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Yarn Bombing Neg Mawon

When we applied to the 2nd Ghetto Biennale, we promised to yarn bomb the site where the Christopher Columbus statue used to stand. We wanted our installation piece to connect the geopolitics of Haiti with the politics of the Mexico/U.S. border. We were unable to accomplish that project. Erin came up with the idea to create a cape for Neg Mawon, to reference his superhero status.

Neg Mawon is located in Port au Prince in fromt of the Haitian National Palace. The sculpture was created by Albert Mangones. Neg Mawon symbolizes Haiti’s liberation from the French and from slavery. It is a In the above picture the statue is in an open area. Currently people are living in camps that completely surround the statue.

We decided to connect Haiti and the Mexico/U.S. border through the global commodity chain. We made t-shirt yarn from used t-shirts. The collar and flourishes at the top of the cape are crocheted from t-shirt yarn. Although it may be hard to see in the picture (below) the crocheted part of the cape measures about 2.5 feet by 5 feet. Erin sewed the extra bits of t-shirts into the draping section of the cape.


Workshop #1, a set on Flickr.

As promised, photos from our first workshop. This workshop was held on December 13th at 622 Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines (Gran Rue) Port-au-Prince.

Kwochè Ayiti: Workshop #1

Today was our first workshop. At first, no one wanted to crochet but once we started crocheting other people became interested. After that the workshop was a whirlwind with about 12 people learning the foundational chain stitch. About 5 people mastered single crochet during the workshop. Belle caught on quick and made a hat (without a pattern!).



Our crochet workshop this morning was in the event area for the Ghetto Biennale, home of Atis Rezistans.  We trekked almost an hour an a half across the city by tap-tap (a brightly colored truck with benches under a roof) and on foot to reach it.  When we started, only a couple people showed interest in the workshop.  We were spread on the ground with one of the sheets given to us by Angela Storey to hold all the supplies. Slowly but surely, more people came and sat with us around the sheet and gave crochet a try.  Interesting to us, many of the conversations were about whether men and boys could or should crochet.  I would point at Shannon (with his Crochet Dude bag) and say that he crochets and that I learned from my friend who is also a guy.  We ended up having a pretty good mix of men and women, kids and adults.  Even though the pieces were small, there’s always tomorrow to do more!


We will post photos as soon as we find a place with more bandwidth.

To access the PDF of our bilingual (English/Kreyòl) crochet instruction booklets, follow this link to our Scribd page.  We would really love to hear about how you are using it, so please leave a comment.

Si ou vle li liv pou Kwochè Ayiti-a, vizite sit entènèt sa a.


Now that the booklets are done for the Kwochè Ayiti project, I am packed and ready to leave for Port-au-Prince. Just in time, too. Thank you to Mary Goethals and Corky Poster for helping out! ♥

Pòtoprens: Atelye @ E. Puribus Unum (622, Blvd Jean-Jacques Dessalines)

Aprann kwochè epi patisipe nan yon pwojè kwochè.  Nou pral fè bonb ak fil (yarn bombs).

10am-1pm on Tuesday, December 13th (4-6 participants)

10am-1pm on Tuesday, December 14th (4-6 participants)


Jakmèl: Atelye @ Jakmèl Ekspresyon

Crochet basics:

The workshop will introduce participants to the basic elements of crochet (e.g., slip knots, single and double stitch).  Everyone will leave with a small, completed project. No experience with crochet or knitting needed.

3pm-5pm on Sunday, December 18th (6 participants)

11am-1pm on Wednesday, December 21st (3 participants)


Sustainable crochet:

This workshop will guide participants through sustainable crochet and knitting practices in Haiti (i.e., re-purposing widely available materials).  Open to anyone who has attended previous JE workshops or who already knows how to crochet/knit.

3pm-5pm on Wednesday, December 21st (No cap.)


Yarn bombing:

This workshop will introduce participants to yarn bombing ideas and techniques.  The group will make something collectively to yarn bomb in Jakmèl.  Open to anyone who has attended previous JE workshops or who already knows how to crochet/knit.

1pm-4pm on December 23rd (No cap.)

While we have already posted about the production and circulation of t-shirts, Shannon mentioned that recently that we should highlight the global commodity chain as yet another thing that links the US-Mexico borderlands and Haiti.  After making yarn balls out of all the cotton t-shirts people donated to us or that we bought from thrift stores in Tucson, I scanned all the tags.  Here are the countries most often represented:

  1. Honduras
  2. Mexico
  3. El Salvador
  4. Nicaragua
  5. U.S.A.
  6. Haiti
  7. Dominican Republic
  8. Pakistan

Notice a pattern?  I usually do an exercise with my students in class where they map where the clothes that they have on were made (according to the tags), and the distribution is usually similar to this one.  (One difference is that so many of the t-shirts for our project were made in the United States—usually much father down on the list—and my guess is that the difference comes from being around a lot of activists who donated sweat-free clothing and things made for political campaigns.)  There is a long history to why so many factories are located in the Global South, and I recommend reading books like No Sweat: Fashion Free Trade, and the Rights of Garment Works edited by Andrew Ross for an introduction to this topic.  The book contains essays with information about why garment factories (or maquiladoras, sweatshops) are located in certain places, what it’s like for the people who perform labor in these factories (or who used to before losing their jobs when a factory moves), why companies use sweatshops, and what we can do to work towards socially and economically just alternatives.

The most recent Maquila Solidarity Network Update (December 2011) has an article on garment workers in Haiti.  According to the article, approximately 90% of Haiti’s exports to the United States are apparel.  Haiti was one of the first countries to undergo neoliberal reforms in the 1970s, and there was accelerated production (of garments, baseballs, and toys) under the Duvaliers.  For a more recent history, I recommend watching the excellent documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy. Strongly shaped by the United States, Haiti has been subject to the “race-to-the-bottom” (attracting foreign investors through cutting production costs by employing people at unlivable wages), as has Mexico evidenced by the prevalence of maquiladoras not too far from where we live.

Just something to keep in mind along with our previous discussion about U.S. exportation of used clothes (pepe) to Haiti.  (On that note, I forgot to mention a great resource that fellow graduate student Liz Verklan shared about how U.S. exportation of used clothes to Africa undermines economic sustainability: T-Shirt Travels.)

I like to document things.  Even things that might be boring by some people’s standards. So this is a blog about putting the bags together for our workshop.  Not the stuff of titillating posts, but in the spirit of DIY nerdaliciousness…

We made 22 tote bags for the Kwochè Ayiti project.  Each crochet workshop participant at the Ghetto Biennale and Jakmel Ekspresyon will get a bag that contains:  a crochet hook, scissors, yarn, and a bilingual English/Kreyòl crochet instruction booklet.  We’re also hoping to add sewing needles and thread.

After looking a various (not so sturdy Made in China) tote bags, we decided to go with Angela Storey’s suggestion to make our own. Some folks donated pillowcases, which I have easily converted into project bags before.  But pillowcases seemed too flimsy as a primary materials bag.  So, Gayle and I made a trip to SAS Fabrics by the Pound, a Tucson treasure, to buy fabric and webbing.

I wanted the bold, colorful fabric, but it was outside of my price range.  We opted for a less-expensive ($1.00/yard) and more durable fabric that is tan.  But the outdoor upholstery fabric seems more like canvas, which perked me up because then people can turn them into moving masterpieces that hold crochet materials.

  • $7 fabric (7 yards at $1/yard)
  • $14 webbing (12 1/2 yards of blue @ .69 cents/yard; 11 yards of multicolor @.49 cents/yard)

We also stopped for some supplies to put the Kwochè Ayiti project name on the bags:

  • $3.77 turquoise spray paint can
  • $0.59 white poster board

Shannon reserved the Gender & Women’s Studies conference room for an evening to assemble the tote bags, and everyone worked off a prototype that Gayle developed with a pocket to hold hooks and a pair of scissors. Each bag took about 45 minutes to make, although at the end Gayle could make them in closer to thirty minutes. Since I have basically no sewing skills, I made the Kwochè Ayiti stencil.

Here’s photos that show how the bags were brought into being:

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A huge thank you to Gayle Brickert-Albrecht for coming up with a working bag design and for spending many, many hours sewing bags for the project.  Thank you to our friends, Londie Martin and Serena Freewomyn, for tons of sewing support.


Craft and Political Actions

Some beginning thoughts:

Yarn bombing is sometimes critiqued as a waste of time and materials. Yarn bombers are told, that instead of crocheting, knitting, or looming for yarn bombing, that we should be producing items for people in need; we should produce chemo caps for kids with cancer or blankets for preemie babies or afghans for Afghans. This critique is interesting for the ways in which it combines a view of craft as utilitarian (not art) with gendered notions of craft. This critique also assumes that yarn bombing lacks use-value.

Overall the above critique obscures the links between craft, capitalism, and political action. It positions the process and products produced from crocheting, knitting, and looming as innocuous and produced in the service of caring.

Craft and Political Actions:

In order to begin thinking about the political potential of yarn bombing, I want to review or take a look at some crafty political moments, groups, and actions.

The Revolutionary Knitting Circle in Calgary held its first action, protesting the G8 Summit in 2002. The group participates in marches, rallies, sit-ins and knowledge sharing. In 2004 the group produced a collaborative banner with the phrase “Peace Knits.” In order to produce the banner one must collect six inch knitted squares from knitters. The squares are sewn together to create the banner. In “Craft Hard, Die Free: Radical Curatorial Strategies for Cravtivism in Unruly Contexts,” Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch note that “the Revolutionary Knitting Circle manifesto advocates knitting (and other crafts) as constructive and nonviolent tools for opposing the dominant corporate models of production” (206).

microRevolt, founded by Cat Mazza, is a group of cravtivists who “investigate the dawn of sweatshops in early industrial capitalism to inform the current crisis of global expansion and the feminization of labor.” They are the creators of knitpro, a free web application that allows the user to create crochet, knit, cross-stitch and needlepoint patterns from digital images. Through sharing this application microRevolt encourages the free sharing of patterns in the tradition of pre-industrial craft circles. In 2003 miroRevolt began organizing the Nike Blanket Petition. From 2003-2008 microRevolt collected squares from crocheted and knitted squares from artists around the world. The squares were used in the production of a 15 foot wide blanket with a Nike swoosh on it. This blanket acted as part of a petition that advocated for fair employment policies for Nike Factory Workers.

In 2006 Marianne Jørgensen displayed Pink M.24 Chaffee in Copenhagen. The exhibited consisted of a WWII combat tank covered in pink yarn. The cover was collaboratively created. Participants created 4000 15 x 15 cm pink squares and sent them to Cast of Knitters. The exhibit was a protest of Danish involvement in the war in Iraq.

While some people may have been making their way through the madness of malls, we participated in buy nothing day and marked the occasion with a mini-crochet lesson with the Zurys.  Zury, a fellow graduate student in Gender & Women’s Studies, has a sibling in town for the holidays whose name also shortens to Zury.  The Zurys had never crocheted before, and in the short amount of time they were here they were able to make a coaster and a crochet mustache (hopefully to be used the next time they perform drag).

The lesson went smoothly; it was nice to be able to teach one-on-one.  The one remarkable thing that we learned in terms of pedagogy is that it’s better to have learners turnaround sooner rather than later.  What eventually became a mustache started as a really, really long chain.  Visiting Zury was doing a great job, so we started doing other things.  By the time we thought to mention to turn around, I could tell that it seemed like a LOT of stitches to go over again.  Our Zury, on the other hand, started with only ten stitches and ended up making a nice square coaster.

We’re glad that both Zorys left with something useful, though, and hopefully they’ll be back again soon to learn about yarn bombing.  See them master the single stitch in the photos below.

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During the past couple weeks, we have been collecting and scouting out used t-shirts to turn into material to crochet.  People are certainly curious about the many piles of t-shirts that we’ve been accumulating and what we plan to do with them. You might ask, Why go through all the trouble when yarn is so readily available? Certainly our efforts follow in the spirit of other anti-capitalist do-it-yourself practices, but we are also re-purposing the t-shirts because our project will take place where yarn isn’t so readily available.  In my experience in Haiti, you can find pretty much anything you need but in small quantities and usually at exorbitant prices.  That is, except used clothing.

Billions of pounds of used clothing (often called pepe or kenedi) is shipped each year from the United States to Haiti and sold by street vendors.  (For an introduction to pepe, check out the film Secondhand (Pepe) or The Afterlife of American Clothes, although the article requires critical reading since its supporting a free market perspective.) I cannot tell you how many people I have seen in Old Navy t-shirts with United States flags, and I have one particularly vivid memory of a woman I passed in Jakmèl with a shirt that said “Hell yeah, I am a redneck woman!”  Many people have offered critiques of pepe: demolishing the market of Haitian-made clothing, importing clothes that are totally inappropriate for living in Haiti or that need major re-purposing to work, supporting the idea that Haiti is only worthy of secondhand items, and imperialistically infusing Haiti with more referents to United States culture.  The artists of the Gran Rue offer an excellent critique of pepe in their work, which you can read about on the Atiz Rezistans website or watch in Leah Gordon’s film. At the inaugural Ghetto Biennale, Frau Fiber collaborated with folks in Port-au-Prince to ingeniously repurpose pepe, and you can read about their ongoing project on the Made in Haiti website. Kwochè Ayiti draws on these critiques of pepe and will incorporate repurposed t-shirts into our project in Port-au-Prince as both way to do sustainable crochet in Haiti and as a statement against United States imperialism.

This technique is new for me and Shannon, but he found a very helpful instructional video on YouTube.  We have had a couple t-shirt yarn making sessions where we turned piles of materials into ready-to-crochet yarn with the help of our friends.  Now we have lots of yarn balls like the ones that Flo McGarrell used in his work.

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