Many different things inspired me to start the Red Sweaters project. Read on to find out how it all began, late one Friday night.
Art is a process…
I wanted to use my knitting skills for something war-related. In WWI and WWII, there were a lot of people who were knitting sweaters and socks and hats for the troops overseas. I thought of those knitters, and the posters about town that encouraged their participation, but I was not compelled to knit socks and sweaters for the soldiers currently serving in the war. Mainly because I don’t personally know anyone over there. Instead, I felt a need to make other people more aware of what is going on so far away; to compel people to listen to the news, ask questions, form opinions, or to simply take a moment to stop and consider the realities of war and how it is affecting their life, even if they are not directly involved. I wanted to come up with a way to use knitting as a vehicle to raise public awareness.
I thought about the posters from the world wars and I thought about activists. I realized that the best way to raise public awareness is through some kind of public display. “The Gates” had just opened in New York. It was an art display, thousands of metal frames with thousands of yellow-orange curtains. Thousands. Thousands of people have died in the war. I thought about knitting, I thought about death, I thought about repetition. Knitting is repetitious. I thought about knitting sweaters. I thought about death. I put the two together, and decided to represent death with knitting. (I’ve always been inspired by the character in “Tale of Two Cities” who knit names into a blanket by using different stitches.) I thought about sweaters. I thought about death and knitting. I thought about knitting sweaters for those who had died.
An Idea is born…
There was a story in the news about an American soldier held hostage in Iraq. A video of the hostage circulated, but the army reported no soldiers missing. They soon discovered that the video of the hostage was actually the image of a 12” action figure dressed in fatigues. This inspired me to knit sweaters that would fit on a 12” action figure. (Good thing, because knitting one full sized sweater takes me years.)
At first, I wanted to knit a mini-sweater for everyone who died in the war. Then, after I did some research, I discovered that the death toll of American soldiers plus soldiers from other countries plus civilians was so high (over 16,000) that it would be nearly impossible to make one sweater for each death related to the war in Iraq. At that point, I decided to make one sweater for each fallen American soldier. The number is still staggering, but possible to achieve for this project.
Then, I had to figure out a way to display over 1500 mini-sweaters. The trees outside my house have bark that looks like camouflage. Camouflage reminds me of army soldiers, and since my project is inspired by war, the tree seemed like the perfect place to display the installation.
Once I figured out that I wanted to knit mini-sweaters and display them in a tree, I had to decide what material I would use to make them. I thought about death again, and of some of the images I’ve seen on TV of the war casualties. The color red popped up in my mind. It is the perfect color to represent blood loss, and would be striking and eye-catching against the tree leaves and branches. Since I chose to use the color red to represent blood, I suddenly felt that it was important to use yarns that would maintain the same symbolism. Blood has no politics, ethnicity, or class. It is made of the same stuff in every body. Yarn can be made from many different materials; silk, cotton, wool, man-made fibers, etc. By using the same stuff for each sweater (acrylic yarn), the symbolism of blood is maintained.
I started asking myself questions…
But people are different. So how will you represent individuality? By using different knitting techniques. By asking other knitters, all of whom knit slightly different than one another, to make a red sweater. By using different sweater shapes.
Why do you want to knit sweaters? Why not socks or scarves? Because I want to use a shape that is a direct representation of human form. Because I want other people to be reminded of the same World War II knitters that inspired this project in the first place. Because it is fun to knit sweaters that fit on 12” tall action figures.
Why would you want to hang the sweaters in a tree? Isn’t there something else you could do with them? Trees are amazingly symbolic. They are strong, steadfast, and resilient. The host tree is full of life. This is how we like to think of our soldiers. The tree that the sweaters will hang from looks camouflaged. (I don't know what kind of tree it is - sycamore? black locust? planetree? - but the bark kind of peels off and is multi colored just like fatigues.) Maybe there is a better way to display the sweaters, but 1500+ bright red t's blowing in the breeze 20' above the ground will be a magnificent sight, full of movement and color. The tree symbolizes the soldier's life, while the hanging sweaters symbolize their death. The red yarn hangs in contrast to the green leaves. These points of contrast = conflict = war = death = symbolism = art.
What will you do with all the sweaters when the project is over? Anything besides throw them away. Sew them together to make a blanket? Give them away as gifts? Decorate the house with them? Sell them to 12” tall action figure collectors for their winter wardrobe? The possibilities are endless.
So, there you have it. Suspend 1500+ hand-knit mini red sweaters from a tree and call it art. Or, call it Red Sweaters.
Thank you for your interest, support, and participation in this project.