Out & About: Knitting out the vote

  • Artist and former election lawyer Eve Jacobs-Carnahan with pieces of collaborative sculpture of Vermont State House, created at Knit Democracy Together knitting circles. (Courtesy of Eve Jacobs-Carnahan) Courtesy of Eve Jacobs-Carnahan

  • Knit Democracy Together, collaborative sculpture created in Vermont knitting circles by civically-minded crafters discussing U.S. elections; project created by artist and former election lawyer Eve Jacobs-Carnahan. (Paul Rogers photograph) Paul Rogers photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/24/2022 3:11:34 AM
Modified: 7/24/2022 3:11:32 AM

Eve Jacobs-Carnahan is a talented fiber artist. She is also a former lawyer, having spent 18 years as an assistant attorney general in Vermont specializing in election law.

Her latest project, Knit Democracy Together, combines those professions as well as the mindset that every voice matters — and has potential to make a difference. Since 2020, Jacobs-Carnahan has worked with crafters to create a model of the Vermont Statehouse that is 5 feet long, 3½ feet tall and 3 ½ feet deep.

“The whole idea is to get people excited because of the crafting and the visual part, and once they’re attracted by that we can talk about more serious things like how elections work,” said Jacobs-Carnahan, of Montpelier.

In August, Jacobs-Carnahan will begin bringing those workshops to the Upper Valley. The first will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, at Latham Memorial Library in Thetford. The second will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16, at Converse Free Library in Lyme. Hanover’s Howe Library will host a workshop at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, and another is planned at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, at The Sharon Academy. Each workshop touches upon a different election topic: In Thetford and Sharon it’s “Counting the Vote: the Process, the People, and the Electoral College,” in Lyme it’s “Representing All Voices: Gerrymandering and Ranked Choice Voting,” and in Hanover it’s “The Supreme Court, State Legislatures, and Elections.” To learn more and sign up, visit knitdemocracy.org.

“Most of the building is made, so what people are going to be making is 4-by-6 rectangles to become pieces of the lawn, the walkways, the gardens, all along the sculpture,” Jacobs-Carnahan said.

Those pieces are sewn together and glued onto the structure.

She stressed that those who do not know how to knit are welcome: They can embroider flowers on the rectangles that make up the lawn or simply come to take part in the conversation. In late August through early fall, there are plans to display the completed sculpture at the Vermont Statehouse.

Jacobs-Carnahan started the project in 2019, and the first workshops took place over Zoom in the spring of 2020. She was inspired by other examples of Craftivism — using crafts as a form of activism — like the Crochet Coral Reef project which was started by sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim to raise awareness about the risk climate change poses to coral reefs. In that project, people collectively crocheted different parts of the sculptures.

“It took off and there were reefs like that in many countries,” Jacobs-Carnahan said. “Along the way they taught people about environmental issues.”

Knit Democracy Together took on even more meaning after the 2020 election and misinformation that followed.

“What I’m really trying to do is strengthen democracy by holding these knitting circles that bring civically minded crafters together to deepen their understanding of the electoral system,” Jacobs-Carnahan said. “I hope that people will be inspired to get more involved in strengthening the electoral system by making sure everyone’s vote is counted, that everyone has access to voting and the process is as representative as possible. I would like to see people take positive action afterward, but, many people, the action they take is to understand more and to be aware, which is super-important as well.”

Knit Democracy Together is also an approachable way to get involved in the political process, said Lynn Sheldon, of Lyme, a friend of Jacobs-Carnahan’s who has contributed knitted pieces to the project. Sometimes, going to a march can be intimidating, she said — sitting, knitting and talking is a little less so.

“It’s been interesting for me to see ways I can be more active about the things that concern me,” Sheldon said. “It’s sort of an invitation to action.”

The circles are also part of a deep tradition among people, mostly women, who use crafts to create change in their communities, like knitting warm items for refugees or others who need them.

“I think part of what’s appealing to me is the sort of historic idea that women would sit together knitting because you were never supposed to let your hands be idle, you were always supposed to do something useful,” Sheldon said. “When they were trying to get women’s suffrage, trying to get the vote for women, they would meet in these groups but they would knit while they were talking.”

Since Jacobs-Carnahan started Knit Democracy Together, she has worked with groups in Chicago and Rochester, N.Y., to create similar projects. She’s interested in creating a sculpture of the New Hampshire Statehouse.

“We’re all making pieces that have our own individual personality on them and each one is a small contribution, but we put them all together to make this grand sculpture,” Jacobs-Carnahan said. “It’s a metaphor for everyone in the community to participate in the electoral system by voting, or running for office or expressing their voices so that the government can be made up of all of us. Each of our pieces makes this bigger piece of democracy.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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