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Made by Su Richardson, 1976.

Su Richardson’s 1976 artwork “Bear It In Mind” hangs in one corner of Tate Britain’s vast exhibition Women in Revolt. It literally “hangs” because it’s a pair of striped denim overalls on a clothes hanger covered in expressions of mother’s work: yarn sausages, unfinished crochet, lost buttons, clocks, and lists.

Lists predominate saying, “LISTS, LISTS, LISTS,” “don’t forget,” and finally a note in her pocket: “remember lists.” This is a different kind of self-portrait fashioned out of every day things and every day preoccupations.

In what Time magazine calls “the year of elections,” 49% of the global population will go to the polls in 2024. Not all of these elections will be fair and free, but they will have a sea-change effect on how we all live in the future.

Though the contenders for votes will speak in broad strokes about greatness or change, we the people must pick through slogans to learn how our act of suffrage could lessen suffering and promote collective good in the day to day minutia of overalls, yarn sausages, and paper, aka clothing, food, and shelter.

Two current exhibitions in London ask visitors to consider art and textiles as a means of political propaganda and protest.

In The Fabric of Democracy, curators at the Fashion & Textile Museum show us how everything from a lady’s scarf to a feed sack dress can act as a badge of allegiance or an ideal of the future.

Archer Brand Poultry Feed Packaging, circa 1930. Many companies switched to water-soluble inks to help with the bags’ second life. some began using paper band-labels to avoid this entirely: ‘TO REMOVE BAND-LABEL & PRINTING SIMPLY SOAK IN WATER.’

In Women in Revolt, curators at Tate show us the myriad forms protest art can take from crocheted sculpture to punk videos.

There’s a beautiful scarf in The Fabric of Democracy exhibition which, when seen from a distance, looks like a desirable addition to any fashionable wardrobe. Draw closer and the images come into focus including a metal trash can, a bicycle, an iron bedstead, a hot water bottle, and a baby carriage.

One of dozens of designs by Jacqmar of London in aid of the war effort. These were printed on scarves and also made into dress fabric.

The script along the borders reads, “Rubber into aircrafts, paper into shells, bones into bombs, bedsteads into bullets.”

But what about a symbol of allegiance that can be recognized from down the street? How about the French with their Phrygian caps—usually red soft hats with a curl at the top worn by revolutionaries and famously knitted by market women in audience at the guillotine.

Here’s one worn in a poster of 1794:

Reproduction of a 1794 French Engraving showing the symbols of revolutionary dress that represented the French Republic, including the Phrygian (liberty) cap, tricolor flag, and cockade.

One’s hat as a badge goes back far further than the French Revolution. The phrygian cap is a descendant of the wool pileus worn by freed slaves in Rome. Now, fast-foward two thousand years later to the pink Pussyhat knitted and worn by tens of thousands of people in solidarity for women’s rights in protest against the incoming Trump administration on January 21, 2017.

From Rome to France to Washington, across two thousand years, it turns out you really can say it all with a woolly hat.

Enter Women in Revolt at Tate Britain whose collective and individual voices call, in particular, for women’s visibility and equal status in society. Whether it be a Pussyhat or patchwork banner, textiles know how to speak.

Rita McGurn who worked as a television and film designer made these figures in the 1970s and 1980s.

Take Rita McGurn’s crocheted tableau of of a domestic scene. Several figures in a riot of color sit among crocheted cushions on a crochet rug. The artist’s daughter remembers that no sweater was safe from her mother and would inevitably end up in her sculptures. Work like McGurn’s was sidelined in the 1970s by gatekeepers who had little time for textile art. Textiles were women’s work.

Tate welcomes us to women’s work: performance art, banners, zines, badges, and installations on equal pay, childcare, contraception, body image, feminine ideals, and disarmament, among other concerns.

Thalia Campbell put her patchwork and appliqué skills to use sewing a banner commemorating the violence against striking miners in South Yorkshire.

This banner portrays the Battle of Orgreave, a violent confrontation between police and thousands of miners in South Yorkshire.

Margaret Harrison recreated a perimeter fence covered in clothes, toys, photographs, and banners like the one created over many years by women living at Greenham Peace Camp calling for nuclear disarmament.

In this installation Harrison recreates a portion of the perimeter fence at Greenham Common military base. These protests and encampments lasted from 1983 to 2013 and were largely in response to American cruise missiles being stored on behalf of NATO on the base.

Harrison, Hunt, and Kelly used schedules, photographs, and audio recordings to document the daily schedule of women at a London box-making factory—meals, laundry, work, shopping, meals, mending, laundry.

This takes us back to Su Richardson’s lists, yarn sausages, and overalls—a self-portrait with a difference, but which nearly fifty years later could be a portrait of many of us across the world, each with a single special vote to cast.

In 2024, this year of elections, The Fabric of Democracy and Women in Revolt ask us to consider what political messages we are sending in both what we wear and what we make. Which hat? Store-bought or knitted? The red, the blue, the rainbow, or the pink? Pussyhat, Phrygian, or baseball cap?

The Fabric of Democracy at the Fashion & Textile Museum runs until March 3. See Women in Revolt at Tate Britain thru April 7.

About The Author

Jeni Hankins is an American performing artist, writer, and maker living in London and Lancashire. Since 2008, she’s toured extensively throughout the USA, Canada, and the UK. Find her recordings on Bandcamp and catch up with her musings on Substack.


  • What a wonderful article with inspiring examples to start my day. I remember knitting my pussy hat and wearing it at a rally on our capitol grounds in Concord, New Hampshire on January 17, 2017. Speakers, music, and an enthusiastic crowd, including men with pink hats, made for an unforgettable day. I am 83 and alarmed by the threats against our democracy so prevalent today. It’s time to start wearing my pussy hat again. Thanks for the memory and the reminder.

    • Yes, what a wonderful article and reminder of how powerful and inspiring women’s work can be – whether it’s daily clothing, food, shelter or artistic statement or pure serendipity. I’m almost 70 and also extremely alarmed by the threats against our democracy – my pussyhat was one of the first projects I knitted when I retired and was first getting back into committed fiber crafting. I love how women learning to knit started the project and how quickly it spread across the country. It’s definitely time to start wearing it again! ~ Kim H.

    • I lost count of how many hats I knit, I donated a pile for a fundraiser, handed them out at the Women’s March in Chicago, and sent them off to friends and family in all directions. My hats were at marches in New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Oakland, Portland, and Berlin (Germany). Two of my friends had the hats I had knit for them in their car when it was broken into, the hats were stolen. I do hope that they were worn by someone (although it was perversely satisfying that someone liked something I knit well enough to steal it).

      It was one thing I could do to voice my concerns for our future, and I just could not stop doing it. I still have one in my drawer but I hope I never have to pull it out and wear it again.

    • OH! I am very pleased to hear from a knitter of a pussyhat! Yes, it’s so important especially now to get our hats out again. Huge smiles to you and thanks for your comment.

  • Thank you for this article.

    • Thank you for reading, Margaret!

  • Inspiring. Thank you.

    • Thank you for reading, Ann!

  • Important historical information here. Art and life happen at the sane time.
    I just love The Tate.

    Well presented essay: necessary in these times of the willful ignorance or misplaced nostalgia for the “good Ole days” some of us who are needing to indulge in amnesia as comfort.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you – and Happy Black History Month to all … a detailed part of our big and complex American history.

    • Thank you SO MUCH KD IN CT for your comment. Indeed, Happy Black History month! And I, too, love the Tate. They actually got a lot of flack from art critics for this exhibition because it reminded some of a community center bulletin board rather than an “art” exhibition. I thought it was a great way to challenge our idea of how art should be hung or presented. Good on them. Hope you get to go to the Tate again soon.

  • Love this. Textiles have always been art.

    • Thank you, Martha. Totally agree!

  • What hat shall we wear this election cycle? The only thing that matters is to register and vote!Women should be able to help each other in A time of great distress without the fear of incarceration. Take back this conversation in any hat you choose!

    • Absolutely, VOTE. Without votes we are silent, hat or no hat. Thank you for reading my article and commenting, Elizabeth Ann.

  • I make watchcaps for the homeless, deployed service men and women and school kids. I’ve seen them bobbing in line at a soup kitchen, hanging in trees and the local school’s “Lost and Found”.

    • I love that you’ve shared this, Peggy. This is knitting in action, in real life motion. Thank you.

  • Thank you. Let common sense and decency prevail – like a good hat!

  • Those sculptures by Rita McGurn are mindblowingly good. Thank you for bringing all of this to my attention. LOVED!!!

    • You are very welcome, Debbie! I am obsessed with her sculptures. I long for an entire exhibit of her work. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • Thanks Jeni for another great article from the UK, telling us about art we’d never get to see otherwise. And to think I almost frogged my pussyhat! I guess I better get it out and wear it.

    • Yes, KGOHL, dust off that pussyhat and take it out for the day! I’m going to make one myself since I missed them the first time around. I’m so glad you liked the article. More coming up from the UK in the next few months!

  • Thanks for that well written – and important – reminder for everyone (not just women) about why we vote.

    I was working at a yarn store during the pussyhat era and by January 17, there was hardly any shade of pink yarn left in the store. Some of the hats made with this yarn went to Washington DC, others stayed in Wisconsin, and a few were even sent to the UK!

    • I love that your yarn shop ran out of pink! Thank you for reading, Mary Jo!

  • Wow, just wow. Thank you for reminding me how strong we are, how important our craft is, that what we choose to cherish and uphold as art says so much about who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. Most important for me, our power to lessen suffering for all, and serve the greater good through the choices we make every day. PS. A couple of my pussyhats did make it to DC;I feel more honored by that than proud.

    • Thank you so much for your incredibly kind and encouraging comment! I agree, our craft says so much about us. I hope you have a great weekend!

  • Thank you, Jeni, for reminding us that one of the many tasks we face is getting out the vote. This year, it’s incredibly important, and it’s good to have the reminder that textiles have always been used as a form of protest against stances and situations we don’t agree with.

    • Yes, getting out the vote is SO important. Maybe some intarsia or duplicate stitch on our pussy hats or other hats with VOTE on them? You all have me thinking!

  • Thank you Jenni,
    Sometimes I feel that what I do as a woman is so overlooked as to be invisible …
    just being a real woman is an act of subversion …
    bring it on, bring on the knitting, crocheting, sewing etc’ however imperfect, it stands in defiance against the plutocratic, corporate, patriarchal, neo-liberal capitalist interests of the man-made, unhealthy world …

    • Yes, just maintaining our own identities is so important at a time when we so many forces are angling for our attention. Being connected to what we love best is subversive. Hugs to you, Zena!

    • “…Just being a woman is an act of subversion…” wow. I loved the article and all the comments but yours jumped out at me enough to reply.

  • What a lovely visit. And yes, another knitter who made quite a few pussyhats for me and for friends who wore them to wear to the march in Washington DC. On the bus t the march here in Minnesota I was weaving in ends on mine, and looked around. There were quite a few women finishing up their hats!

    That scarf in aid of the war effort is captivating. I wish I could peer at it more closely.

  • what a very timely article and reminder – love it! will go through my stash to finally make a pussy hat!

  • I lost count of how many pink pussy hats I knit … and was amazed to see a sea of pink hats even at rest stops on the road to DC in 2017 where there was a sea of them on the Mall and in the streets.
    Clothing as message. They were just as much a message as posters were. It was wonderful.

    Of course, many times clothing has imparted a message – knit or sewn or assigned.

    • I love the thought of clothing as posters! They are in so many respects – to show status, allegiances, visits to vacation spots. But, as you say, a sea of pink hats says so much without words.

  • Great article! I’ve forwarded to all my friends – even the non fiber friends (of which there aren’t that many).

  • Thanks for the tour of the exhibit Jeni. I put my Pussyhat in a shadow box with the Time magazine that featured a crocheted version on it’s cover in February 2017

  • Thank you. Loved the article and the comments. I watched/listened in growing dismay to the Supreme Court this morning regarding the Colorado case. Of course, I was making something, a crocheted scrap pillow for my son-in-law. Now I’m thinking maybe a red, white and blue scarf with pink tassels? I’m politically active but I need to add some craftivism elements.

    • I love the idea of your red, white, and blue scarf with pink tassels! I feel that suddenly the bright chunky rainbow scrap sweater I am making says a lot about acceptance and love. Right on!

  • I made a RESIST hat out of Quince yarn in 2018. Every time I see it in the bottom of my drawer I hope I never have to wear it again.

  • Really great article!
    I too knit pussy hats.
    I remember being in Scotland years ago in a castle and thinking of all the wars and intrigues over hundreds of years and while various ideas and constructs for society came from that, the concrete items were the beautiful tapestries made by women.

    • Yes, the incredible message and endurance of those thousands of stitches. They move me so much, too. I love that you thought of your visit to the castle in that way.

  • It is a beautiful article. Thank you for your moving and informative and much needed work.
    I too knit many pussy hats and helped others get patterns and yarn. It is absolutely time to get them out and rally the women!

  • Thank you so much for your article. I started knitting regularly after making a “brain hat” to wear to the March for Science, April 2017, in Washington, DC. Knitting became a type of meditation for me, as well as a creative outlet. Now I always have a project with me. Grateful that knitting came into my life, though I wish it wasn’t in response to the lack of thoughtful integration of science into policy and decision making.

  • I knit a pussyhat to wear to the Women’s March in DC. I was so pissed when some conservative commentators later questioned if the hats were truly a grassroots movement. They claimed the hats were mass produced and wanted to know who was behind it all. As the hats were clearly handmade by individuals with different yarns and gauges, I think these people were more malicious and willing to lie than they were stupid. I noticed that no one questioned all the handmade masks that popped up after covid.

  • Oh my – I wish I could transmogrify myself to London to see this!! It’s so important, especially this year in this country. ❤️‍

  • Thank you so much for this great contribution. Educational and inspiring. I did not knit a pussy hat in 2017 but feel it’s equally relevant in this year of elections. Time to cast on.

  • Wow, Jeni! I love your article. What a thrilling exhibition. And so many thoughtful comments, too!
    The language of knitting is a powerful thing, especially when we can incorporate meaning into the stitches such as a name, a thought, a prayer. Throughout the ages we have knit for wars and resistance and spying. I was so inspired by the March to Washington that I wrote a poem that day, it flowed out of me in tune to the raw emotions of the masses gathered. I hope you don’t mind if I share it here…

    Sisters of the Nation

    I can hear the battle cries
    as the women rise
    on the March to Washington.
    From all corners of the earth
    colors, shapes, and worth
    catalyze into motion.
    Frisson firing forth to meet,
    feel the thrumming beat
    of the new revolution.
    In a sea of pointed hats
    pink eared pussycats
    swish their fulsome tails as one.
    They stand in silence no more;
    these women, they roar,
    voices raised in unison!
    Defiance personified;
    No! They will not hide,
    these Sisters of the Nation.

  • It’s been a busy week for me & just getting caught up, so am very late reading this beautifully thought out, beautifully written article. Jeni, I look forward to more of your graceful, insightful articles!

    • … after searching on Jeni’s name, I now realize that she also wrote several of my other favorite pieces: a day in Edinburgh, the Dales Museum, the Kaffe Fassett show at Dovecot Studios! Thanks for your brilliant work!

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