The installation uses knitting as a mechanism for meditation on war, an outlet for political expression, and a provocation for dialogue among people with differing political viewpoints.
Taking the form of machine knitted “photo portrait blankets” – which since 2005 have been a popular way for families to honor their relatives who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – nine images culled from newspapers, historical societies and library archives depict how knitting has been used for civic participation, protest, therapeutic distraction, and even direct attack during times of war.
Amidst this historical backdrop, a table, materials and instructions provide space and materials for museumgoers to knit wartime projects. Knitters are allowed to bring in their own projects, or they can choose to work on one of four wartime knitting patterns provided. The patterns include Lisa Anne Auerbach’s Body Count Mittens, which memorialize the number of US soldiers killed at the time the mittens are made; a simple square to be used for blankets, which are either mailed to Afghans for Afghans or to US soldiers recovering in military hospitals; balaclavas to be sent either to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan or to Stitch for Senate (microRevolt.org’s war protest project); and stump socks, sent to war veterans and Iraqi children. Often, several different people will knit one object; one knitter will cast on, add a few stitches or rows, then put the project down, and later another knitter will advance the piece.
Anonymous museumgoers as well as diverse groups such as Grandmothers for Peace, Daughters of the American Revolution, Quakers Against War, microRevolt and Stitch and Bitch Astoria have gathered at the installation. Participants have often come back for return visits, like one woman who came to knit every day during her lunch break during the three and a half month run of one exhibition. Notable war critic Phyllis Rodriguez, who inspired the piece, was another return visitor.
A visitor comment book is included in the installation. Some excerpts:
“My earliest memories are the clack of knitting needles (on the therapeutic theme) my grandmother knitted continuously as we sat in the air-raid shelters in Scotland 1942-45.” – S. Holton
“I’ve enjoyed knitting here now four mornings. It has been a great experience except for the guard on the 3rd floor who interrogates me as to why I’m here and what I’m doing each week.” – Anonymous
“Knit a row for peace.” – Anthea Benson
“Political associations made for a more interesting group knitting experience.” – Devon Thein
“I’m so happy to be here on my birthday and to knit a few rows in commemoration of our losses.” – Genica
“Had an argument about war while knitting here. I cannot understand how people justify this war in Iraq.” –Anonymous
“Thank you for creating a space for those who rage against the war but wholly support the troops.” – Val Schermerhorn
“Knitting in public is a radical act” – Bonnie Gray
“Sometimes the war news seems so abstract and it’s hard to imagine what it’s like for soldiers – knitting helped make it real to me.” – Susan Hoover
A book about “Wartime Knitting Circle” is currently in production. "Wartime Knitting Circle" has been exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Design (2007), the Indiana State Art Museum (2008), Florida Atlantic University’s Ritter Gallery (2008), the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ (2008-9), and the Bucharest Biennale (2010).