Can a Teal Cowl Heal Hatred in America?
On August 12, three blocks from Magpie Knits in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others were injured when a white nationalist plowed his car into a crowd of people who were there to protest the Unite the Right rally going on that day. Later, two state troopers who had been monitoring the event from the air died when their helicopter crashed outside the city.
“We’ve all lived in this nirvana,” said Susan Bashline, co-owner with Blair Williamson of Magpie Knits, about the violence in Charlottesville. “We never thought anything like this could happen here. We had lulled ourselves into this sense that we lived in this low-crime place and didn’t realize there was all this going on underneath. It was a slap in the face that this (hate) exists.”
About 525 miles away in Block Island, Rhode Island, Sven Risom of North Light Fibers was fuming over the hatred, violence, and rhetoric exhibited at the rally and in its aftermath. He called Bashline, a relatively new customer of his mill, and said, “I’m pissed off. What are we going to do?”
Bashline was nonplussed. “We’ve never done anything like this,” she said. “But let me think.”
Meanwhile, the city was grappling with the tragedy. Dani Antol, one of the owners of the downtown shop Rock Paper Scissors, designed a teal-colored heart emblazoned with the town’s shorthand name, C’ville, as a message of unity and began distributing free posters with the image. The hearts went viral in Charlottesville and on social media; soon the blue-green hearts were everywhere, including on T-shirts, bags, and other merchandise the store developed to raise money for the community’s Heal Charlottesville Fund.
One week after the tragedy, Magpie Knits hosted a knit in, providing free kits that allowed people to knit small teal-colored stuffed hearts. Although the event was organized on the fly, more than 50 people showed up.
With these teal hearts in mind, Bashline and a friend, Lori Delbridge, began trolling the shelves at Magpie Knits for a kit project. Delbridge knew designer Heather Zoppetti and was familiar with her Safe Harbor cowl pattern, published in Unexpected Cables, that features beginning cable and lace stitches that form hearts throughout the piece. North Light Fibers’s Atlantic, a 100 percent Falkland Islands merino, offered the perfect gauge and color for the project: Teal Inlet.
But in order to use the Safe Harbor pattern in any kind of kit, Zoppetti needed to give her blessing, and so did Interweave, publisher of Zoppetti’s book.
A knitwear designer and owner of the yarn and pattern company Stitch Sprouts, Zoppetti was all in when Bashline asked about using her pattern for the kit initiative, now called Charlottesville: A Knitting Kit for Healing.
“You see all these things happen and you think, ‘What can we do?’ You can call your senators and write, but you feel kind of helpless. ‘What difference am I making? What am I doing to help this situation?’” Zoppetti said. “There are such big things going on and you feel so little. Doing this helps me feel like I’m doing something.”
Interweave also gave Bashline permission to use the Safe Harbor cowl. With Zoppetti’s and Interweave’s blessing, Bashline and Risom began gathering supplies for the kits.
The kit, which includes the pattern and two skeins of North Light Fibers’s Atlantic Teal Inlet yarn, came together serendipitously, Bashline explained: the perfect heart-motif pattern with the perfect name showed up at the perfect time, and North Light Fibers had the ideal colorway. “It was kind of crazy,” she said.
Charlottesville: A Knitting Kit for Healing kits are selling for $70, and $15 from every kit will be donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Founded in 1971, the Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit advocacy organization that litigates for civil rights, exposes hate groups, and provides education about tolerance. It built the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1989.
“This is a pure way we can contribute,” Risom said. “This will raise awareness, it will financially help the Southern Poverty Law Center, and we get to do something besides whine.”
In announcing the kits last month, Magpie Knits posted this message on the shop’s Facebook page:
We believe that the act of knitting can help to heal wounds and soothe souls. After witnessing the retrogressive events of the summer of 2017, we are committed to act and make a difference. We have partnered with North Light Fibers and Heather Zoppetti to create this knitting kit that symbolizes moving forward with love and hope. We have no time to hate; we’re too busy knitting.
To participate in the informal Magpie Knits Charlottesville knit-along and support the Southern Poverty Law Center, purchase a kit in Inlet Teal or another color from Magpie Knits (434-296-4625) or North Light Fibers.
Leslie Petrovski is a freelance writer who lives in Denver with her husband and cat. She writes regularly about knitting and other fiber pursuits and would design more knitwear if she could only figure out the armholes. Find her on Ravelry as nakeidknits.
Find more of Heather Zoppetti’s patterns, books, and vidoes at www.interweave.com.
All photos by Andrew Shurtleff.