Q&A with Megan and Deanne from Shared Threads

"The idea of the pussy hat appealed to us immediately – it was so simple yet such a powerful symbol." Megan Kalucy and Deanne Tyrrell from Shared Threads shares some thoughts on the Pussy Hat Project with ADC CEO and Artistic Director Lisa Cahill.

What is Shared Threads?

Megan: The goal of Shared Threads is to bring people of different ages together to build community networks through the medium of craft. Deanne Tyrrell and I forged our friendship as mums in the primary school playground many years ago. We are both creative people (I have a background in textile crafts and Deanne has a background as an architect and designer) and have a strong interest in the relationship between arts and health (I am a qualified psychiatrist and Deanne is completing an honours degree in psychology).

We are both aware of how well we personally feel when we spend time with people engaging in stimulating and interesting creative activity and conversation, and wanted to build something that provided an outlet for others to do the same. When each of us were growing up (myself in South Australia and Deanne in Queensland) our lives were enriched by spending time with the many women and men of different ages and professions who collectively formed our ‘villages’. In our adult lives this pattern has continued but within our networks and through our respective professional practices we often come across people who are lonely, who lack community, who have not enough of a ‘village’ of people to learn from, to teach, to share the joys and burdens of life with.

By holding workshops with an interesting craft focus, we hope to provide a fun and relaxed environment through which people can meet, learn, engage and have fun, building new friendships, learning new skills (we welcome absolute beginners and skilled craftspeople) and creating and building a vibrant ‘village’ that offers support, dialogue, connection, entertainment and opportunities to network. Our ultimate aim is that others will experience and celebrate the same sense of joy, connection and wellbeing as we have from gathering in this way. Already, our expectations have been exceeded; when we meet, there is a tangible warmth, energy and flow in the room - a common desire for community, for stimulating and fun conversation. It is a thoroughly exciting process and our passion for it grows with every event.

What is it about knitting that is also about connection and community?

I often ask myself this question. While knitting cannot claim a unique position in facilitating connection and community, it happens to be the craft I do most and enjoy for its visceral and tactile engagement, it's perhaps surprising intellectual challenges and it's sense of nurturing by creating for oneself and others. Being portable, knitting and crochet lend themselves easily to the social environment. For thousands of years, women and to a lesser extent, men, have been gathering together whilst knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving, sewing and cooking. Once a basic level of competence is reached these tasks usually do not require all of one’s attention making them ideal for doing while talking and listening. People are innately social creatures, we love to gather together whilst crafting and naturally, this leads to talk – telling stories, sharing important cultural lore, a bit of basic gossip, sharing skills, knowledge and advice. It feels satisfying, warm and centred, and makes people happy to use their hands and connect with others – to find their people, to enlarge their ‘village’.

Can you explain the pussy hat phenomena? When and how did it come about?

The ‘Pussy Hat Project’ emerged in the aftermath of the US election last November. Two Californian friends, Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman were devastated by the prospect of a Trump Presidency and decided to travel to Washington DC to join the Women's March on 21 January, scheduled for the day after the inauguration. Knowing it would be cold, they approached their local yarn store where storeowner, Kat Coyle designed a very simple hat pattern for them and sold them some (very) bright pink wool.

The square hat had cat ears, referring to the infamous 'pussy grabbing' comments that had, amongst other concerns, disgusted and motivated so many women to speak out. The hats leant themselves to this conversation and the ‘pussy hat’ was born, combining political dialogue and knitting. The pussy hat went on to become a social media sensation and an anti-Trump icon, it went viral on social media, and the New Yorker magazine estimated that up to 100,000 knitted, crocheted and sewn hats were made for the Washington DC March. Shops all over the US reported selling out of pink yarn!

This was an inspiring, grassroots action taken by women taking their politics to the world armed only with cardboard placards, needles and fibre; a visible, strong and gutsy message, all in a handmade hat! The Women’s March in Washington was the largest March ever to take place in the US. I wish we could have been there but by continuing to tell the story of those who did march and why we can help to sustain the energy that unfolded that day and in the period leading up to and since the Marches. We can continue to talk about why it happened and why it was and is important to keep gathering and keep talking and acting for improvements in women’s rights.

The idea of the pussy hat appealed to us immediately – it was so simple yet such a powerful symbol. For Deanne and I it seemed the ideal first project for our Shared Threads concept – bringing together the handmade, women's issues, the gathering together of disparate groups of women to discuss what is important to them, meeting new people and expanding their village, not feeling alone but part of a group. Furthermore, it was fun, whimsical and so very, very pink!

I loved the sea of pink handmade hats at the Women’s Marches – so much knitting and crochet and sewing. I imagined all those people knitting and crocheting for the first time, gathering together in a safe space, and realising what they had been missing by not being part of the international craft community. The craft is the catalyst for creating connections, breaking down cultural, class, age and racial barriers, and facilitating discussion, humour, joy and wellbeing. I do get a little evangelical about craft!

How long have you been knitting?

Megan: I have knitting for as long as I can remember, both my mother and my grandmother initially taught me but from then on I have taught myself from library books, the internet and significantly from other fellow crafts-people. I have found the crafts community to be very generous in sharing its knowledge. All of the women in my family are talented craftswomen and fibre has been a constant and enriching presence in my life since I was a small girl. I knitted throughout all of my medical school lectures and while studying for exams. It kept me focused and (relatively) sane. I always made sure I asked a few pertinent questions so that the lecturer knew I was listening! I have taught and encouraged many people to knit and crochet over the years – friends, artists, students, school children, patients and family – for decades, I have gathered with other women over tea and knitting, where we have laughed, cried and shared our lives. It always gives me pleasure to pass on my skills to others, and to be inspired by others. Beyond the simple sensual pleasures of working with fibre, the satisfaction of making something with one’s hands, the stimulation of learning new skills and perfecting old ones, the creativity and imagination associated with design and the joy of spending time with other ‘fibre people’, knitting is a great metaphor for life.

Knitting has taught me that seemingly insurmountable challenges can be tackled ‘stitch by stitch, row by row’ and progress will be made. There is a meditative, thoughtful quality to the process that underlies its inherent creativity.

Deanne: I was taught to knit and crochet by my Nanna. She was always knitting baby clothes for grandchildren, and hats and jumpers for herself and others. I fell in love with the colour and feel of textiles and after high school I studied fashion design before going on to do architecture. As an adult, life became busy and I left my knitting needles behind. It wasn’t until I read about the pussy hat movement in the US that I felt the call to pick up my needles again. The idea of craft as a powerful symbol and the images of women knitting a sea of pink in protest were intoxicating and I wanted to be a part of it. I saw a post by Megan on Facebook about the pussy hat movement and I felt inspired to knit but I couldn’t remember how to.  After a few failed attempts I called on Megan for help. It’s a bit like riding a bike; it doesn't take long to remember.

What project do you currently have on the go?

Megan: At the moment I am knitting a lot of vibrant pussy hats – experimenting with different yarns and patterns and colours to make samples for our workshops. I am also excited about other projects on the side – a throw knitted up from wool I have handspun, a blanket for my oldest son to take with him to university next year (which has its own meditative quality as I knit and think about what we have shared over his first 18 years) and several beautiful shawls from some of the many talented designers out there in the international digital knitting community.

I also like to have a range of easier and more challenging projects on the go at any time. Something to keep in my bag for meetings, waiting rooms and coffee shops and more complex projects for in front of the TV or my knitting and crochet group – luxury socks, sculptured tea-cosies and one-off infant blankets for new babies.

Deanne: I currently have a few sewing projects on the go, and I'm working on some interior furnishings for the house we're about to renovate. I'm also developing some ideas about future workshops that bring together different cultures and craft, drawing on the knowledge I have about creativity, social psychology, the arts and well-being. Our digital culture makes sharing ideas so easy, seamless and fun, yet as human beings we still crave face to face contact with others. While it might seem that the digital world has become an enormous craft community, craft does also offer a counterpoint to our digital world. Craft-making grounds people in a way that working on a digital device doesn't. It uses multiple senses and allows us to be mindful, while our digital work engulfs our cognition, narrows our focus and seduces our vision. We get lost in our head, while craft brings us back to our hands and heart, and it's that balance that's important to share and teach in today's environment. That's what I'm working on at the moment – how to get that message out.

The Pussy Hat Project event by Shared Threads invites women and their daughters, nieces, sisters, neighbours to gather together to knit a pussy hat and connect as the Pussy Hat Project connected so many women across the world through the internet and traditional craft.