On a rainy Sunday afternoon, several dozen women from across the Bay Area huddled inside Piedmont Yarn’s quaint location in Oakland.
The shop clearly wasn’t accustomed to the increased foot traffic. Every nook — and there are several in the kitschy shop — was occupied with women knitting frantically, pink yarn flying through fingers and knitting needles barely missing thumbs. On this particular Sunday, mere days before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, the shop had transformed into just one of many stations gearing up for the largest demonstration against the incoming administration so far.
And the women at Piedmont Yarn were making the unofficial uniforms: “Pink Pussyhats” for the hundreds of women’s marches slated on Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration.
"It's our own version of the Make America Great Again hat," said Sara Smith, who lives in Oakland. "Except ours are most definitely made in America."
The caps feature pointed ears and are made using a beginner’s knitting pattern. Their creation stems from a grassroots project that took hold through the website PussyHatProject.com, created by friends Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, who live in Los Angeles. From there, the idea went viral on Facebook and Twitter and attracted newcomers and experienced knitters alike.
Thousands of the knitted caps have been made across the Bay Area, with possibly hundreds of thousands more made across the United States. The goal is to make more than 1 million, which organizers plan to hand out at the Women’s March on Washington D.C. Some will also be distributed at the 370 sister marches planned in various cities across the country, a few of which are slated in the Bay Area. San Francisco and Oakland’s marches could attract more than 50,000 people combined.
As many might have guessed, the hat’s name is a rebuke of Donald Trump’s usage of the word “pussy” in the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, but it’s also a reclaiming of sorts – left-leaning women across the country say they are taking back ownership of the word, and, by extension, the conversation about their bodies.
“I’m from the South – I don’t swear,” said Susan Jackson, a retired teacher living in San Francisco and one of the women marching on Washington. “But this, for me, it's different...It's been liberating."
According to the women at Piedmont Yarn, making the hats has provided a catharsis post-election. The knitting parties allow liberal women to come together and grieve over the defeat of the first female candidate from a major political party — and the victory of a man they believe to be racist and misogynistic. Doing something that contributed to a broader movement kept the waves of disappointment and despair at bay, they say.
It’s also a way for women who can’t march, for whatever reason, to participate.
“There are a lot of women who are unable to march for a variety of reasons in their city, or their city doesn’t even have one,” explained Cyndi Misko, who was teaching two newbie knitters at the shop. “So one way to participate is to make hats for other women to wear. The idea is that it will unify, so we’re all together in this. Whether you’re marching, or making a hat, or are going to wear a hat at home.”
A note is pinned to each finished hat so that its wearer knows who made it and why. By the project’s design, the maker of the hat then has an added physical form of representation at the marches.
For the participants — especially those who are experienced knitters — there is another crucial, symbolic value to the outerwear. Misko was drawn to the hat project because it challenges the perception that knitting is a weaker, less powerful skill compared to painting or other artistic endeavors. Too often, arts to which women gravitate are written off as frivolous, she says.
“It values what women do in the home,” she said. “Crafting, knitting, crocheting are often seen as a weak woman’s activity, and it’s not. It’s the empowerment of ‘we’re women and this is what we bring to the home and to the families that we raise.”
Suh and Zweiman say they chose the knit pattern and the color pink for similar reasons.
“Pink is considered a very female color representing caring, compassion, and love — all qualities that have been derided as weak but are actually STRONG,” the women wrote on their website. “…It is appropriate to symbolize this march with a handmade item, one made with a skill that has been passed down from woman to woman for generations.”
As for the boon in customer sales, the owners of Piedmont Yarn aren’t complaining. But they say they are not in it for the profit. In addition to holding knitting classes at the shop and introducing the craft to newcomers, they, too, get to be part of something larger that jives with their political leanings.
“This is a women-owned and operated business, and it’s a business that promotes community, as well,” said Celia McCarthy, a co-owner of Piedmont Yarn. “We’re astounded at the response that we’ve had from our customers. We’ve had calls from across the nation, actually — and we’re not even the inventors!”
McCarthy has even gone so far as to make “STAY NASTY” badges for her patrons, a reference to the second presidential debate in which Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman.” (That phrase has also been “reclaimed” — and mocked for its subsequent commercialization.)
“You know, we’ve had it with some of the men in our society,” she said with a chuckle, when asked about the inspiration behind her involvement. “We want to stand up for ourselves, and this is just one of the ways we can do it.”