline’s writing is both a little bit scary and a lot bit thought-provoking. As is our November colorway, Marrow Thieves, which is inspired by that book’s cover. Wind this skein up, snuggle in, and lose yourself in Dimaline’s writing this month.

Books by Cheri Dimaline:

  • The Marrow Thieves
  • VenCo
  • Empire of Wild
  • Funeral Songs for Dying Girls

Want more like this? Here are some other authors we suggest you read/listen to:

  • Michelle Porter
  • Kaylynn Bayron
  • Michelle Good
  • Kim Johnson

HerStory October 2023: Justina Ireland

It’s spooky season, friends, and what better books to read as the veil thins than those that have to do with zombies and ghosts? Our October HerStory recipient, Justina Ireland, does both of those genres very, very well, and we are so excited to dive into her books (and activism) this month!

Justina Ireland is a Black woman who writes YA and isn’t interested in backing down from a fight. Throughout her career, Ireland has been an active critic of the overwhelming whiteness in the YA publishing field, and the reticence of folks in that particular segment of the book world to engage in conversation about the lack of diversity in the field. She uses her Twitter account to call out disparities in the YA publishing world, to start conversations about representation, and to talk about books that uphold white supremacist ideals. Her twitter activism even inspired an author to revise her work to lessen its central white saviorism core (the jury is still out on whether that author was successful, and Ireland herself is more interested in the industry as a whole leaning into reform than individual works being reformed). She started a database of “sensitivity readers” that writers, particularly white writers, can hire to read their works from non-white perspectives, thus helping the industry become more inclusive. Ireland is also the founder of Writing in the Margins, an organization that provides mentorship to writers from historically marginalized groups, and she’s the former co-editor in chief of FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, for which she won a World Fantasy Award.

She is one of the architects of a multimedia Star Wars project called The High Republic. If you know anything about fandoms like Star Wars, you know that there is a lot of white male gatekeeping going on, so Ireland and her cohorts have borne the brunt of a LOT of that baloney. And, she’s responded well; in one tweet, responding to a query about whether it’s smart or safe to include politics in your writing/work, she said “If you don’t like my politics and moral compass, you aren’t going to like my books, so let’s just go ahead and save everyone some time.” In other words, don’t buy my books if you don’t like what I have to say, because it’s going to be more of the same, and you won’t like it.

Our Dread Nation colorway, a delightfully zombie-riffic green splattered with red, is inspired by her best-known books, Dread Nation and Deathless Divide. Imagine the dead rising as zombies during the Civil War, and Black children are trained to be zombie hunters, charged with protecting privileged white people. It’s a new flavor of white supremacy, all wrapped up in a zombie series. And it’s so good! We hope you enjoy Ireland’s writing AND this colorway during spooky season!

Books by Justina Ireland:

  • Dread Nation
  • Deathless Divide
  • Ophie’s Ghosts
  • Promise of Shadows
  • Star Wars: High Republic

Want more like this? Here are some other authors we suggest you read/listen to:

  • Mira Grant
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Alma Katsu
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • Kaylynn Bayron

HerStory September 2023: Beverly Cleary

Since it’s back to school time, we decided to showcase one of our fave children’s authors (who just so happens to have been a Pacific Northwesterner), Beverly Cleary!

Born in a small town in Oregon, Cleary’s family moved to Portland when she was 6. Her legacy here in Portland can be seen in the Grant Park neighborhood of Portland where she spent her formative years: the statues inspired by her most famous characters in Grant Park itself, and the naming of the neighborhood’s public elementary school after her. 

We’ve talked a lot about how important representation is in literature throughout this book-based chapter of HerStory, and much of our talk of representation has centered on identity, and how important it is for folks of different identities (cultural, racial, sexual, and gender) to see themselves in the media they ingest. Beverly Cleary has been credited as one of the first authors of children’s literature to figure emotional realism in the narratives of her characters, often children in middle-class families, giving children everywhere books that more accurately represented themselves. She found her way into writing about real children because of her own struggles with reading and with wanting to read when much of what she was given to read was uninspiring. It wasn’t until she read a book about ordinary children and their adventures and struggles that she found her love of reading (and therefore writing). She knew that were she to write, her writing would have to include things for the children: humor and relatability. This belief was underscored by a query from a child when she was a children’s librarian; a young boy asked Cleary: “Where are the books about children like us?” And so she wrote them, books about more ordinary children doing more ordinary things, helping to pave the way for books about other children, with different experiences and backgrounds and cultures.

As we thought about what colorway to create to pay the most and best homage to Beverly Cleary, we had a lightning bolt of inspiration: our New Galoshes colorway is red, blue, and yellow. The red represents rain boots are the red, the blue denim pants, and the yellow a bright raincoat, perfect for our Northwest rainstorms. 

Books by Beverly Cleary:

  • Henry Higgins
  • Ellen Tibbets
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Want more like this? Here are some other authors we suggest you read/listen to:

  • Judy Blume
  • Astrid Lindgren
  • Renee Watson
  • Tae Keller

National Parks 2023: Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront NHP

It’s time for the annual National Parks Club! Find out information about participating shops, Vacay Bingo, the KAL, and more here.

Where is it located?

Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park is a United States national historical park located in Richmond, California, near San Francisco.

Whose land does it reside upon?

Ohlones and Coast Miwoks. Native Americans have called the San Francisco Bay region home for over 10,000 years. Park areas south of the Golden Gate, from the San Francisco Peninsula, to the East Bay and south to Monterey, are the aboriginal lands of the Ohlones (also called Costanoans).

When was it established?

January 31, 2001

About this park:

On the morning of December 7, 1941, military forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Naval Fleet and ground bases at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. On December 8, 1941, one day after the “Day of Infamy,” the United States declared war against the Empire of Japan and on December 11, 1941, Japan’s ally, Germany, declared war on the United States. Ten million Americans, mostly young working age men, would serve in the military during WWII, out of an overall United States population of 113 million. While an unprecedented number of young men would serve in World War II, the country would drastically increase its war production on the Home Front, serving not only the needs of the armed forces of the United States but her allies as well – what President Franklin Roosevelt called “The Arsenal of Democracy.” The combination of so many serving in the military, during a period of necessary and drastic increases in production, led to unprecedented social changes on the American Home Front.

During World War II six million women entered the workforce. “Rosie the Riveter” and her “We Can Do It” motto came to symbolize all women Home Front workers. A shortage of white male workers led to active recruitment, by the United States Government, to war industry jobs. Initially white middle class women were recruited, followed by minority men, and finally minority women. Integration of women and minorities into the workforce was initially met with resistance, however, the new opportunities for women and minorities “cracked open” the door to equal rights and would have profound impacts on the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement during the following decades.

The World War II period resulted in the largest number of people migrating within the United States, in the history of the country. Individuals and families relocated to industrial centers for good paying war jobs, and out of a sense of patriotic duty. Many industrial centers became “boom towns”, growing at phenomenal rates. One example, the City of Richmond, California, grew from a population of under 24,000 to over 100,000 during the war. Workers from around the nation had to intermingle with each other, overcome differences, and form a cohesive identity in order to meet war demands. Following World War II, many migrants decided to stay in their new homes, forever changing the cultural landscape of the United States.

Home Front workers faced many challenges and many of which would lead to change. Working conditions on the Home Front were difficult and dangerous. Between the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and the D-Day Invasion of Europe in June of 1944, there were more Home Front industrial casualties than military casualties. This high number of industrial casualties would lead to improved workplace safety and regulations, as well as better access to affordable health care. Another challenge faced by working women on the Home Front was childcare, as mothers comprised a significant portion of the work force. This led to the establishment of child development centers and the professional field of early childhood development.

In addition to Home Front workers, everyone was expected to be an active participant in the war effort. Rationing was a way of life as twenty commodities were rationed and people were asked to, “Use it up –Wear it out –Make it do –or Do without.” Materials vital to the war effort were collected, often by youth groups, and recycled. Many Americans supported the war effort by purchasing war bonds. Women replaced men in sports leagues, orchestras, and community institutions. Americans grew 60% of the produce they consumed in “Victory Gardens”. The war effort on the United States Home Front was a total effort.

Why did we choose these colors?

We used this photo, of a young girl and her mother dressed as Rosie the Riveter during the 2016 Rosie Rally, as the inspiration for our colorway.

For more information:

NPS website: https://www.nps.gov/rori/index.htm

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rosietheriveternps/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RosieTheRiveterNPS/

National Parks 2023: Muir Woods NM

It’s time for the annual National Parks Club! Find out information about participating shops, Vacay Bingo, the KAL, and more here.

Where is it located?

Muir Woods National Monument is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, north of San Francisco.

Whose land does it reside upon?

Native Americans have called the San Francisco Bay region home for over 10,000 years. Park areas south of the Golden Gate, from the San Francisco Peninsula, to the East Bay and south to Monterey, are the aboriginal lands of the Ohlones (also called Costanoans).

When was it established?

January 9, 1908

About this park:

Muir Woods lies in the middle of the redwood’s latitudinal range that spans from the California/Oregon border to Big Sur, just south of Monterey. The weather is mild throughout the year, but summer is the busiest time to visit Muir Woods.

The incredible diversity of flora and fauna at Muir Woods can be daunting some times, elusive at other times. The redwoods themselves dominate the scene, but the humble Steller’s jay, ladybugs, ancient horsetail ferns, and the banana slug hold their own beneath the canopy. Plants adapt to low light levels on the forest floor, while whole plant and animal communities bustle in the canopy above our heads.

Muir Woods is known for its towering old-growth redwood trees. Trails wind among the trees to Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove, and along Redwood Creek. The Ben Johnson and Dipsea trails climb a hillside for views of the treetops, the Pacific Ocean and Mount Tamalpais in adjacent Mount Tamalpais State Park.

Why did we choose these colors?

We used an image found in this linked video (at the 43 second mark) of a banana slug in the Muir Woods as our photo inspiration. 

For more information:

NPS website: https://www.nps.gov/muwo/index.htm

Instagram: n/a

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/muirwoodsnps

National Parks 2023: Big Cypress National Preserve

It’s time for the annual National Parks Club! Find out information about participating shops, Vacay Bingo, the KAL, and more here.

Where is it located?

Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in South Florida, about 45 miles west of Miami on the Atlantic coastal plain.

Whose land does it reside upon?

The Calusa, Miccosukee, and Seminole all occupied the area now known as Big Cypress National preserve at some point in the past.

When was it established?

October 11, 1974

About this park:

The freshwaters of the Big Cypress Swamp, essential to the health of the neighboring Everglades, support the rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast. Conserving over 729,000 acres of this vast swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to diverse wildlife, including the Endangered Florida panther. 

In the 1960s, plans for the world’s largest Jetport, to be constructed in the heart of the Greater Everglades of south Florida, were unveiled. This project, and the anticipated development that would follow, spurred the incentive to protect the wilds of the vast Big Cypress Swamp. To prevent development of the Jetport, local conservationists, sportsmen, environmentalists, Seminoles, Miccosukees, and many others set political and personal differences aside. The efforts of countless individuals and government officials prevailed when, on October 11, 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve was established as the nation’s first national preserve.

The concept of a national preserve was born from an exercise in compromise. Everyone saw the importance of protecting the swamp, but many did not want this region merely added to nearby Everglades National Park that was created in the 1940s. Many felt that national parks were managed in a restrictive manner and access to the swamp would be lost. The resulting compromise created a new land management concept – a national preserve. An area that would be protected, but would also allow for specific activities that were described by Congress within the legislation that created the preserve.

Why did we choose these colors?

We used this photo of plants in the preserve as our inspiration

For more information:

NPS website: https://www.nps.gov/bicy/index.htm

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bigcypressnps/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BigCypressNPS/