No matter what you think of the US Presidential election, there was something pretty amazing about the crowds gathered on January 21st, 2017. A sea of oddly shaped hats emerged in Washington DC and throughout other major cities across the US. Most of these hats were in shades of pink but also appeared in various other colors. What was most noticeable was that nearly every one of them was handmade.
The hats themselves had an unusual design. Take them off the head and you see they really are not very sophisticated. Actually, each hat is just knitted into a simple square shape. Yet when you fit them on a head, you notice the top two points of the square are suddenly pinched outward into distorted triangles. In fact, you soon realize that the shape of the hat resembles the ears of a cat. Welcome to the PussyHat revolution!
Image: PussyHat Project via Reuters- Shannon Stapleton Image: PussyHat Project
These symbolic hats became tools of protest for the PussyHat Project, as a way to create a visual statement in support of femininity and the empowerment of women’s rights. The project is an example all the times craft and artisanship has been used to fuel a protest or a revolution. It is similar to when Abigail Adams organized women to make saltpeter for the American Revolutionary War. Or when Mahatma Gandhi crippled British imperial rule by promoting hand processing and weaving of cotton. This project is also reminiscent to a movement in history using Hawaiian quilts. Not in reference to the Hawaiian quilts with large symmetrical appliqué patterns that are incredible botanical snowflakes, but the lesser known Hawaiian flag quilts and the notorious “crazy quilting” of Queen Lili’uokulani.
The tradition of the Hawaiian flag quilt is said to have originated in 1843. King Kamehameha, who unified the Hawaiian Islands in 1810 had a flag designed to honor the independent Kingdom of the Hawaii. British Lord George Paulet claimed Hawaii as a territory of the British Empire and ordered the confiscation and burning of the Hawaiian National Flag. As a way to communicate loyalty to Hawaii as a sovereign nation and express pride in their traditions and cultural heritage, many quilts began to depict variations of the Hawaiian flag and other traditional kingly symbols of the Hawaiian monarchy. The tradition continued, particularly during times of political turmoil.
Images: Hawaiian Flag Quilt via Michigan State University Museum and Hawaiian cotton quilt from Maui
“The Queen’s Quilt” created by Queen Lili’uokulani has to be one of the most famous quilts in the world. Made in the Victorian crazy quilt tradition, it was never made to keep a person warm. Crazy quilting was a fashionable way to show off a person’s ability with a needle and a way to record important historical events. In this case the quilt served the purpose of telling the queen’s tale during her unjust imprisonment after her abdication and the annexation of Hawaii by the US. Made from pieces of her clothes, every section is painstakingly embroidered and embellished with names, dates, and the icons and symbols of the Hawaii she tried so desperately to preserve.
Image: Queen's Quilt
Image: detail of Queen's quilt
It is said in Hawaii that a quilt maker imbues their “mana” or spirit into a quilt with its creation. We, at Global Shokunin, hope that every PussyHat has that spirit too.