Knitting a More Perfect Union


Adrienne Sloane’s Political Knits

I am a self-confessed sculptural knitter. It is always difficult to describe what that means since for most people it is a bit of an unusual obsession. However, I seem to be compelled by the endless and fascinating ways one can work with a flexible line.

When I started working in fiber, I made wearable art. A 1999 arts center fire had the effect of dramatically changing the direction of what flowed through my hands and emerged out of my studio. I felt that I wanted to address imagery in a more meaningful way. Thus, as a National Public Radio junkie, I started to respond viscerally to the news (mostly bad) that poured out of the radio as I worked.

Occasionally the imagery takes its form from technical constraints but often a piece just flows as a matter of course. Making notes of my own patterns as I work, I find that the simplest solution to a technical problem is usually the most effective though it may not always be the most obvious to me at the moment.

My anti-war work, unfortunately still timely, has evolved with one piece leading into another and elements repeating throughout. Cost of War, which won the Director’s Prize at Fiberart International in 2007, was a simple arrangement of knit linen male bodies, each with genitalia but no arms. The bodies were all machine knit to shape in slightly different sizes which I tried in a number of configurations before placing them on the wall with the upper left corner empty.

As I studied this arrangement, it later appeared to me to resemble a flag. Thus followed the red, white and blue linen piece, Fated Glory, in which the stripes were made up of bodies. These figures, again knit from the same pattern, were then assembled together with the blue field. The stars were a particular conundrum as the geometry of a five pointed star does not lend itself easily to a knit form. Fated Glory is on view until April 1 in the Courtyard Gallery of the World Financial Center in downtown Manhattan at the Textile Study Group of New York’s exhibit Crossing Lines.

I again knit bodies for the piece Truth to Power using a 30 gauge coated copper wire normally used for electrical purposes. Though prone to break because of tensioning issues, finer wires can be passed through a knitting machine when handled very carefully. Wire made the shaping embedded in the pattern much easier to see. In order for the figures to hang in space in the way I had envisioned, I then had to create a new pattern for the body backs. The women figures in this piece are in direct response to female viewers of Cost of War insisting that women die in war too.

Other of my pieces have addressed natural disasters and climate change as in Uprooted, which I knit in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. For Troubled Waters about the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, I used a heavier gauge wire creating the stitches using a jig.

The American Flag is an iconic and powerful image. I had long been thinking for about knitting second one when Congressional impasses this past summer gave me the obvious opportunity to visually address the way divisive politics are tying the country up in knots. The stripes in A House Divided were the result of many hours working on a small child’s hand crank toy for making I-cord. This piece is currently on view at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA as part of the exhibit Fiber in the Present Tense, work from the artists in the Massachusetts/Rhode Island chapter of the Surface Design Association.

In a project titled Lobby Congress with Art, I have since turned this image into a postcard which I have sent to all members of Congress as well as the President. An invitation on my website encourages others to join me by signing and sending their own.

The text on the card reads:

We the People
Respectfully demand that
You Stop
tying the Country up in knots
and attend to knitting together
a national fabric of Domestic Tranquility
for a more Perfect Union.

On behalf of the people,

Textile Society of America is holding its biannual conference in September in Washington DC. The timely focus of the conference, for which I will be chairing a panel entitled: Unraveling Political Knitting, will be Textiles and Politics. Let us hope that Washington will be listening.

Working from the Boston area, Adrienne Sloane has shown her work nationally for over 20 years. As both a hand and machine knitter, her recent work often addresses the political while remaining mindful of the historical context of her medium.  To learn more, please visit