Back in the days when I was a quilter and embroidererâ€”before knitting took over my lifeâ€”I kept a set of 6×8 spiral bound notebooks recording my projects. On the left-hand page, I attached a picture of the project. On the right-hand page, I recorded details about the time it had taken to complete, whom I’d made it for, the materials I’d used and so on. Along with these details, I often wrote briefly about events in my own life or on the world stage that had occurred while the project was in my hands.
From October 1989: “I stitched this sampler in the week-and-a-half following the October 17 earthquake. Especially in the days following the quake, I would sit on my bed, listening to the emergency info on the radio, stitching, and jumping up to stand in the doorway during aftershocks.”
From August 1990: “I made this bellpull for mom and dad’s anniversary. My mom liked it because there are five robins like the five of us. I stitched part of this while listening to a talk by Italian labor organizer Danilo Dolci.”
From November 1990: “I bought the kits [for two different embroidered initials] in Australia with mom and Aunt Beulah. The G is a goannaâ€”a lizard. The J is a jabbaruâ€”a stork. I stitched part of the J at a Campus Compact meeting in Washington, D.C. where I saw the Vietnam War Memorial Wall for the first time.”
From April 1991: “This was my first counted cross stitch sampler that uses a stitch besides crossâ€”satin. I stitched part of it at the 1991 CCCCs [Conference on College Composition and Communication] in Boston, the year we passed a resolution not to schedule future conventions in states with sodomy laws.”
I haven’t kept up with these notebooks and stopped using them long before I began knitting, but I’m thinking now that I should start them up again.
This afternoon, I am working on the border for the Petal Shawlette (from Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders), and as I finish each fourteen-row leaf, I’m pausing to check the BBC’s scrolling feed on events in Egypt.
One of my favorite former students is originally from Egypt, though he became a U.S. citizen last year, and I’d always been aware of his hopes for his homeland, which claims to be a democracy, but has had the same President and has been under a “state of emergency” with a suspension of civil liberties for over 30 years. He is so full of hope and excitement for the possibility of real change in his country.
So, I keep pausing in my knitting to read the BBC feed, and my heart is full of hope and excitement as well. I’m delighted that the protests so far have been “interdenominational,” that they have included men and women (though the men have been out in greater numbers). I would love to see Egypt become a truly inclusive democracy.
At the same time, I am also fearful. Fearful because of the cost they’re exacting in the form of human lives. Fearful because I know (even from my limited experience here in the U.S.) how easy it is for an egalitarian impulse to get lost in the fervor of struggle. Fearful because I know how easy it is for those in power to play one segment of the population they oppress off against another. Fearful because I know the power of money and business and how easily they can speak with a voice that drowns out the voice of the wider populace.
Apparently the new Vice President Mubarak has appointed, the head of Egyptian intelligence, ran the C.I.A.’s “Extrordinary Rendition” program in Egypt. If the protests don’t succeed in unseating Mubarak, I worry what sort of retribution this man may wreck upon the Egyptian people.
So, as I follow the BBC reports, make calls to voice my opinion to the State Department, email my Congressional representatives, I do what women have done for millennia during times of unrest: I keep my hands busy, working stitch after stitch, trying to create something both practical and beautiful.